Watoga Dark Sky Good for Bats

Watoga dark sky good for bats. Cindy Sandeno, District Ranger of the Marlinton/White Sulphur Springs Ranger District, visited Watoga State Park this past Saturday evening to teach an assembled group of campers, park employees and other interested parties why we need bats, and why they now need us. Sandeno discussed light pollution and how bats and humans can benefit by installing downlight fixtures.

Cindy Sandeno discusses bat house with workshop participants at Watoga State Park, a would be Dark Sky Park

Cindy, whose background includes managing regionally threatened, endangered, and sensitive species for the Forest Service spoke about the diminishing population of bats throughout the country and the profound effects that spell for the environment and agriculture.

As the National Cave and Karst Coordinator for the Forest Service, and her experience spelunking in the U.S. and Mexico, she has a deep appreciation for the plight of these fascinating creatures who silently do so much for us.

It’s a thankless job being a bat when you consider that most people still regard them as they did in the Middle Ages; as vermin of the night whose only purpose is to spread disease and worse. Many associate bats with witches and vampires, and as creepy creatures who enjoy becoming entangled in our hair – not a problem for me, of course.

In truth, bats are pollinators, they are distributors of seeds, and they are estimated to save $3.7 to $53 billion dollars per year as non-toxic pest control agents. And, if you take the time to learn about bats, you will learn that they are wonderful parents of their young and, all in all, bats are quite cute.

Watoga Dark Sky Good for Bats

Many bat species are threatened by diseases such as White Nose Syndrome that is responsible for the death of 5.7 million bats since 2006. On top of that, much of their habitat is at threat due to light pollution. Watoga State Park is a candidate Dark Sky Park and is a favorable bat habitat.

But you can help save these beneficial critters just educating yourself, friends, and family members about bats. Bat Week is designated from October 24th to the 31st every year.

I was definitely motivated by Cindy’s presentation; so much so that I decided to build a bat house.

A great way to learn more about bats is to visit the Project EduBat at https://batslive.pwnet.org/edubat/

Synchronous Fireflies, “They Lit Up the Woods Like a Christmas Tree”

Synchronous Fireflies

Photo of synchronous firefly
Synchronous firefly (Photinus carolinus) Courtesy of Tiffany Beachy

This story, like most, has a backstory. What follows is how something extraordinary was recently discovered in Watoga State Park.

A little over a year ago Mack Frantz, a zoologist with West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, was informed by a retired biologist from the same agency that she had observed a rare firefly, a lightning bug if you prefer, within Watoga State Park. She even provided geographic coordinates of where her sighting took place.

A small group of people led by USDA biologist Tiffany Beachy that included Sam Parker from Droop Mountain State Park Mary Dawson of the Dark Sky Park initiative and I hiked out to the location at 10 pm on a clear evening in mid-June of this year. After 20 minutes or so, we were treated to a sight unlike anything we had ever seen.

Suddenly, countless fireflies, all flashing simultaneously, lit up the forest like a string of Christmas lights. As fast as the display of bioluminescent lights had started, they stopped, and in perfect unison.

It’s official now, Watoga State Park has a population of synchronous fireflies.

Never heard of a synchronous firefly? That’s not so unusual, neither did I until this summer. But the appeal of these insects is extraordinary, and they may mean a lot more to the park and Pocahontas County as a whole, than we may think.

Unique Fireflies

So, what are synchronous fireflies, and why are they such a big deal?

Mack Frantz describes the synchronous firefly, as, “unique among most fireflies in that males synchronize their flashing displays to rhythmically repeat ‘flash trains.’ Flash-trains are a species-specific group of flashes reported at regular intervals.”

Photo of WV DNR zoologist Mack Frantz
Mack Frantz, WV DNR zoologist, and friend, “We want to make the fireflies accessible to the public without harming them.” Courtesy of Mack Frantz

This virtuoso display of aerial light by the male is meant to attract a female mate on the ground and lasts from one to three hours each night through the relatively short mating season.

“Males do not live long, so the displays only last a few weeks. Additionally, synchronous fireflies are habitat specialists, typically requiring high elevation moist forests. That means you have to be in the right place and time to find them.” Said Mack.

Mack said that Watoga State Park is one of only two populations confirmed in West Virginia on public lands as of this summer. He added that “The WV Department of Natural Resources will be working closely with state and federal partners to determine the best way to conserve and manage this species. That would include making the park’s population publicly accessible for viewing without disturbing the species.”

Another condition that is a must for maintaining a population of synchronous fireflies is a minimal amount of artificial light; they thrive in the darkest locations.

“Synchronous fireflies are highly sensitive to light pollution such as that from flashlights or vehicle headlights. The State Parks and Wildlife Diversity unit of West Virginia DNR will coordinate best-management practices for guided walks that permit public viewing of synchronous fireflies with minimal impact. “added Mack.

Dark Sky

It is a fortunate coincidence that Watoga State Park entered upon a project to become qualified for a dark sky designation in 2019, a mere year before the synchronous fireflies were discovered in the park.

Louanne Fatora of the Watoga State Park Foundation, who, along with Mary Dawson, is spearheading this initiative, says, “The discovery of the synchronous firefly bolsters our efforts to establish Watoga State Park as a certified International Dark Sky Park.

Watoga State Park and Calvin Price State Forest, comprise 20,000 acres of habitat that will gain protection from artificial light pollution.”

Loss of habitat for the synchronous firefly can be mitigated with this designation, a critical factor in maintaining healthy populations.

“Synchronous firefly populations have been declining, and they are the only species in America that synchronize flashing light patterns. So it is crucial that we guard their forested, dark sky habitat for future generations of visitors to Watoga State Park.” Says Louanne.

Based upon the experience of other parks in the eastern United States that have populations of synchronous fireflies, there is considerable public demand to view their flashing displays.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee is a perfect example of the popularity of these fireflies. Before park officials controlled the viewing sites, hundreds of cars were coming into the park each evening during the relatively short mating period.

As would be expected, the people were parking anywhere they could and trampling through the sensitive areas with flashlights, endangering both the females on the ground and interrupting the flash cycles of the males with their flashlights.

In 2015 park officials created a lottery system and closed the main road into the public viewing areas. During the eight nights of regulated public viewing, 800 to 1000 people are shuttled into the sites per night.

In 2019 there were 29,000 applications to see the fireflies and far fewer openings, further demonstrating the popularity of synchronous fireflies. *

The experience in the Smokies and other locations with fireflies presents a clear implication for us here in Pocahontas County – How are we going to handle the expected influx of visitors to view the synchronous fireflies?

How this considerable problem is to be managed rests entirely upon one individual, Jody Spencer, superintendent of Watoga State Park.

When I talked to Jody, he was clearly excited about the discovery of the synchronous fireflies in the park. So much so, he was not only out there watching them on numerous evenings with his family, he found another population of the fireflies in a different part of the park. **

Jody said, “We want the public to have the opportunity to see these marvelous creatures and do it in a way that will ensure the continuation of their populations at Watoga State Park.

Public access will require certain restrictions and guidelines to protect the fireflies. And, there are a number of considerations beyond that, such as concerns for the evening quietude and darkness that the guests in the cabins come here for.”

Managing a park with a variety of resources and activities is a balancing act for park superintendents. Be assured, Jody and his staff will develop a plan that works well for a public eager to see this extraordinary event of light and protect the fireflies at the same time.

The expected increase of new visitors to Pocahontas County to view the night sky and see the light-show of the synchronous fireflies has the potential to bring more folks to our area. After all, we don’t call our county Nature’s Mountain Playground for nothing.

To look at the broader picture of what these marvelous fireflies might mean to Pocahontas County, we need to get some input from the one person who knows best how to make it work as a popular attraction, not only for Watoga State Park but the county as a whole.

Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau

Having already partnered with the Watoga State Park Foundation on the Dark Sky Park initiative, Cara Rose, Executive Director of the Pocahontas County CVB was thrilled to hear about the discovery of the synchronous fireflies at Watoga.

She took the time to call me while on vacation last week and said that the two programs, dark skies, and the synchronous fireflies, dovetail with each other in ways that can significantly benefit the park and local businesses. “After all, the wonders of nature are our product here in Pocahontas County,” Cara said.

Cara offered the support of the CVB in marketing the opportunities for public viewing of the fireflies, saying, “I see it as an opportunity to make use of something extraordinary that enhances what we already have here in Pocahontas County.

I hear it from visitors and locals all of the time, “I love it here in Pocahontas County; it is a special place.” Now, we can add one more item to the list of things that make it unique – Synchronous fireflies.

From the mountain trails of Watoga State Park,

Arrowhead Discoveries in All the Right Places at Watoga

Have you ever seen an arrowhead at Watoga State Park?

Recently, I spoke to two gentleman (both named Ken) who found arrowheads at the park.

Finding an Arrowhead with your Dad — Priceless

Ken Caplinger, former Watoga Assistant Superintendent (1979-1984), later served as West Virginia State Parks Chief and is now a board member of the West Virginia State Parks Foundation.

“One was by an employee when we were building the Allegheny Trail connector from the Beaver Creek Campground over toward Honeymoon Trail.

“The other was when my Dad was visiting me and he accompanied me on a work task to the picnic area over across from Pine Run cabin area. We were walking along the little creek that comes down from the picnic shelter and he spotted an arrowhead in the edge of the creek.”

Finding an 11,000-Year-Old Arrowhead

Ken Springer, Vice-President of The Watoga Foundation, relayed the following:

“I found the arrowhead approximately three years ago on the Monongaseneka Trail. See more of Ken’s find including the history of arrowheads here.

Ken stated that the “design indicates it may be Archaic, a group of Native Americans who lived in settlements in our area in the period from 9000 BC to 4500 BC. “

Arrowhead found at Watoga on the Monongaseneka Trail, 2018. Photo by Ken Springer.
Arrowhead found at Watoga on the Monongaseneka Trail, 2018. 📸: Ken Springer.
1-5/8 inch arrowhead found at Watoga State Park. Ken Springer is illustrating the length of the point. Photo by Ken Springer, 2018.
1-5/8 inch arrowhead found at Watoga with this image illustrating the length of the point. 📸: Ken Springer, 2018.

“If it were a projectile point, it would have been used with a spear and atlatl [a spear-throwing lever], not a bow and arrow as they were yet to be invented in North America.”

Ken Springer’s arrowhead is on display at the Watoga Nature Center. Please note that it is illegal to remove any object, such as an arrowhead, from any park in West Virginia.

Finding Your First Arrowhead With Your Brother

I was with my older brother, Ronnie, when I discovered my first arrowhead, but I was not allowed to keep it. Our dad, a park ranger at Watoga, taught us at a young age not to keep what nature left for us and others to admire and enjoy.

However, it was always an adventure searching for these flint-like creations. The expansiveness of Watoga and nearby Calvin Price State Forest provided Ronnie and I ample opportunities to search for arrowheads. And, getting to see one up close and personal proved to be exhilarating for an 8-year-old.

The Airstrip and Calvin Price State Forest

There were a couple of spots where Ronnie and I found those treasured items.
Specifically, we had the most success on our exploration missions at the expansive airstrip near the Beaver Creek Campground.

At least once a week, Ronnie and I would venture into the secluded wilderness that surrounded us. Notably, the first time that I ever spotted an arrowhead was along the path leading into the forest, close to a small mountain stream oftentimes reduced to a trickle during the heat of the summer. Just seeing one and not even having picked it up yet caused my heart to beat faster.

Excitedly, I jumped up and down with joy.

“Ronnie, Ronnie, look what I found! Come over here. I think it’s an arrowhead.”

Of course, Ronnie was wiser about these matters than me, and upon closer inspection, he said: “You sure did, Johnny. Wow, that’s a nice one too!”

Remembering What Dad Taught Us

Before crossing that small creek to head home, Ronnie stopped. He showed me what Dad had taught us about not removing or keeping historic artifacts that we may discover at the park. Ronnie slowly bent down and carefully placed the tan-colored arrowhead neatly under a nearby rock.

“There,” Ronnie said, “I wonder who will discover this next?”

During your stay at Watoga, explore and take in the wilderness surrounding you. You may even see the arrowhead that Ronnie and I returned to its rightful place more than 50 years ago. In the meantime, please give any discoveries to personnel at the park office for display at the nature center or simply leave it where you found it. The next park visitor will be glad that you did.

About the Author

John C. Dean lived at Watoga from for 16 years until his father, Vernon, retired after 43 years of service with the Division of Natural Resources. On John’s “bucket list” is returning to the airstrip and seeing an arrowhead one last time. You can reach John at jcamerondean@gmail.com.

The Black Bear Story at Watoga — Creative Endings

Large black bear turns the corner of Cabin 12 at Watoga State Park near Marlinton, West Virginia in June 2014. The black bear is West Virginia's state animal. Photo by Stanley Clark.
Black bear meandering the corner near Cabin 12 at Watoga. | 📸: @clark.stan

Ever eat a peanut butter sandwich right before coming face-to-face with a black bear? And how about seeing a bear with Paul McCartney eyes? With this in mind, the following are readers’ creative endings to earlier posts (Part 1 and Part 2) about the black bear at Watoga State Park.

Peanut Butter Sammie, Anyone?

The black bear lifts his head, moving his snout inches from my face. Now, I feel his breath as he sniffs and snorts. Lastly, I did not consider the peanut butter sandwich I had recently eaten.

— David Bott

The Bear with Paul McCartney Eyes

There I stood with my feet frozen to the ground like I was standing in water and Lake Watoga froze right around them. Of course, I didn’t try to break free and run; instead, I relax to go with the flow.

The first thing I notice are this bear’s eyes. While he’s standing on his hind legs and looking right at me, I am so close to him that my nose is hardly a foot from his. I can smell his hot bear-breath. Up this close, his eyes seem larger than normal, and there is a distant light behind the brown color. Keep in mind that these aren’t the vacuous eyes of a wild animal. And this mammal’s eyes are windows to something I cannot put a word on. Simultaneous love and sadness? Something like that.

Meanwhile, there the four of us stood — for how long I don’t know. Be that as it may, you may think that the woods are a quiet place where you can hear a pin drop. News flash! What’s more, the Watoga woods are not as quiet as you’d expect if you’re from the city. In short, birds are tweeting, insects are chirping, flies are buzzing, woodpeckers are pecking, and there are a thousand other members of the forest’s orchestra.

A September afternoon in the woods is anything but quiet. And that’s something else I remember very clearly about this moment. Not only are we mesmerized by this bear with Paul McCartney eyes, but we also cannot hear any of the noises we have come to expect.

Nothing. In fact, if you’ve heard the expression “deafening silence,” this was it.

That is up until the bear says, “Follow me.”

— Ernie Zore

And the Moral of the Story is . . .

I notice the biggest black bear I have ever seen climb up and into the bed of Henry Burr’s maintenance truck.

Moreover, this huge animal is having himself a big ole feast, ripping into a number of trash bags that Henry had thrown into the park vehicle earlier from the campsites at Beaver Creek Campground.

After discovering this mess later that same day, Vernon says: “Ok, Johnny and Ronnie. The lesson in this is to never put off ’til tomorrow what you could’ve done today. Particularly, Mr. Burr is gonna have a mess to clean up in the mornin’.

— Brenda Waugh

All You Need is a Little Love

Nestling with the sow bear and her cub is a fawn. Apparently, the fawn has lost its mother. This gentle giant has adopted the fawn as her own.

Many times, through the years, I would see a black bear playing in the woods with a deer. Surprisingly, they were not fighting; just playing, chasing and enjoying the special bond they developed as babies.

I will never forget their special friendship. Undoubtedly, it taught me to always be understanding of individuals no matter their background.

With this in mind, don’t we all need a little love?

— Donna Dilley

Drawing of black bear killed near Watoga, circa 1970; L-R: Ronnie, Johnny and Vernon Dean. Artistic impression by Debra Lynn Kimball.
Drawing of black bear killed near Watoga, circa 1970; L-R: Ronnie, Johnny and Vernon Dean. Artistic impression by Debra Lynn Kimball.

Postscript

In conclusion, while researching the untold aspects of the black bear, I came across an interesting paragraph in The Pocahontas Times. Significantly, was this the animal killed at Watoga almost 50 years ago? Maybe it was.

Fifty Years Ago … The Pocahontas Times

Thursday, January 8, 1970

BEAR

George Schoolcraft saw a large bear track on Pyles Mountain. He reported it to A. G. Dean. The bear traveled to Beaver Creek – from Beaver Creek into Burr Valley, bedded down on Briery Knob. The next day Eldridge McComb heard his dog barking and went to investigate. The dog had the bear in a large fallen tree. They returned to W. S. Smith’s for information about shooting bears. When they returned, the bear and dog were gone – heading for Anthonys Creek.


The Untold Story of the Black Bear — Part Two

A black bear is hanging by its feet on a 1970s type hoist at a maintenace garage at Watoga State Park near Marlinton, West Virginia. This black bear was shot by a man out of season in the fall of 1971 at Calvin Price State Forest which adjoins Watoga State Park.. Brothers Ronnie and Johnny Dean are crouched on each side of the bear which appears to weigh close to 500 pounds.. Bllood from the bear is dripping into a garage drain next to the brothers' shoes. Photographer: Unknown. Date: Circa 1971.
Brothers Ronnie and Johnny Dean crouched beside a black bear killed at Calvin Price State Forest near Watoga State Park, circa 1971. | Photographer unknown.

Editor’s Note: The Department of Natural Resources advises all state forest and park visitors to NEVER approach wildlife in an attempt to touch it. The Department of Natural Resources protects the state’s wildlife so that all can enjoy their beauty in West Virginia.

The Black Bear’s Blood Drains Near Me

I noticed something bright red on my scuffed Converse tennis shoes. Equally important, the enormity of what loomed above quickly distracted me from the blood on those worn basketball shoes.

When I touched the black bear, its fur felt rough, like a worn dish rag. Looking up, I saw the hoist that held the animal aloft. As a matter of fact, the bear’s blood had emptied into the garage’s drain too.

“Who killed this bear, Dad?” Ronnie asks.

“A hunter.”

My dad was Vernon Dean (1912-2001). Moreover, he also served in various roles for 43 years at Watoga State Park, nestled in the panoramic mountains of Pocahontas County.

The Search for Answers About the Black Bear

Now, almost 50 years later, this is the never-before-published story of the black bear. First, who killed this bear? Second, why? Third, what happened? Fourth, how? Fifth, when did this occur? Sixth, where did this take place?

Recently, I rediscovered a photo of my brother, Ronnie, and I crouched next to this bear. Notice that neither of us is smiling in this photo. Likewise, this image stoked my need to know more – a journalistic skill fine-tuned as a reporter with The Register-Herald in the mid-1980s.

I could remember parts of that day, but I didn’t know the entire story.

“Humans can make mistakes; memories are notoriously faulty and humans are often biased,” Ken Springer wrote in an article detailing the origins of the name Watoga.

Besides not wanting to rely solely on my memory, I made calls, sent emails and spoke to friends and family members who may have remembered what had happened. As a result, I received some leads and helpful information, but not the “end” story. Also, was there even a story to tell here?

Digging deeper, I contacted Suzanne Stewart, staff writer at The Pocahontas Times, in Marlinton. Similarly, a search of the newspaper’s archives from 1970-79 for information about a bear being killed at the park came up empty. In fact, Bill McNeel, local historian and former editor at The Times, also did not recall a story being published about a Watoga bear death.

Undeterred, I kept searching for answers. Together with the memories of Richard and Jerry Dale, further details about the black bear emerge.

The Watoga State Park Superintendent and His Son

In 1971, Richard Dale was superintendent at Watoga and served in that role from 1966-75. Furthermore, Mr. Dale’s son, Jerry, grew up at Watoga during that time. Jerry is a former sheriff of Pocahontas County. In addition to being a therapist for Pocahontas County schools, Jerry teaches psychology and criminal justice courses as well at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.

Even now, at 94, Mr. Dale is sharp-witted and provides the final clues as to what most likely happened to that gigantic black bear.

The Untold Story of the Black Bear Unfolds

Many hunters camp at Beaver Creek Campground during small game season. Moreover, the 9,400+ acres of nearby Calvin Price State Forest provide hunting enthusiasts easy access to an abundance of squirrels, turkeys, deer, pheasants, and more.

In the early fall of 1971, two men pitch a tent at the rustic campground. Apparently, they begin bragging to other campers about killing a black bear. But, at this time of year, it was not bear season.

During this time, a concerned bystander at the rustic campground hear the man’s account about killing the black bear. Because of concerns that the bear may have been illegally killed, that person promptly reports it to park personnel.

“When we interviewed this guy, he was saying that the bear had attacked him and that’s why he killed it,” Mr. Dale says.

Upon learning of where the bear had been killed, Mr. Dale and a group of four men began the laborious trek to remove the black bear from deep within the adjoining state forest, off a trail at the end of the airstrip. The most likely participants were Mr. Dale, Henry Burr, park employee, Bull Poling, local game warden, and my dad.

The Black Bear — “Quite the Endeavor.”

“It was a huge bear. I am not sure of the exact weight,” Mr. Dale states.

First, a small tree was cut, and the bear’s front and back legs were tied to the ends of the hardwood. Then, with two men on either end, they were able to lift the bear onto their shoulders.

“Well, the first sapling that we cut — it broke because of the weight of the bear. So, we cut another, sturdier one. Getting the bear back to the park was a chore. Quite the endeavor.”

Second, walking a considerable distance, the men carry the bear to the maintenance garage near the assistant superintendent’s residence.

Third, a hoist-type system is used to lift the bear. Jerry Dale remembers that hoist well: “It’s nothing mechanical. Muscle power. Slow moving – a few inches at a time and foot-by-foot going up. You could then lift it up or lower it down. It was strong enough, say, to even lift an engine out of a ’57 Chevy. The hoist was tied to a big wooden beam that went across the garage.”

The Consequences of Killing a Black Bear

Mr. Dale adds: “The man told me he’d always wanted to kill a bear and that he wanted to keep the hide.” Not only is the man fined, but also he pays a replacement fee, Mr. Dale says. Additionally, no one interviewed could recall whether the bear was a boar or a sow, but gambling enthusiasts are placing odds that it was a boar based on the size of the bear in available photographs, most likely weighing in excess of 400 pounds.

“Entrance and exit wounds indicated that the black bear was running away,” Jerry notes. “The entry wound was at the back end of the bear and the exit path was on the bear’s front side. You don’t give anyone an incentive to do anything like this ever again.”

Vernon Dean "posing" with his personal weapon alongside a black bear killed at Calvin Price State Forest near Marlinton, West Virginia, circa 1971 | Photographer unknown.
Vernon Dean “posing” with his personal weapon alongside a black bear killed at Calvin Price State Forest near Watoga State Park, Marlinton, West Virginia, circa 1971 | Photographer unknown.

The End of the Black Bear Story — For Now?

As a result of the unfortunate demise of this bear, I had a “hands-on” education about West Virginia’s state animal prior to the black bear’s official designation in 1973.

Finally, Part Three will be selected creative endings from readers to the untold story of this bear. Tune in.

John C. Dean lived at Watoga for 16 years from 1960-1976, until his dad, Vernon C., retired after 43 years of service with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. He can be reached at jcamerondean@gmail.com.

Growing Up at Watoga State Park — The Untold Story of the Black Bear

Part One

This is the untold story of the black bear. While it may be true that watching a black bear can be fascinating, seeing one up close and personal is not always a pleasant experience.

Untold Story of the Black bear at Watoga State Park

The Secretive, Shy, Intelligent Black Bear

During that magical summer in 1971, there had been endless bicycle rides to the scenic overlook at T.M. Cheek Memorial and carefree plunges into the mountain-fed waters of the Watoga State Park swimming pool.

Later that fall, I met THE black bear.

To begin with, the deep red leaves on the oak trees were at their peak. Similarly, the smell of fall was in the air.

Consequently, my brother, Ronnie, and I learned about West Virginia’s future state animal – the secretive and shy, but intelligent black bear. However, it wasn’t until 1973 that the black bear became West Virginia’s designated mammal.

My dad, Vernon Dean, worked at the park. We lived near the Beaver Creek Campground. Moreover, our home was just a stone’s throw away. Dad, along with Richard Dale, park superintendent, and his teenage son, Jerry, taught Ronnie and me about this magnificent species.

Additionally, we learned that black bears average between 125 and 550 pounds. They mainly eat acorns, pine nuts, fruits, berries, grasses, and other vegetation. Another key pint is the black bear has a lush playground in which to thrive in at Watoga State Park, nearby Calvin Price State Forest and Monongahela National Forest.

As a camper, cabin guest or resident, you may have seen a black bear during a leisurely bike ride, a hike on one of the park’s many trails or even in the backyard of your favorite cabin at Watoga.

Basically, in 1971, bears were not as common as they are today. When you chat with residents of Marlinton, Hillsboro, Seebert or Huntersville, you may hear a vivid tale or two about their encounters with a black bear.

The Untold Story of the Black Bear Begins

“Come here, I wanna show you boys sumthin’,” Dad said. “Maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.”

“What is it, Dad?” I asked.

“You’ll know soon enough. Just come with me. Hurry up, Ronnie and Johnny!”

At this instant, leaving the babbling brook next to our home, Ronnie and I ran excitedly toward the park’s maintenance garage, just below the rustic campground.

“See it, Johnny?”

“No, Dad, what is it?”

“I see it, Dad,” Ronnie said, “and would you look at that? Wow! Oh my gosh!”

“Look at what, Ronnie? What is it?”

“You don’t see it, Johnny? Really?”

“No, not yet. What is it? Where?”

“Come closer, Johnny,” Dad instructed. “And you’ll see.”

I did move closer. Much closer. Amazed, shocked and stunned, I didn’t dare move an inch.

So WHAT just happened?

To conclude, please email me at cjmaxwellwrites@gmail.com with your creative finale. To this end, any social media contacts may post on my Facebook page. I will share selected endings in a future blog. Part Two will be the never-before-published story of THE black bear at Watoga State Park.

About the Author

John C. Dean is a graduate of West Virginia University, 1984, BSJ. Additionally, John lived on-site at Watoga for 16 years until his dad, Vernon C., retired after 43 years service with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. He can be reached at jcamerondean@gmail.com.

Writer of The Untold Story of the Black Bear bio pic
John C. Dean embracing the captivating view at T.M. Cheek Memorial overlook, Watoga State Park, October 2012. Photo by Jennifer Pierson.

Let’s Talk Snakes

Let’s Talk Snakes

Brian Hirt, one of Watoga’s volunteer trail workers had already put a full morning’s work into the Arboretum on Sunday, May 19. Then he decided to finish out the day by continuing his trail marking project on the Allegheny Trail. He had marked several miles of trail when he ran out of trail markers. So he turned around and started back to his car deciding to clear as much debris off of the trail as possible on his return trip.

At one point he reached down, grabbing a large branch, and started to give it a tug when he heard the distinctive and unmistakable sound of a rattlesnake that was hiding under the branch. The rattler did not strike at Brian, nor did Brian provoke the snake, he just walked away. This story has a good ending for both man and snake because Brian did the proper thing when encountering a venomous snake

Copperhead snake
Copperhead Snake Agkistrodon contortrix

We humans seem hard-wired to react to snakes and even something that merely resembles a snake. I remember reading an article in a science magazine about a controlled study in which the subjects were exposed to a series of images on a screen, while an fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) was measuring their brain activity based on blood flow. When body patterns of venomous snakes were shown there was increased blood flow to the amygdala initiating the Fight or Flight Response.

I can relate to this when I remember being startled enough to jump back recently by nothing more than a long, curving section of grapevine lying across the trail. I had reacted physically before my conscious mind confirmed that it was not a snake.

Roy Moose Snakes of West Virginia

Those of you who have attended Roy Moose’s snake program at the Cranberry Mountain Nature Center know that Roy’s level of engagement with the audience is exceptional. He captures the complete attention of adults and children alike. It is somewhat humorous to watch Roy hold forth a garter snake to youngsters who lean forward to accept the snake as the parents simultaneously lean back away from the snake.

Roy Moose Snakes of West Virginia at Cranberry Mountain Nature Center

Roy’s ever-popular Snakes of West Virginia reveals many facts and misconceptions about the two poisonous snakes found in this region; copperheads and timber rattlesnakes. Roy has been bitten by both species of snake which are pit-vipers. He said that the hand that was bitten swelled up over five times the size of his other hand. And he added that if you are bitten by a poisonous snake you will know it immediately. The pain is horrendous.

He stressed that neither poisonous snake is aggressive; both are exceedingly shy by nature and most people who are bitten were attempting to kill the snake. The best thing to do when you encounter a copperhead or rattlesnake is just to walk away. The strike zone from a coiled position is only half the length of the body. And they can only cover ground at a maximum of five miles per hour so most people could easily outrun a rattler or copperhead.

According to the WVDNR publication Snakes of West Virginia, no one has been killed by a copperhead bite in West Virginia for over 30 years. As for fatalities from rattlesnake bites, from 1969 through 1992 only four people were killed by rattlesnake bites in our state. During the same time period over 15 times more fatalities occurred from bee stings, cows and horses.

Dr. Jennifer Shreves, an emergency room doctor, at the Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, assured me that the facility has a protocol in place for snake bites and anti-venom on hand.

Dr. Shreves emphasized that victims should not bring in the offending snake. Their treatment will be based upon evaluation once they have arrived at the emergency room. This will include a blood test for toxins as the venom from both species of snake are hemotoxins as opposed to neurotoxins.

I asked Dr. Shreves about hikers and trail workers who may be some distance from help. If the victim is alone they should walk slowly back to the nearest help, trying not to get their heart beating any faster than necessary. If the victim has a car nearby they should drive only as far as necessary to get help. If in the company of other people it would be ideal to carry him or her out, however, given the type of terrain in our area that would be extremely difficult at best.

As one ER doctor with experience in treating snakebites puts it, “The most important first aid equipment for a venomous snake bite is a set of car keys.”

As for the toxin, over half of the bites are “dry” bites, meaning that the venom sac is empty. After a copperhead or rattlesnake bites its prey it takes approximately a month to replenish the supply of the toxin. As a side note, if you are bitten you better have good health care insurance; the average cost of an anti-venom treatment is $30,000. It is always better to exhibit smart behavior around snakes than getting treated for a bite.

It wasn’t that awfully long ago that the universal method of treating a bite from a poisonous snake was to simply cut a large X across the wound and suck the venom out, then spitting it on the ground.

With that in mind, I beg your patience in allowing me to share with you a once common tale told around campfires. And in the sort of bars that have singing plastic bass mounted on the wall. And, generally by men.

Humorous Anecdote

As the story goes two friends, Charley and Sam were hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail in the Smokies when Charley took off his pack and headed off into the woods telling Sam he had to go to the bathroom. Charley had just dropped trow and sat down on a log when he felt an excruciating pain that made him howl in agony. Sam yelled, “You OK Charley?” Charley replied, “I’ve been snake bit.”

When Sam got to Charley he asked him where he was bitten; Charley told him that a rattlesnake had bitten him squarely on his derriere. (please note that he actually used another less delicate word to describe that particular area of his anatomy). Charley instructed Sam to run to the little town they hiked through less than a mile back the trail and find a doctor. When Sam got to the town he managed to find a small doctor’s office manned by an elderly doctor. Sam told the doctor that his buddy had been bitten by a rattlesnake about a mile down the trail.

The doctor said, “Where was your friend bitten?” Sam told him the bite was right on his behind. (Sam also used an entirely different word in describing the exact location of the injury). The Doc replied, “Listen, you have to run back as fast as you can and suck all of the venom out of that wound if you want to save your buddy.”

Sam departed immediately and headed back at a fast run. Upon his arrival, Charley was lying upon the ground on his side. In a desperate voice inquired, “What did the doctor say?” To which Sam replied, “He said you’re gonna die.”

With that, I leave you with one more very important thing to do if you see a timber rattler. Please do not harm it. Rather, report it on the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources Rattle Snake Report site. Your participation in this survey will help DNR in managing the timber rattlesnake in the Mountain State.

Happy Hiking,

Ken Springer

1. A special thanks to Dr. Jennifer Shreves and Dr. Michael Jarosick, both ER docs who generously shared information on current treatment modalities for venomous snake bites.

2. Photo of timber rattlesnake courtesy of Rosanna Springston. U.S. Forest Service.

3. Photo of Roy Moose frighteningly close to a rattlesnake, courtesy of me from a safe distance using a telephoto lens.

Arrowheads at Watoga

Arrowheads at Watoga

Background

Consider the trails currently existing in Watoga State Park.  Some of these are assumed from existing pioneer trails. And those early but historical trails may have been appropriated from trails trod by the ancients. We now call them Native Americans.  After all, the terrain forces us to take the path of least resistance. So it is reasonable to assume that there is a certain logic to the path one takes to get from one place to another.  Trails were important to ancient people for hunting, trade, socializing and annual migrations.

So I was not surprised when I found an arrowhead on Monongaseneka Trail recently.  Finding an arrowhead is a singularly profound experience. Consider the last human to touch it was an Indian who lived and hunted in these mountains hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago.  So, what can we infer about this person by the artifact that he left behind?

Details of the Found Arrowhead

We may be able to determine an approximation of the age of the point by the material it is made of and its design. This point is a stemmed point referring to the square elongation at its base. The color and quality of the flint suggest it may have come from flint found in the Lewisburg area. And finally the design indicates it may be Archaic, a group of Native Americans who lived in settlements in our area in the period from 9000 BC to 4500 BC.  An archaeologist or a collector may have more accurate information.  But it is probably not a tool that belonged to historic native groups, such as Shawnee.

Is it truly an arrowhead ? Was it attached to an arrow shaft and shot from a bow?  Probably not.  Only a small percentage of flint points were used on arrows. Furthermore, it was not until about 1400 years ago when the bow and arrow found its way to the western hemisphere.

Flint points were manufactured for a variety of uses including scrapers, knives, bow drills for making fires and drilling holes, and for spears. This point may have been a spear point, meaning it is attached to a wooden shaft and cast using a spear thrower called an atlatl.

This fine point is on display at the Watoga Nature Center.  It is a reminder of the people of many purposes, languages and customs who traversed these same mountain trails that we do to this very day.

It goes without saying that the removal of any historic or prehistoric artifact in any West Virginia State Park is unlawful and deprives the public of its cultural value.

Emerald Ash Borer Critically Endangers Ash Tree

Feeding Trails of Emerald Ash BorerAncient Petroglyphs found In Watoga State Park? No, these are the feeding trails of the Emerald Ash Borer.  In this case the Emerald Ash Borer is responsible for perpetrating a trick on the human brain, pareidolia. We humans instinctively seek patterns in nearly everything we see. For example, I see an abstract horned creature in one photograph and a coyote in the other.

Emerald Ash Borer LarvaeThe sad truth is that the ash tree is being decimated by the Emerald Ash Borer at a rate not seen in any one species of tree since the Chestnut Blight of the early 1900s. The white ash is considered “critically endangered” and the population decline is expected to be 80% over the next 100 years. As one forester wryly put it ” Without divine intervention we can kiss our ashes goodbye”.

Emerald Ash BorerWhen the Emerald Ash Borer enters the tree it lays eggs. The emerging larvae attack the phloem essentially girdling the tree. They attack trees as small as 2.5 cm in diameter, long before it is mature enough to produce viable seed.   This virtually ensures 100% mortality of the species.  Emerald Ash Borer Critically Endangers Ash Trees.

Invaluable Qualities of White Ash Wood

White ash is valued for its strength and straight grain. It is used for everything from furniture to tennis rackets and baseball bats. I have an old pair of snowshoes that hang on my wall.  They are made of ash. We will miss this tree just as we miss the chestnut, the elm and all the other species that have been the victims of parasitic attack.

In ways we are not now aware of we will sorely miss all of the wild things that go the way of the passenger pigeon. When the last ash tree is gone, we will be all the poorer for it.

With that in mind I leave you with a poem that speaks to the love, utility and admiration of the Ash tree.

The Firewood Poem

Beechwood fires are bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year,
Chestnut’s only good they say,
If for logs ’tis laid away.
Make a fire of Elder tree,
Death within your house will be;
But ash new or ash old,
Is fit for a queen with crown of gold

Birch and fir logs burn too fast
Blaze up bright and do not last,
it is by the Irish said
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread.
Elm wood burns like churchyard mould,
E’en the very flames are cold
But ash green or ash brown
Is fit for a queen with golden crown

Poplar gives a bitter smoke,
Fills your eyes and makes you choke,
Apple wood will scent your room
Pear wood smells like flowers in bloom
Oaken logs, if dry and old
keep away the winter’s cold
But ash wet or ash dry
a king shall warm his slippers by.

By Lady Celia Congreve

Keep on hiking my friends,
Ken Springer

Watoga Trail Report December 31 and January 1, 2018: Hoarfrost


Happy New Year to all the folks in the Watoga State Park Foundation, all the trail volunteers, employees of Watoga State Park and those who love and visit Watoga State Park.  I have long since quit making resolutions.  But my New Year plans are to continue getting out on those Watoga trails every chance I get in 2018.  For that I will be immensely grateful !  Today’s article is about hoarfrost.

Today I had much appreciated help from the “other mountain state”, Colorado. The following trails are clear for hiking.  In fact tracks in the snow reveal recent use.  Jesse’s Cove Trail, Arrowhead Trail, Bear Pen Run Trail, Lake Trail and Recreation Trail.

Hoarfrost Encounter

We encountered a real treat early this morning on Bear Pen Run Trail in the form of ” Hoarfrost “.  An English dictionary from the 1920s describes hoarfrost as ” expressing the resemblance of white feathers of frost to an old man’s beard”.  A more recent dictionary defines this delightful cold weather phenomenon as ” a white crystalline deposit of frozen water vapor formed in clear still weather on vegetation, fences, etc.”

Hoarfrost on pine Jesses Cove Trail Watoga State ParkTo delve a bit deeper into the formation of hoarfrost we need to look at the necessary environmental conditions. To produce any form of frost you need water in the form of a gaseous vapor and it must be suspended in the air over the ground that is at a temperature no greater than 32 degree F.  Today’s temperature clearly met that requirement.

When these water vapor molecules come in contact with a subfreezing surface, such as a pine needle, they jump directly from a gas state to a solid state. This process, known as “deposition”, leaves a coating of tiny ice crystals that sometimes develop into these beautiful feathery forms as you see in the pictures.

Hoarfrost found along Jesses Cove Trail Watoga State ParkNow a word of advice to those who attempt to photograph these ephemeral sculptures.  If you are being accompanied by a creature of the canine persuasion you would be wise to tie that critter off.  While conducting your photography session, they seem to be drawn directly to the object of your attention. This often results in a paw coming directly down on your specimen of hoarfrost before the shutter is released. Believe me, I speak from experience.

Happy Hiking,

Ken Springer