Mountain Trail Challenge Races: Unique Courses for Runners at Watoga

Mountain Trail Challenge Races kick off on August 14 at Watoga State Park.
Mountain Trail Challenge Races kick off on August 14 at Watoga State Park. Photo by Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.

In less than two weeks, many people will meet at an old air strip in a remote region of the Allegheny Highlands in West Virginia. Throughout 2021, visitors came to Watoga State Park from near and far for various reasons. Some came to camp, hike, bike, fish or maybe stay in a cabin built in the 1930s. But, this is a group of runners gathering to do what they love: Run on the trails! And run they will at the Sixth Annual Watoga State Park Mountain Trail Challenge Races. Featured events are the half-marathon and the 5K on August 14.

Mountain Trail Challenge Races at West Virginia’s Largest State Park

As the largest state park in West Virginia at 10,000-plus acres and more than 40-miles of trails, Watoga is the ideal spot for a late summer half-marathon and 5K. In the half marathon, runners will traverse through some of the most majestic surroundings in the eastern U.S. Additionally, temperatures in mid-August tend to run on the hot side. Watoga runners will be surrounded by a canopy of trees and greens on its half-marathon and 5K courses.

While marathoners and 5K runners alike have been conditioning for Watoga’s challenging trails, volunteers from the Watoga State Park Foundation have been busy getting both courses into game-day ready shape.

So, are you ready to race? Here are a few last-minute details. Online registration ends August 7 at 11:59 p.m. After August 7, registration is in person only, on Race Day, August 14 at 6:30 a.m. at the Beaver Creek Campground Check-in Station. Here is the registration site for both races.

All race proceeds benefit the park through the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. Your donations may be tax deductible.

Race Details

Half-Marathon and 5K Races: August 14, Watoga State Park, 4800 Watoga Road, Marlinton, WV 24954. Follow the signs for Beaver Creek Campground. First up is the Half- Marathon. It begins promptly at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. The 5K starts at 8:40 a.m., ending at 2 p.m.

View the Mountain Trail Challenge Half-Marathon course map. Here’s the route for the 5K .

You can explore lodging options at the park and other places to stay or dine.

Course Updates and What Our Volunteers Are Doing

Word has it that the course surface is in excellent condition thanks to many volunteers who have been diligently removing encroaching plants and roots since 2020.

Behind the scenes at Watoga and on race day, more than 60 volunteers are working diligently to make the Mountain Trail Challenge Races the best ever. They have been busy marking the courses, using signs and flagging ribbons as well as mile point markers.

Moreover, on race day, others will be assisting with food, snacks and refreshments for the runners. You may even notice our volunteer communications team throughout the park, strategically located to ensure runners’ safety. So, look for our volunteers along the trails and other unexpected places cheering you on, staffing first-aid stations, and providing much-needed hydration. If you are able to volunteer to help the Foundation assist Watoga to become even greater than it is now, please complete this online form.

Don’t be surprised if you see a photographer or two along your route capturing your smiles and grimaces along the way. That Mountain Trail Challenge Races t-shirt you run so hard to receive is also ordered!

Many runners faces are depicted in this collage from Watoga State Park's Mountain Trail Challenge Races set to start on August 14.
Will you be one of these faces this year? Photo by Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.

Watoga Naturalist Activities — 4th of July Weekend, 2021

Happy 4th of July from Watoga State Park. We have some phenomenal Watoga naturalist activities during the 4th of July weekend for all ages to enjoy. For more information, please contact the office at (304) 799-4087 or email Naturalist Kayla Bowyer at kayla.r.bowyer at wv.gov. The following schedule is just for July 2 through July 4. We’ll be releasing a full slate of programs and activities soon.

A nice summer day greets a young visitor as he slides down the slide. Youngsters always list the pool in their Top 10. The swimming pool is a popular spot on the 4th of July at Watoga. Photo by Stanley Clark©.
The swimming pool is a popular spot on the 4th of July at Watoga. Photo by Stanley Clark©.

Friday, July 2nd

Beautiful Birds-11 a.m.

Meet Naturalist Kayla at the boat dock for a birding walk around the lake. Bring your own binoculars or some will be provided.

Butterflies and Moths-2 p.m.

Stop by the Nature Center to learn about the differences between butterflies and moths and the species that call Watoga home! Take home a butterfly craft and coloring sheets as part of a memorable 4th of July!

Creek Crawl-3:30 p.m.

Join Naturalist Kayla at the Nature Center to learn about the critters that call our creeks home. Get wet and catch amazing creek creatures.

Saturday, July 3rd

Lend a Helping Hand-10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Learn about several worthwhile endeavors and projects underway by the volunteers of the Watoga State Park Foundation. These “Helping Hands” have a special 4th of July surprise in store for you.

Roving Ranger-1 p.m.-3 p.m.

Find Naturalist Kayla floating around the office and CCC museum. Feel free to ask her questions about the park, programs, and critters that call Watoga home.

Follow the Dragon’s Tail-4 p.m.

Join Naturalist Kayla for a hike along Dragon Draft Trail through Brooks Arboretum. We will cross multiple creeks with moderate to difficult terrain. Wear closed toed shoes, bring water, and walking sticks are highly recommended. You won’t be disappointed as this is one our favorite Watoga naturalist activities.

Starry Night Stories-8 p.m.

Join the Watoga State Park Foundation behind the Riverside campground check-in station to honor the age-old tradition of telling stories under the stars. Enjoy both the beauty of the night sky and the entertaining tails woven by our story tellers.

Sunday, 4th of July

Slimy Crafts -11 a.m.

Stop by the picnic tables near the swimming pool to make Americana slime. All ages are welcome to come and create glittering slimes.

Corn Hole Games-1 p.m.

Join us for corn hole fun and games. No entry fee. Bring the whole family. Meet at the playground by the pool.

T-Shirt Tie Dye-3 p.m.

Join us to create your very own tie dye t-shirt. We have onesies, ladies t-shirts, children’s, and adult t-shirts. Sizes range from youth medium to adult 3XL (numbers may be limited). Please purchase your shirt in the gift shop before coming to the swimming pool, near the picnic tables.

We’re looking forward to seeing you at our Watoga Naturalist Activities from July 2 through July 4. Happy 4th of July from Watoga State Park and the Watoga State Park Foundation.

Your Smiles for Watoga State Park Make A Difference

Smiles for Watoga make a difference. This Old Growth Forest is one of the Foundation's projects to preserve and protect so you too can enjoy. Photo by The Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.
This Old Growth Forest is one of the Foundation’s projects to preserve and protect so you too can enjoy. Your smile helps Watoga. Photo by The Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.

Do you know how easy it is to help The Watoga State Park Foundation make worthwhile improvements at the park? On the positive side, it doesn’t cost you a penny! In fact, it takes just a minute or two to change a couple of settings on your Amazon account. Voila! In essence, help us make your smiles for Watoga memorable.

Moreover, a portion of all your future purchases at the online retailer goes directly to the Foundation to help the park. Without a doubt, that definitely counts as several smiles for Watoga.

Besides it’s so easy that we’re going to let Amazon’s step-by-step directions explain how to do this on your phone or computer:

You Too Can Help Watoga While You Shop

AmazonSmile is a way customers can support their favorite charitable organization every time they shop with Amazon, at no additional cost.

Customers who shop at smile.amazon.com will find the same Amazon they know and love, with the added bonus that AmazonSmile will donate a portion of the eligible purchase price to the charity of your choice.

Signing up is easy!

How to sign up for AmazonSmile

If you shop using the Amazon app on your mobile phone:

1. Open the Amazon Shopping app
2. Navigate to the main menu (=)
3. Tap on Settings and then select “AmazonSmile”
4. Select your charity and then follow the on-screen instructions to turn ON AmazonSmile in the mobile app
5. Once AmazonSmile has been activated in your app, future eligible app purchases will generate a donation for the charity you have selected.

If you prefer to shop using a web browser:

1. Visit smile.amazon.com
2. Sign in with the same account you use for Amazon.com
3. Select your charity
4. Start shopping! Remember to checkout at smile.amazon.com to generate donations for your chosen charity. Tip: Add a bookmark to make it easier to shop at smile.amazon.com.

Source: https://www.aboutamazon.com/news/community/how-to-sign-up-for-amazonsmile

Keep Watoga Smiling

Please choose The Watoga State Park Foundation as your designated charity. Without a doubt, it is greatly appreciated. Please share this information or link with your friends and family. When you donate smiles to Watoga, we smile too.

Happy shopping! Remember to smile today.

Watoga State Park Foundation logo
The Watoga State Park is a 501(c)(3) organization.
Your donations may be tax deductible.

Our Volunteers Have Big Hearts At Watoga State Park

The volunteers at Watoga State Park work tirelessly behind the scenes to improve your experience at the park. Consequently, individuals and businesses graciously donate time, services, talents, materials, and yes, monies too. After all, they never expect anything in return. Above all, here at the Watoga State Park Foundation, our volunteers, donors, organizations, and businesses selflessly help the park.

Volunteers at Watoga are nearing completion of restorative efforts on the Workman-Jarvis Cabin. It's in a wooded setting with a green metal roof. Hand-hewn rails line the new porch. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation.
Volunteers at Watoga are nearing the completion of restorative efforts on the Workman-Jarvis Cabin. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation.

Built in 1887: A Cabin Well Worth Saving

Significantly, in 2018, the Watoga State Park Foundation began discussing the deteriorating condition of the historic Workman-Jarvis Cabin off of the Anne Bailey Trail. Without intervention, money and volunteers, this pioneer cabin, built in 1887, certainly would no longer be a part of Watoga’s rich and storied history.

Further, by the summer of 2019, critical foundation work began on the historic Workman-Jarvis Cabin off the Anne Bailey Trail. Of course, skilled tradespeople and our volunteers were on site.

Extensive foundation repairs were required to be completed on the Workman-Jarvis cabin. Photo by The Watoga State Park Foundation.
A “before” photo of the foundation of the Workman-Jarvis Cabin. Photo by The Watoga State Park Foundation.
An "after" photo of this log cabin shows the extensive foundation work that was necessary to save this historic cabin from certain ruin. Photo by The Watoga State Park Foundation.
An “after” view of the foundation work completed at the Workman-Jarvis cabin site. Photo by The Watoga State Park Foundation.

There’s still some work to do. After all, we’ll get there. But now, because of all of you, the finish line is in sight for the Workman-Jarvis Cabin restoration project.

These Thanks Are For Our Volunteers and Donors!

The following quote aptly describes the volunteers at Watoga State Park.

“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they have the heart.” – Elizabeth Andrew, author

With that in mind, the Watoga State Park Foundations extends its sincere appreciation to the following volunteers, businesses, and donors for your help with this project. Without you, this never would have been possible.

Ethan Burgess
Vada Boback
David Elliott
Gail Hyer
Wayne Pollard
Paul Speyser
Ken Springer
Anne and Sollie Workman
The Workman Family

Beckwith Lumber Company
Glades Building Supply
Interstate Lumber Company
Jim C. Hamer Lumber Company
Judy Fencecraft
Mon Power
Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau
Pocahontas County Historical Society

News You Can Use To Volunteer Or Donate

Moreover, we will keep park visitors, volunteers, and donors updated on completion dates, activities under development, and what this cabin may mean to you in the near future.

If you would like to volunteer your time and/or services to help Watoga, please click here. Also, donors can find more information here.

We close with a quote by Jim Rohn, motivational speaker, entrepreneur, and author: “Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have.”

About the Author

John Dean is a writer, editor, and journalist. He is a member of the Watoga State Park Foundation Board of Directors. You can reach John at .

Watoga State Park’s Half Marathon and 5k Races

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go!

In mid-August, Watoga State Park’s Half Marathon and 5k Races return to West Virginia’s largest state park.

5k runners start the second leg of Watoga State Park's Half Marathon and 5k races. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.
5k runners start the second leg of Watoga State Park’s Half Marathon and 5k Races. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.

Running and walking enthusiasts prepare to be “on your mark” for details about the Sixth Annual Watoga State Park Mountain Trail Challenge Half Marathon and 5k events. Next, let’s “get set” with August 14, 2021 as a key date on your calendar. Now, it’s time to “go!” Tell your friends, family and fellow racing comrades. Of course, it is best to register as soon as possible. Early birds do receive discounts. Registration details are here.

All race proceeds benefit the park through the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.

Are You On Your Mark For Watoga State Park’s Half Marathon And 5k?

So, when is this? Details? Where? Course descriptions?

When and Where: The races will be Saturday, August 14, 2021, Watoga State Park, 4800 Watoga Road, Marlinton, WV 24954.

Start and Finish Lines: Both of Watoga’s Half Marathon and 5k Races start and finish at Watoga’s Beaver Creek Campground. At the old airstrip here, Gov. William C. Marland would land his plane in the mid-1950s to stay at a Watoga cabin in the woods. These days there is plenty of space (acres and acres of grassy flat land) for runners to stretch, warm up, and spread out before the races begin.

What and When: First up is the Half Marathon. It begins promptly at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. The 5k starts at 8:40 a.m., ending at 2 p.m. We’re almost ready to “get set” for the races.

Serious looks are on the faces of the half marathon runners as they are ready to take on a challenging 13.1-mile course at Watoga State Park's Half Marathon and 5k Races. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.
Half Marathon runners are ready to take on Watoga’s challenging 13.1-mile course. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.

Course Details: The 13.1-mile half marathon course challenges runners. Experience Watoga’s, beautiful shade trees, flora and fauna at elevations ranging from 2,560 feet to 3,200 feet. Occasionally, admire the uniqueness of part of Watoga’s 40 miles of trails as you traverse along the Allegheny Trail, Busch Settlement Trail, and Honeymoon Trail to mention a few.

View the Half Marathon course map here.

Get Set By Knowing Your Course

Up next is the 5k, which is open to runners and walkers alike.

Course Details: Along this 3.1-mile route, you will experience the beauty of tall pines, hemlock trees, and other hardwoods before traveling west into the woods. Certainly, take in the clusters of dense rhododendrons along Beaver Creek as your course joins the Allegheny Trail, making this journey a breathtaking finish as you return to the airstrip.

See the route for the 5k here. Please note that the 5k course may be slightly modified from years past. Likewise, take a look at this 2019 YouTube video of racers, course challenges, and the scenic beauty that awaits you at the park’s Half Marathon and 5k Races .

It’s Time To Go!

Now that you’ve found your mark, became set, you’re ready to go by deciding which race to enter. Here is the registration site for both races.

Regardless, it is not too early to explore lodging options here at the park and places to stay or dine.

Additionally, our volunteers will be along the trails and other unexpected places cheering you on, staffing first-aid stations and providing needed hydration at Watoga State Park’s Half Marathon and 5k Races! Let’s go, racers!

About the Author

While growing up at Watoga for more than 16 years, John C. Dean explored parts or all of the race routes, including the “Road Not Taken.” Moreover, say hello to John along with Jack and Max, his two black Labrador Retrievers, along the wooded park’s Half Marathon and 5k Races’ panoramic vistas on August 14. He won’t mind if you ask how he liked spending a day lost in Watoga’s expansive woods. John is a journalist, writer, and legal editor. He also is a member of the Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc. Board of Directors. John can be reached at .

The Top 10 Things To Do At Watoga State Park — Part 2

A log cabin build by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the early 1930s is nestled neatly again a backdrop of tall tress as spring and green begins to emerge in 2021. Cabin 34 - the "Honeymoon Cabin," is a Top 10 choice for newlyweds. 📸: John C. Dean
Cabin 34 – the “Honeymoon Cabin,” is also Top 10 choice for newlyweds. Photo by John C. Dean.

In Part One of the Top 10 Things to Do at Watoga State Park, we utilized a musical theme. This blog has a historical angle. This list is not ranked in any particular order.

Stay at a Historic Cabin or at One of Three Campgrounds — A Top 10 Must-Do

To fully enjoy what Watoga offers as the state’s largest park, plan on staying several days or a week or two at one of its 34 cabins or at one of 100 camp sites.

Experience a rustic cabin built with pine and chestnut logs in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Legacy cabins utilized native stone for foundations, chimneys, and fireplaces. All cabins have undergone extensive renovations and updates to kitchens, bathrooms and fixtures, except for Cabins 16 and 19 (Vacation cabins). Classic cabins (Cabins 3, 8-9, 14-15, 18, 28, and 33) feature various room layouts and bedroom options. If you’ve never stayed in a cabin at Watoga, this should be on your Top 10 list.

Interior of a Legacy Cabin (Cabin No. 11) highlights new furniture and interior upgrades. A fireplace takes center state as does the wood work and hewn logs from the 1930s.Photo by John Dean.
Interior of a Legacy Cabin (Cabin No. 11) retains both its historic charm almost 90 years after being built, and has upgraded amenities.
Photo by John C. Dean.

Moreover, for camping enthusiasts who prefer a more rugged experience, you can “rough” it at Laurel Run Primitive Campground. But, the Beaver Creek and Riverside campgrounds have more modern conveniences with electric hookups, laundry centers, and bathhouses.

From the Riverside Campground, you can cast a line into the Greenbrier River or hike on the 78-mile Greenbrier River Trail.

Bordering Beaver Creek Campground is Calvin Price State Forest. Enjoy a nature-filled hike in the eastern part of this 9,500-acre forest along the Allegheny Trail. Meanwhile, you may hunt with the proper license.

Joggers along road at Beaver Creek Campground.  Photo by Watoga State Park Foundation.
Joggers along road at Beaver Creek Campground. Photo by Watoga State Park Foundation.

Locations: Cabins are in strategic locations of the park. Beaver Creek Campground is just past the park’s north entrance. Riverside Campground is near the River Cabin Area, close to Seebert. The Primitive Campground is off of Kennison Run Trail.

Watoga’s Dark Skies

How dark are the skies here? Really, really dark. The pitch blackness envelopes you, making it difficult to see the person standing right beside you. Admire the Milky Way Galaxy, other constellations, Supermoons and a sky unlike any you’ve ever seen before. Scientists estimate the universe is 13.8 billion years old.

On a clear night at Watoga State Park, the 11-acre lake sits below the Milky Way Galaxy. A Top 10 Dark Sky of the Milky Way Galaxy over Watoga Lake on a clear night. Photo by Jesse Thornton©
A Top 10 Dark Sky of the Milky Way Galaxy over Watoga Lake during a clear night. Photo by Jesse Thornton©.

There are so many stars, you’ll have difficulty choosing which ones to wish upon. Catch a glimpse of one of the 13 astronomical zodiac constellations depending on the time of year. For even more amazing sights, bring your binoculars or telescope to focus on a definite Top 10 favorite. Stay tuned for potential history-making news about Watoga’s dark skies.

Just look up while you’re here.

Locations: All around you.

The Swimming Pool

After exploring the park’s many trails and scenic overlooks, you can take a break at the swimming pool, the first-ever built at a state park. It’s also the last major project completed by CCC workers in 1940. Notice the stonework as you walk up the steps to the main entrance to the pool.

Once there, relax, grab a bite to eat at the snack bar, or complete a few laps as the children enjoy the water slide. The main pool’s depth ranges from three feet to eight feet, with a separate wading area for toddlers. While the water was brisk in year’s past, it is much warmer now thanks to solar panels.

A nice summer day greets a young visitor as he slides down the slide. Youngsters always list the pool in their Top 10. Photo by Stanley Clark©.
Without doubt, youngsters list the pool in their Top 10. Photo by Stanley Clark©.

Location: Next door to Cabin No. 20, near the Activities Center.

Lightning Bugs — An Enlightening Top 10

Remember when you were younger and chased after lightning bugs as soon as darkness fell? You may still want to do so. We know your children will, especially at Watoga where different species of those mesmerizing lightning bugs thrive. We think the fascination with lightning bugs is a perennial mainstay of the Top 10 things to do at Watoga.

Recently, the Division of Natural Resources confirmed the existence of a colony of synchronous fireflies in a still-secretive location. Time will tell if Watoga will be the next Great Smoky Mountains National Park for firefly watching. However, there could be a firefly festival in the Watoga’s future. One state expert thinks that Watoga and West Virginia may become the new lightning bug capital of the U.S.

In a secluded area at Watoga, a synchronous firefly (Photinus carolinus) pauses before liftoff to search for a mate. Photo by Tiffany Beachy©.
A synchronous firefly (Photinus carolinus) pauses before liftoff to search for a mate. Photo by Tiffany Beachy©.

Likewise, we’ll be releasing more details about this Watoga wonder in June’s issue of Wonderful West Virginia magazine.

Location: Almost everywhere in the park you can see different species of fireflies. But the location of the synchronous fireflies will not be revealed until a conservation management plan is put into place at Watoga to protect their habitat.

Have A Top 10 Get Together With Friends And Family

Watoga gets you away from it all. You can feel the stress melt away. So take a walk. Enjoy your surroundings. Listen to how quiet it is. Relax.

Since Watoga’s opening in 1937, it’s been a place to get together [link to book maybe] For decades, families have held family reunions and picnics at many different places in the park.

Presently, the remodeled Activities Center, is the new gathering place for weddings, receptions, birthday parties, meetings, and more.

The brown sided wood building at 2,100 square feet is atop a hill not far from the swimming pool. This is a photo in the early fall of 2020.
With more than 2,100 square feet available, the former Rec Hall building (now the Activity Center) hosts a variety of events. Photo by John Dean.

Locations: Pick your spot in the expanse of 10,100 acres.

Create Your Own Top 10 At Watoga

When you visit Watoga, immerse yourself in a bygone era, complete with today’s modern amenities. Create your Top 10 (or 50), make lifelong memories, and catch a lightning bug or a shooting star. Relax and sit around the campfire roasting marshmallows. Maybe later tell a captivating ghost story or two. The dazzling display of lightning bugs and star-filled skies are awaiting your arrival at Watoga.

Then when you are home, let us know what your Top 10 things to do at Watoga are.

About the Author

For his first 16 years, John C. Dean lived in the park. Even today, he’s fascinated by the hypnotic display of majestic lightning bugs. John’s inspiration to be a writer came from many nights looking upward at Watoga’s dark sky treasures. Recently, he was elected to the Watoga State Park Foundation’s Board of Directors, but will continue writing about park news and its history. You can reach John at .

The Top 10 Things To Do At Watoga State Park — Part One

These two sisters with their bicycles pose at the Watoga State Park entrance sign. Sisters Rachelle (L) and Sara (R) had more than one Top 10 List when visiting Watoga as a family each year as part of the Bott family.  📸: David Bott, 1987.
By the time that sisters Rachelle (L) and Sara (R) Bott made it to Watoga, each had more than one Top 10 List. The Bott family have visited Watoga for more than seven decades. 📸: David Bott.

While struggling recently to somehow narrow down an expansive list of the Top 10 Things to Do at Watoga State Park for this blog, John Denver’s smash hit “Country Roads” became stuck in my brain — for days. Other songs did also.

Notably, tomorrow, April 12, 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of Denver‘s signature song.

Watoga does “remind me of my home far away.” In fact, I grew up in the park. But until I am in the park visiting my old haunts there, those memories of country roads seem oh so distant.

Of course, that is until I get to go back to my favorite places at the state’s largest park. So, here are five of my “must-do’s” at Watoga (in no particular order). Moreover, the next five will round out the Top 10 in a future blog.

Tall tees of green, red, orange and yellow are captured in a reflection on Watoga Lake in the Fall. Number one on many Top 10 Lists is the 11-acre Watoga Lake. Photo courtesy of Tana Shifflett - Facebook.
Certainly number one on many Top 10 Lists is the 11-acre Watoga Lake. 📸: Tana Shifflett – Facebook.

A Definite Top 10 — Watoga’s Fishin’ Hole

Watoga Lake is 11 acres with paddle, canoe and rowboats available. Fishing opportunities abound, ranging from trout and bluegill to largemouth bass and channel catfish. Stroll the circumference of the trail around the lake while casting a line to take in nature’s beauty on full display.

Location: From the southern entrance to the park, travel five miles. The lake is just a few steps from the CCC Museum, the gift shop, and the park’s office.

“What a fine day to take a stroll and wander by the fishin’ hole.

I cannot think of a better way to pass the time o’ day . . .”

The Fishin’ Hole, by Andy Griffith.

A stunning view of the Greenbrier River and Droop Mountain to the south along the Monongaseka Trail. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation.
A miles-long view of the Greenbrier River and Droop Mountain to the south along the Monongaseka Trail. 📸: Watoga State Park Foundation.

Watoga’s 40 Miles of Trails

Watoga provides visitors with many opportunities to explore, hike, and bike with 40 miles of trails. My fave is the Brooks Memorial Arboretum Trail, a 4.5-mile loop, rated easy to moderate. However, there are 12 other trails to explore throughout the park.

Location: The trails are well marked throughout Watoga’s 10,000-plus acres of this recreational playground. The park office and the Internet have maps of the trails system.

At Watoga, it is easy to find “your” trail. Maybe listen to Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”?

Ann Bailey Lookout Tower at sunrise. Photo by Watoga State Park Foundation.
Especially stunning is the Ann Bailey Lookout Tower at sunrise. 📸: Watoga State Park Foundation.

Ann Bailey Lookout Tower

Take a hike to the observation tower named in honor of Revolutionary War scout Ann Bailey. You will not be disappointed by the panoramic vista of the Greenbrier River and the farmland in the Little Levels district of the Hillsboro area. Remember your camera or phone.

Location: East of the T.M. Cheek Memorial. Park at the Ann Bailey Trailhead. You can then hike or ride your mountain bike for three miles along an old roadbed, traversing along the top of Pyles Mountain and Workman Ridge. Along the way, you are sure to see or hear something you have not for a while. Please note that this trail is rated as moderate to difficult.

Once there, The Who’s classic tune “I can see for miles and miles and miles” makes the trek worth this journey. There are several of these song-like views in Watoga.

T.M. Cheek Memorial Overlook - it's just one of several Top 10 views at Watoga. | 📸: Watoga State Park Foundation, Inc.
T.M. Cheek Memorial Overlook – to be sure, it’s just one of several Top 10 views at Watoga. | 📸: Watoga State Park Foundation.

T.M. Cheek Memorial Makes Our Top 10

With expansive views of the Greenbrier Valley and Kennison Mountain, it is well worth your time to take a seat for what lies before you. During your visit to the T.M. Cheek Memorial, there is also a hillside picnic area – the perfect spot for lunch with your family or friends.

Location: Travel east from the park office past the Buck’s Run cabin area, along a winding, country road.

While there, have a seat on Vernon’s bench. He was my dad and friend. In effect, we kept going back to try to solve the world’s problems while taking in the view. The theme song to “Friends” comes to mind.

The photographer loved how this park bench near the Brooks Memorial Arboretum seemed to be inviting her to take a seat and enjoy the snowy view. Snow lines both sides of the stream as rhododendron are on a hill across from the creek. 📸:  Angela Hill©.
A winter scene near the Brooks Memorial Arboretum. 📸: Angela Hill©.

The Brooks Memorial Arboretum

Not only is this a naturalist’s dream come true, but the Brooks Memorial Arboretum is a place where you can take in the smells, sights and sounds—rhododendron in bloom, mountain streams flowing gently, and songbirds a chirpin’. Even so, it is not as quiet here as you may imagine.

Location: From Seebert near the Greenbrier River, it is just a few miles as you travel toward the park office.

After all, the Arboretum is where I penned some of my first words as a young writer. Think of Barry Manilow’s hit “I Write the Songs.”

Watoga – A Top 10 Song Worth Listening To Over and Over

For Watoga’s Top 10 List of Forever Hits, you too can enjoy spring’s symphony of birds, summer’s mesmerizing lightning bugs, fall’s rustling leaves, and winter’s howling winds to mention a few.

So as I cross the Greenbrier River at Seebert to return to the city, those words to “Country Roads” begin playing again. I am at peace knowing that Watoga, my forever Wild and Wonderful home, will always play the right tune for me when I return.

About the Author

John C. Dean, a writer and editor, grew up in Watoga where his favorite sights and sounds melodically filled the air throughout the year. You can reach John with your list of the Top 10 Things to Do at Watoga State Park by emailing him at .

News You Can Use At Watoga State Park — The Activity Center

The brown sided wood building at 2,100 square feet is atop a hill not far from the swimming pool. This is a photo in the early fall of 2020.
With more than 2,100 square feet available, the former Rec Hall building (now the Activity Center) hosts a variety of events. Photo by John Dean.

This edition of “Watoga State Park News You Can Use” showcases the building formerly known as the Rec Hall. It is now the Activity Center. And yes, it’s still usable in many different ways — just not the same as in decades gone by.

Just a short walk from the park’s swimming pool is the former Rec Hall building. It has undergone a major transformation to a multipurpose building in the last few years. We’ll provide details on that in a moment.

But first let’s take a quick look back in time at a few details. The rec hall is nestled against a wooded backdrop where for 50-plus years you had a variety of indoor entertainment options. Those included ping pong, billiards, pinball machines, a juke box, to mention a few.

Built in the mid-1960s, the building served as a home base for the park’s naturalist as well as options for park guests on a rainy day. A floor plan from 1964 shows the recreation hall is approximately 2,100 square feet.

Just What Has Changed?

But now, the brown-sided structure plays host to a variety of events, ranging from weddings/receptions to family and class reunions, company meetings, and even school dances.

What changes were made to convert the former Rec Hall to a multiuse building? Here’s some news about improvements to that building.

New pine cabinets accents a newly installed kitchen at the park's Activity Center.
A new kitchen was added to the multipurpose building to accommodate guests hosting their event. Photo by Watoga State Park.

Of importance to groups now renting the Activity Center is the addition of a household style kitchen with wood cabinets blending in with pine paneling.

“We added a new drop ceiling throughout,” says Jody Spencer, park superintendent. “New flooring, lighting, and a heat pump were installed too.”

“The old chimney leaked really bad due to old crumbling stones and cement joists falling apart, Spencer says. “That was the reason for the terrible floor. So, we removed the chimney, and installed gas logs in the fireplace.”

Recently, all new tables and chairs were purchased. The building features public Wi-Fi.

Spencer explains that depending on the set-up for an event inside, 75-100 people can enjoy the facilities with almost unlimited space outside.

News You Can Use — Reservation Details

The Activity Center is available for rent in the spring, summer, and fall. Prices are $175 per day for all reunions and parties (for example, birthdays, baby showers, or anniversaries) and $250/day for wedding/wedding receptions. All park rules must be followed, including limits on excessive noise. Events must end no later than 10 p.m.

This photo shows some of the improvements that is making news at Watoga State Park. New lighting and new floors highlight those changes. Photo by Watoga State Park
Welcome news for those planning a wedding and/or a reception. The former Rec Hall building can now be the site of your special occasion. Photo by Watoga State Park.

Peak demand occurs in the summer when the building is rented most weekends. But it’s not too late to book your special occasion. You may contact the park office at 304-799-4087 for reservations. At this time, online bookings are not available.

While the area surrounding the Activity Center is about three acres or so, visitors and guests can still enjoy the other 10,100-plus acres in the park. With 40 miles of trails, an 11-acre stocked lake, three campgrounds, and much more, Watoga offers something for everyone.

For weddings or reunions where guests have to travel from a distance, the park offers cabin and camping-type lodging for folks to gather nearby,” Spencer notes.

Stay tuned for the next installment of “Watoga State Park News You Can Use.”

About the Author

John C. Dean is a writer and editor. He grew up in the park in the 1960s and 1970s when the Rec Hall was first built.

Watoga State Park News You Can Use — Cabins, Camping, and More

Watoga State Park News you can use about cabin upgrades and more. Featured again a fall back drop is one of the park's cabins built in the 1930s by West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
Watoga State Park News you can use about cabin upgrades and more. Featured against a fall back drop is one of the park’s cabins built in the 1930s. Photo by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.

When you visit one of the oldest state parks in West Virginia, you may feel as if you just stepped back in time. While you can still experience that feeling these days, you can also enjoy modern-day amenities and conveniences. So here is some Watoga State Park news you can use!

In the past few years, Watoga’s 88 campsites and 34 cabins have undergone a transformation unlike any seen in recent history. In 2018, to fund improvements at state parks and forests, West Virginia sold $55 million in lottery revenue bonds.

The Division of Natural Resources has approximately $3.6 million budgeted to Watoga as part of our current bond funding,” says Brad Reed, West Virginia Parks Chief. “Some of this work is already completed. Most of the funding is for cabin renovations, utility upgrades to camping, and water/wastewater infrastructure projects.”

Jody Spencer, Watoga’s superintendent, explains that “major infrastructure projects include a new sewer plant at Beaver Creek along with sewer upgrades in the Pine Run Cabin Area.” Moreover, 90 percent of the park’s water lines, and systems are being replaced. “Additionally, all campsites at Beaver Creek and Riverside campgrounds will now have electrical service,” notes Spencer.

Cabin News

Interior of a Legacy Cabin (Cabin No. 11) highlights new furniture and interior upgrades. A fireplace takes center state as does the wood work and hewn logs from the 1930s.Photo by John Dean.
Interior of a Legacy Cabin (Cabin No. 11) highlights new furniture. Photo by John Dean.

Major upgrades have been made to Watoga’s legacy and classic cabins. These include modern kitchens with high-end cabinets, cultured marble countertops, and new appliances. Likewise, in living spaces, you will enjoy the comfort of furniture crafted of solid wood. Stylish window treatments and light fixtures enhance the cabins’ new look. In addition, bathrooms feature tile floor, cultured marble surrounds, and stylish bathroom fixtures.

Watoga State Park news you can use is the added benefit of new furniture to cabins.
Custom-built furniture as shown in one of the cabins at the park. Photo by Watoga State Park.

At eight classic cabins, large decks enhance your outdoor enjoyment of the nearby forest. When you reserve one of the park’s legacy cabins, on-demand water heaters and heating/air units supply year-round comfort. Of course, there is always the wood-burning fireplace to enjoy.

But wait! There’s more Watoga State Park news you can use.

Making News at Beaver Creek and Riverside Campgrounds

Both bathhouses at Riverside and Beaver Creek campgrounds have undergone major upgrades featuring new plumbing and tile floors. Photo by Watoga State Park.
Bathhouses at Riverside and Beaver Creek campgrounds have undergone major upgrades featuring new plumbing and tile floors. Photo by Watoga State Park.

Remodeled bathhouses at Riverside and Beaver Creek campgrounds feature culture marble or tile shower surrounds, ceramic floor tiles, and new plumbing fixtures. Both camping areas have larger areas to pitch a tent or park an RV.

Campers can now utilize a remodeled shower stall at one of the park's two campgrounds. Photo by Watoga State Park.
Campers can now utilize a remodeled shower stall at one of the park’s two campgrounds. Photo by Watoga State Park.

“Sites were leveled, new culverts added to improve drainage, and tons of gravel spread throughout,” notes Spencer. At Beaver Creek Campground, you have easy access to Calvin Price State Forest, also managed by Spencer. At Riverside Campground near the Greenbrier River, you’re just a stone’s throw away from casting a fishing line.

Fishing and Lake News

At Watoga Lake, repairs to the existing boat docks will appeal to anglers. New fishing boats and pedal boats are available as well.

Spencer points out that “for fishing and joy riding, a pontoon-style pedal boat has become very popular.”

“Over one hundred feet of new floating docks were constructed and added to the existing boat rental docks,” said Spencer.

“Hot Spots” and Park Benches

The Recreation Hall, close to the park’s swimming pool, underwent a makeover to serve as a multi-purpose or activity building. As a matter of fact, with a newly added kitchen, it is a popular site for weddings, reunions, and corporate meetings. You can contact the park office at 304-799-4087 to reserve the building for a meeting or special occasion.

Also, as part of several recreational activities outside the building, work on the tennis courts will start soon.

For those who have not visited recently, the park’s offices have moved to a new location. It is now in the end of the Administration Building formerly occupied by the restaurant. Moreover, this new space has Wi-Fi and a gift shop. Other Wi-Fi hot spots are at the swimming pool, recreation hall, the Beaver Creek Campground check-in building and both Riverside Campground bathhouses.

While driving through the park, you may notice some of the 37 park benches placed in scenic vantage points.

“It has been a good project that will provide much needed benches for many years to come,” says Mac Gray, treasurer of the Watoga State Park Foundation.” In fact, you can find more information about benches and the Watoga State Park Bench Project in a prior post.

Lightning Bugs and Dark Skies

The Watoga night skies make a perfect setting for “catching” a lightning bug or stargazers. In fact, the park will be applying for designation as a dark sky park with the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park and Calvin Price State Forest will be a part of a joint application. In that regard, 150 exterior lights (or 90 percent of all lights in the park) now use shielded light fixtures to conform to IDA dark sky standards.

The Milky Way Galaxy above a Watoga cabin. Photo by Jesse Thronton©.
The Milky Way Galaxy above a Watoga cabin. Photo by Jesse Thronton©.

At Watoga in 2021, you can still take that step back in time. But now, you have modern-day amenities at your fingertips.

Stay tuned for more Watoga State Park news you can use about mesmerizing lightning bugs at Watoga as well as the park’s dazzling dark skies.

During the day, enjoy Watoga’s 40 miles of trails and scenic vistas throughout West Virginia’s largest state park. At night while roasting marshmallows by the campfire, take in the dark skies and lightning bugs like you have never seen them before.

About the Author

John Dean is a writer, editor, blogger, and journalist. You can contact John at

A News Year Full of Lightning Bugs and Dark Skies at Watoga State Park

Breaking News: A star-filled night sky captivates watchers near the Beaver Creek Campground one clear October night. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation©. This is just one of the photos of Watoga State Park
A star-filled night sky captivates galaxy watchers near the Beaver Creek Campground on a clear October night. Look for more news about dark skies at Watoga this year. Photo by the Watoga State Park Foundation©.

Talk about a park with views and news! Happy News Year from Watoga State Park. It’s going to be a memorable one here in this 10,000-acre magical forest.

You may be wondering why I wrote Happy “News” Year to start this blog. To begin with, it’s going to be a busy news year for Watoga State Park, dominated by the Dark Sky Project and synchronous fireflies. But rest assured that there will a variety of Watoga news in 2021.

Learning the Basics of Accurate and Factual Newswriting

But first, a little background about how I became interested in journalism and how I learned to write a news story.

At Pocahontas County High School (WV) in the 1970s, I was first introduced to newswriting by journalism teacher, Grace Jane Wigal. In those days before computers, spell checks, and print-on-demand technology, Mrs. Wigal expertly taught us how to put together the high school’s first-ever newspaper, the Smoke Signal—mostly by hand.

The newspaper staff conducted interviews utilizing the 5 W’s and H (who, what, when, where, why, and how), took their own photos, and watched as stories came to life on a Royal manual typewriter. Then the tedious process of carefully cutting (yeah, with scissors) from an 8-1/2” x 11” sheet of paper began. Next, we carefully glued those articles onto a layout template. After that, Mrs. Wigal sent those pages to the printer while we waited impatiently to see the end result.

Notably, Mrs. Wigal’s leadership and guidance in the 1970s and 1980s helped her students consistently produce award-winning newspapers and yearbooks. Furthermore, many newspaper and yearbook staff members won state and national journalism awards. Moreover, multiple students under Mrs. Wigal’s direction pursued degrees and careers in journalism, including me.

News produced on a classic Royal typewriter. Longstanding columnist Herb Caen, of the San Francisco Chronic called this his "Loyal Royal." Notice the millions of words typed.
Now this is news! Legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen (1916-1997) used this Royal typewriter his entire career, typing 14,133,000 words with only two fingers. He referred to it as his “Loyal Royal.” Photo by Uyvsdi – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11786284

Above all, Mrs. Wigal taught us how critical it was to accurately report facts.

Newswriting Dreams: My Role Models, and Their Inspiration and Impact

After PCHS, in 1989, Mrs. Wigal earned a Doctor of Law degree (J.D.) from the West Virginia University (WVU) College of Law. From 1989-1992, she practiced law with Steptoe and Johnson, a Clarksburg, West Virginia law firm. Later, Mrs. Wigal taught aspiring attorneys as a professor at the WVU College of Law, serving as Director of Academic Excellence, Director of Legal Research and Writing Program, and Director of Appellate Advocacy Program. She is a retired Teaching Professor Emerita.

Thank you, Mrs. Wigal. You will forever have a special place in my life, along with my Dad, for motivating me to pursue my newswriting dreams. Not only did she set the bar high for myself and others, but she also explained why. Years ago, she gave me permission to call her “Grace,” but she’s fondly known to me as Mrs. Wigal. However, she will always be THE TEACHER who inspired me to aim for more than what I thought I could accomplish.

And here’s a special thank you to Mr. William P. McNeel for the influence and impact you have had and still do in my writing and editing career. Mr. McNeel is an editor emeritus of the Pocahontas Times (WV). Additionally, he’s a well-respected historian and a board member of the Watoga State Park Foundation.

News You Can View at Watoga

Which brings me back to the topic at hand. For Watoga, 2021 could be one of the busiest news years ever for Watoga State Park. Here’s why:

First, Calvin Price State Forest, Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, and Watoga State Park recently submitted a joint application to the International Dark Sky Association (IDA). If approved, all three will be designated as a Dark Sky Park encompassing more than 20,000 acres in scenic Pocahontas County. Additionally, I’ll be on-site at Watoga several times throughout 2021. I’m going to have a lot of fun detailing what those breathtaking views could mean for you.

The majesty of firelies (Photinus Carolinus) in Pennsylvania in 2013. Photo courtesty of Radim Schreiber©; FireflyExperience.org, as published at https://commons.wikimedia.org./w/index.php?curid=28965546
The majesty of fireflies (Photinus Carolinus) as photographed in Pennsylvania in 2013. However, in 2021, there will be more news about fireflies and Watoga in 2021. Photo courtesty of Radim Schreiber©; FireflyExperience.org, as published at https://commons.wikimedia.org./w/index.php?curid=28965546https://commons.wikimedia.org./w/index.php?curid=28965546

Second, the discovery of synchronous fireflies at Watoga could mean more big “news” for you. Officials have confirmed the existence of this wondrous species in a location yet to be disclosed publicly. Additionally, the Dark Sky Project and those lightning bugs are intertwined. Likewise, I’ll explore why and how both of these impact Watoga and you in the near future.

Third, I’m also going to write about improvements at the park that will enhance your stay or visit.

Fourth, I’ll be penning a unique, two-part, Ten Best Things to Do at Watoga article.

Fifth, there will be personal anecdotes and adventures from visitors and myself while growing up at Watoga. For instance, there even may be some never-before-published news.

News You can Use

In conclusion, please check out the February 1 issue of Wonderful West Virginia magazine for news about Watoga. You can explore subscription options by clicking here.

Happy News Year. Until next time, signing off from Watoga’s Wild, Wonderful World of dark skies and synchronous fireflies.

About the Author

John C. Dean is a writer, editor, blogger, and journalist. He credits Mrs. Wigal for helping him earn a journalism degree with a focus on newswriting from WVU. John lived on-site at Watoga for 16 years. You can send your news tips to him at .