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 .

Mister Good Wrench of Watoga

Mechanical Milieu

Probably the best advice that was ever given to me by an uncle who freely dispensed advice, much of it unsolicited, was to be good to your mechanic. He was spot on; if you are fortunate enough to find a competent and trustworthy person to entrust the health of your car to, it pays to show your appreciation. We appreciate Mister Good Wrench of Watoga.

Even more so because, like many professions, this one is fraught with unscrupulous operators – but not here in Pocahontas County of course.

Car Talk was a radio show about auto repairs that ran for 35 years on National Public Radio. It was hosted by brothers, Tom and Ray Magliozzi also called “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers.” The two actually ran an auto repair shop in Boston’s Harvard Square.

People would call into the show with their car troubles and Click and Clack would diagnose the problem with a great deal of hilarity. I never missed a show in all those years for two reasons; yes, they were funny, very funny. But the show explored every possible problem you might encounter with a vehicle – so it was also very practical.

Gone are the days when you could pick up a distributor cap, a set of points and spark plugs at the NAPA store and do your own tune-up. Today’s auto mechanic must be skilled in technical diagnostics and computerized systems, in addition to being handy with a torque wrench.

Car Talk made me realize that a good mechanic has to have a lot of smarts and must think like a detective. A problem with a vehicle may be caused by a multitude of things and the right questions must be asked to pinpoint the actual cause of the problem. Computerized diagnostics also help, but you have to have the skills to operate this technology.

Meet Mister Good Wrench of Watoga

Watoga State Park got a good deal when they hired Arthur Sharp to maintain the fleet of trucks, backhoes, grader, mowers, and chainsaws necessary to keep the park running smoothly.

Arthur Sharp, Mr Goodwrench of Watoga State Park

Arthur, a native of Pocahontas County, came to the job with skills learned as a diesel mechanic for the West Virginia National Guard.

He attended the twelve-week school at Fort Jackson, South Carolina where he graduated an “all wheels” mechanic.

In fact, Arthur wears a lot of hats. In addition to being a full-time mechanic at the park, he is active in the West Virginia National Guard, operates a farm

and is the fire chief at Cass. It tired me out just writing that paragraph.

Where does a guy that busy find time to marry his wife Kristine and produce three great kids; Noah, Evan, and 8-month old Hope? Arthur manages it by taking care of the farm work in the evening when he can also be there with his family.

When visitors return to Watoga State Park this season they will find the Riverside Campground boasting many improvements. Backhoes and graders have been in the campground all winter pulling ditches, putting in new drainage systems, and resurfacing many of the campsites.

In other areas of the park, employees have been preemptively cutting down trees that pose a falling hazard to nearby buildings. The half-dozen mowers required to keep the grass down throughout the park, have been repaired and are awaiting use this spring.

It is Arthur who keeps all of this equipment running.

Part of the goal of the Watoga Trail Report is to make the public aware of how their park is being maintained and cared for. In doing so it is necessary to point out the many dedicated park employees, like Arthur Sharp, Mr Good Wrench of Watoga, who strive each day to make your visit a memorable one.

Other Park News

In a previous dispatch, we talked about the restoration and upgrades being made to many of the cabins. It was mentioned that the money for this project comes from the sale of government bonds and Watoga State Park was the recipient of this windfall.

Work on the cabins has been going on for about two years now, resulting in new decks, remodeled kitchens and bathrooms, and new furniture.

I have been stopping in from time to time to observe the progress, taking photographs and talking with the many skilled workers involved.

One thing became instantly clear to me; this influx of money for the cabins not only benefits the visitors to the park but, for the most part, those dollars are staying right here in Pocahontas County.

As much of the building material as possible is purchased locally. Additionally, the project is also bringing work to local contractors like Stuart Horner of JB Builders and David Smith of Marlinton-based Dream Builders. They, in turn, hire labor so the overall benefits extend well outside the park.

Stuart Horner, JB Builders and David Smith, Dream Builders

Pine Run Cabin Renovations

A recent visit to a couple of the cabins in the Pine Run Cabin Area, found employees refinishing the chestnut floors. It was a great opportunity to see side by side cabins in different stages of removal of the old floor finish.

Keeping in mind that these particular cabins were built over 80 years ago, to get to the original wood surface required sanding through many layers of polyurethane or varnish. How many? No one really knows but it looked to me like the workers were going through a lot of sandpaper.

Arthur showed me a cabin in which the finishing was completed. There was yellow tape across the door like you would see at a crime scene. We only peeked through the open door but the finished floor was dazzling.

Interior of rehabbed cabin on Pine Run, Watoga State Park

Imagine all of the park visitors who strode those floors for over eight decades. Also, imagine what it cost to rent that cabin back in 1937? It turns out that it was $30 per week for a six-person cabin.

It may sound inexpensive, but keep in mind that in 1937, during the Great Depression, the average annual wage was only $1780. The cost of a gallon of gasoline was 10 cents and a loaf of bread was 9 cents.

The average annual wage in the U.S. today is approximately $48,672 and the rate for that same six-person cabin today is $953 per week.

A quick calculation reveals that in 1937 it required 1.6% of your annual wages to rent a cabin at Watoga for you and your family and friends for a week. Today renting that same cabin accounts for 1.9% of your annual wages, not that much difference. So in truth, you are paying just about the same today as you would have in 1937.

Watoga State Park has only raised the cost of renting its cabins attendant with rising salaries throughout the years. It is still a good bargain to rent a cabin and enjoy all of the other amenities and activities found within the park and around Pocahontas County.

From the mountain trails of Watoga,