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 .

Watoga Trail Report February 17, 2018: Opinions About Logging Watoga State Park

The NW section of Honey Bee Trail was littered with limbs from yesterday afternoon winds. There is one tree down on this section requiring a chainsaw, but is an easy step-over.  Opinions about logging Watoga State Park.

Here are some of the comments from the folks who use and love Watoga State Park.  It is clear they do not want to see this wonderful park logged.

Opinions About Logging Watoga State Park

“What a shame.  Before long we will have no mountains.  We are known for our mountains.  It all comes down to the all mighty dollar!””

“Nothing is sacred any longer, it’s all about money.  So sad”

” I hope our legislature rethinks this terrible proposal to log in Watoga.  I have posted about my long connection and affection for Watoga and hope it continues to be protected and respected for time unlimited.”

” We had a wonderful week hiking the beautiful trails that are right out your front door when you stay in one of their cabins.  We hiked over 50 miles this week by combining different trails to form loop trails and were in many areas of the park.  The beauty of nature is quite evident when you are deep in the woods and have a feeling of peace and contentment like no other!  To even consider logging in this beautiful park is so wrong!!  Watoga State Park should be maintained as it was created for people to get back one with nature.  Once that is destroyed it can never be recreated.  Logging should never be permitted in Watoga or any state park!!!”

Happy Hiking,

Ken Springer

Why Watoga State Park Should Be Spared from Logging

Why Watoga State Park should be spared from logging.  Speaking as an individual who has a fair amount of familiarity and interest in Watoga State Park, I see the logging of the park as contrary to the intentions of its design and conception nearly 80 years ago.   As a volunteer trail worker I have tread every foot of the 40 plus miles of trail here many times over.  I am often deeply moved by the wisdom of those who saw the unique qualities of this park so many years ago and recognized the need to protect and preserve it for future generations.

Monongaseneka Overlook of Greenbrier River Feb, 2018One only has to walk out Ann Bailey Trail to once again marvel at the peace and tranquility that these old growth forests and meadows provide.  The Arboretum, dedicated in 1938, was intentionally built as an “outdoor laboratory”.  Those who venture out on her trails can learn about the many species of trees, plants and shrubs found within the park.  At least one area of the park hosts one of the rarest orchids in North America, the Small Whorled Pogonia.  It is so decimated it is considered an endangered and protected species.

An Appeal for the Beauty of Nature

I am not an anti-logging proponent by any means.  As a former park ranger I recognize that logging is a necessary industry here in West Virginia.  I know when done properly it can be a sustainable and environmentally friendly industry.  But what I am appealing to now has far more to do with preserving a relatively small area of forest for reasons that have nothing to do with money.  Rather, it has everything to do with respect for history and the wisdom to keep some areas of great beauty sacrosanct just because it is the right thing to do.
I know that I am not alone in this sentiment.  I hear this from the people who come to Watoga year after year.

Some families have been visiting the park for several generations.  When asked why,  they most eagerly tell you it has to do with the atmosphere of the park.  Some call it a sense of wilderness.  Just yesterday I talked with Carlene and Jon Cox of Parkersburg who stay in one of Watoga’s cabins several times a year.  They pass several state parks on their drive down to Watoga.  And when you ask them why they do not hesitate to explain that it is the quality and length of the trails here.  Such sentiments speak loudly to what has been preserved in this one park.

Experience of Rock Run

I, like many folks I know, came here on a visit and ended up moving here.  Why? In my case it was my first visit. I came here to camp and hike.  My first morning here I put on my hiking boots an d started up Jesse’s Cove.  I was awed by its beauty.  Rock Run tumbling from one pool to the next; columbines and Christmas ferns hanging from moss covered cliffs and this wonderful path that ascended the stream flanked by steep hillsides clad with towering trees.  I have heard other people compare such places to entering a vast cathedral.  I felt it that day.  And I still feel to this very day.  So much so I made this area my home.

Conclusion

Yes, Watoga State Park offers these kinds of experiences because it is truly unique, one of a kind.  Don’t we have an obligation to protect these kinds of places that do so much for the soul.  To do so is truly an act of wisdom and demonstrates the very best of humanity.  A masterpiece is always better left untouched.

Watoga Trail Report February 13, 2018:

First a big Thanks to Carlene and Jon Cox for reporting trail conditions on the trails that they are hiking at Watoga this week.  Watoga trail report.

I returned to Bear Pen Trail today and removed smaller diameter trees on Bear Pen up to North Boundary and one on North Boundary.  There is one tree on North Boundary that will require a ” lift of the kilt ” to get over.  This and the one on Buck and Doe will be cut with a chainsaw ASAP.

I had plenty of time to consider why I feel so strongly about Watoga State Park on my recent drive back from Florida.  Why am I so attached to this one geographic location on the entire globe?  After all,  I sold my log home on Summerville lake and moved right across the river from Watoga, and that after only one visit .

 

Musings of  Former Natural Resources Officer

It is not like it was the first park I had ever seen. I was a DNR officer in Ohio for many years.  I worked and lived in a great number of parks, including the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  There is something truly special about this park.  Although some reasons are emotional and I do not have the words to adequately express these, the more objective things include its history, the phenomenal natural beauty here, the wonderful and dedicated people who work in the park, and the friendly and simpatico people who visit the park over and over.

I hope that over the next several trail reports you will be so kind as to indulge me in expressing these things.  I will make my case for why this park is so special and why we need to make every effort to love and protect this park. If we do this, the generations that follow us can enjoy this same affection and serenity we find when we cross the Greenbrier River and enter Watoga State Park.

Thanks and Happy Hiking,

Ken