Wind Rain Stay on the Job

Ken is out west (Ohio) for a few weeks, scouting places to come back from, and I miss his daily reports on trail conditions. Wind rain stay on the job. Though he’s taking time off, the rain has been on the job soaking the soil, the winds have blown, and the mercury has been jumping up and down in the thermometer, so things have kept happening in the woods. Today I went out to take a look at the vicinity of the Beaver Creek Campground. Starting from the Allegheny Trail crossing on the Beaver Creek Road and heading south on the trail toward the airstrip there was just the usual light smattering of branches on the trail, with one exception. Temps were still in the twenties, so wet spots were more likely to be icy, and thus easier to cross.

Large White Pine across the 5K Trail at Watoga State Park

5K Race Route

Once I got to the airstrip, I picked up the 5K race route. What a beautiful 2 mile hike it is! (It needs the connection from the start/finish at the campground and the partial loop of the airstrip to make a full 5K.) There were branches on the trail in the usual places and some larger blowdowns, each indicated by a red X on this map – nothing that a band of senior citizens armed with chain saws can’t deal with. Runners in the last 3 Mountain Trail Challenge 5Ks (they keep coming back) may be happy to learn that Nimble Alley retains its charm. I have thought of replacing “What-did-I-get-myself-into Hill” with a gentler short ascent to the ridge, probably named “Why-didn’t-we-go-this-way-last-year Hill”, but it’s not likely to happen soon. Maybe for the 5th annual Mountain Trail Challenge in 2020.

Topo map of the 5K Trail route Watoga State Park

I was afraid the stones underfoot would be uncomfortable, but, honest, I didn’t feel a thing, … and for a while afterward, too.

While we walked back down the airstrip a great blue heron came out of the woods near the creek and flew down the road ahead of us for a bit. A minute later it swooped up out of a tree and coasted across the airstrip.

Ken has a tough job patrolling these trails. With him away, we’ve just got to step up and fill in as best we can. Wind rain stay on the job.

Pine Run Cabin Area Trails

Today’s trail-work was concentrated on the Pine Run Cabin Area Trails. Two of the classic cabins are open in the winter months.  Consequently, I have noticed that the robust folks who rent these cabins, at this time of year, are often hikers.

Pine Run Hiker Advantages


Subsequently, those staying in this area have access to a great number of trails without having to drive anywhere.  Pine Run, Honeymoon, and TM Cheek trails all have trail-heads in the Pine Run Cabin Area. These trails also junction with trails that lead towards the Beaver Creek area, TM Cheek Overlook and the trails around Watoga Lake.

An old blaze on an oak tree on the Allegheny Trail – one that opens up the tree to damaging insects and fungus. Today a single yellow blaze marks the length of the Allegheny Trail, which I am sure the trees appreciate.

So today we cleaned up the Allegheny Trail to Honeymoon Trail.  Meanwhile, after traipsing through the cabin area, continued clearing the Recreation and Laurel Trails. There are several trees down on these sections of trail.  They will be cut with a chainsaw in the near future.

I find winter hiking to be enjoyable and possessing a beauty of its own. The lack of canopy opens up views that are hidden in the warmer months.  As well, fewer people are on the trails so there is a greater sense of solitude.

Beauty of Solid Water

Plus, when water transitions from liquid to solid, the keen eye spots unique and ephemeral sculptures that may very well be seen by “your eyes only.” Something created just for you ! And you can’t beat that.

A light snow on the banks and dock of Watoga Lake. Soon the lake will freeze bringing joy to the ice fisherman who return every year like the swallows to Capistrano.

Take a winter hike my friends,

Ken Springer

Watoga Trail Report June 28, 2018 Update

Watoga Trail Report June 28, 2018 Update.  It felt wonderful to get back out Watoga’s trails.  This morning ended a month- long convalescence from rib fractures sustained on the Bear Pen Loop.  My dog Bongo felt it would be a good idea to go right back out on the same trail.  Sort of a “get back in the saddle” suggestion.  And, as usual, he was spot on.  We cleaned all but 2 trees that will require another visit with rope and pulleys.

First Chanterelle of the  Season!

Whilst working the Bear Pen Loop I found my first ChanterelleFirst chanterelle of the season of the season up on the North Boundary Trail, and as a bonus came upon this trio of Quilted RussulasQuilted Russula just a few yards on down the trail. Both of these species of mushrooms are about as flavorful a wild treat as one can find here in the Appalachians.

These delicacies are destined for a dish called a Spanish Tortilla, which has nothing to do with the flat corn Mexican tortilla associated with tacos. Instead, the Spanish tortilla is an egg, potato, cheese and mushroom dish cooked in a cast iron skillet. Don’t forget the wine Laura and Margot.

Yesterday in another part of the park Mark Mengele was transporting a work crew consisting of David Elliott, Ken Hiser and his friend Matt out the Ann Bailey Trail in Mark’s restored Dodge Power Wagon (sorry no pictures yet, hint, hint) to the Workman Cabin.

They spent the morning hours weed-eating the area around the cabin, and removing the large tree that had fallen across Rock Run in front of the cabin. David remarked that they “left a tidy mountain homestead for visiting hikers to enjoy”.

And that reminds me; we need to get down at the other end of Rock Run and clean up those nasty stinging nettles. Pity the poor hiker that heads up Jesse’s Cove with shorts on.

Finally, I ran into Mac Gray this morning on the entrance road involved in a worthy project: He is photographing all of Watoga’s cabins, inside and out. He is always thinking about something called “posterity”.

Well that’s the news from Lake Wobeg…., Whoops, I mean Watoga State Park.

Happy Hiking,

Ken Springer

May 2018 Watoga Trails Update

May 2018 Watoga Trails Update

Report From Brian Hirt, trail volunteer:

“I finally got some spare time and the weather cooperated. So I spent Friday and most of Saturday doing some trail maintenance and cleanup projects in and around Watoga.  Started out Friday morning clearing fallen trees from the landing strip at Beaver Creek.  Then moved onto the Allegheny Trail.  I removed fallen fallen trees on the mile and a half stretch of trail  parallel to Chicken House Run Road.

Yesterday I was at Laurel Run campground.  A couple of pine trees had fallen on campsite #9 sometime over the winter.  I removed them and moved the slash out of the away of the campsite.  After that went up I went up Kennison Run trail from the campground a mile with lopper’s cutting out saplings and undergrowth along the trail.  Some of the creek crossings were a little tough to manage from recent heavy rains.  A lot of debris had washed down and stream banks had eroded.  Trail’s that follow creeks I guess have an ever changing landscape. There wasn’t any fallen trees to deal with as far as I got before deciding to turning back as a thunderstorm approached in the distance.

The blazes on both the Allegheny and Kennison Run Trails are in fair condition.  Bboth could stand to be refreshed in a few locations.  Fortunately both are yellow so I’ll add this to my list of things to do.  I’ve never painted blazes of yellow circle’s on trees in the past.  It’s been always 2 x 6 rectangles.  Might take some practice. But maybe you can teach and old dog new tricks.”

Other News

Mark Mengele is continuing efforts to conduct a bird survey of the Rock Run watershed at Watoga State Park, also known as the Old Growth Area. The plan is to get experienced birders out there at various times of the year, and over the next couple of weeks they will be surveying breeding birds.

While the birds are breeding the plants and trees of Watoga are pursuing their single-minded agenda of reproduction. Fertility and distribution are a top priority for plant life at this time of the year. With that in mind today’s photographs take a close look at several prominent blooms with an unabashed look at their reproductive parts.

Mountain Laurel BloomThe ephemeral mountain laurel bloom so petite and beautiful looks like a hand painted porcelain miniature.

 

 

 

Black Raspberry BloomThe flower of the blackberry offers promises of a seasonal flavor to grace our morning cereal, or in dishes with names like cobbler, pie, strudel, tart and turnover

 

 

Tulip Tree BloomThe bloom of the tulip poplar is usually viewed high up in the tree, but this time brought down by wind and rain for a closer look.

 

 

 

Hiking allows us the opportunity to stop and take in the finer details of nature. There is not a better way to “be in the moment” than a hike in the woods.

Monongaseneka Trail

Have you ever ventured out on Monongaseneka Trail here at Watoga State Park?  I highly recommend it. The trailhead is located a mere 1/2 mile up the main park entrance road.  Just after crossing the newly restored bridge across Isle Lick you will see the parking area on the right, with the start of the trail across the road and on your left.

Monongaseneka Trail Overlook at Watoga State ParkThis 2 1/2 mile trail follows switchbacks up the mountain, drops down into Jeff’s Hollow before ascending again to the main ridge high above Seebert and the Greenbrier River. From here you can hike the Overlook Loop out to the overlook where you can sit a spell on the benches before resuming your hike out to the North Boundary Trail.

Monongaseneka Trail Options

The are several ways you can make this a longer day hike by shuttling a car to Bear Pen Trail or the parking area at the picnic shelter. My favorite way of hiking this trail is to leave a bicycle at the park headquarters, then drive down to the Mongaseneka trailhead and leave your car there. Hike up Monongaseneka to North Boundary Trail, Down Bear Pen Trail all the way to Watoga Lake. From here you can hike the Lake Trail either direction until arriving at the park headquarters.

Now this is where the fun begins: you have just completed a long and beautiful hike and now you get on your bicycle and coast down the main entrance road back to your car. The whole while Isle Lick is noisily alternating from one side of the road to the other; a series of cascades and pools. It doesn’t get any better than that.

I spent a couple days up on Monongaseneka trimming striped maple and removing smaller debris off the trail. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to use the new benches at the Monongaseneka Overlook, courtesy of John Casto and crew.  A selfie is something I am not inclined to do, in large part because I do not want to mar the great scenery. So instead I borrowed Mr. Frog from one of my dogs and created a “frog’s eye view ” from the overlook.

Jeff Hollow

The largish double-trunk tree can be found in Jeff’s Hollow along with many others of similar size. There is a palpable sense of entering a special place here which can only be felt by being here; it is hard to translate the feeling with mere words. Some places just seem to be sacred; when there we are quite sure that there is a spiritual dimension to the deep wood. And for a while we carry that feeling with us until it beckons us back again.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” John Muir

Watoga Trail Report March 7, 2018: Old Growth

Bongo, Daisy and their manservant left their collective tracks in the snow this morning as they ascended the NW section of Honey Bee Trail. The recent winds have dropped many trees and branches on Watoga’s trails but we managed to clear all on this part of Honey Bee Trail save a 14 inch oak lying flush with the trail about 1 1/4 miles from the trailhead.  Old Growth.

Old Growth

Now that the existence of old growth trees in Watoga State Park has been confirmed I find myself constantly looking for the large trees. The largest oak spotted today in the Arboretum was well under 30 inches in diameter and the average was probably in the 12 inch range. Grand trees for sure, but the ones in the old growth area have a century or two head start on these youngsters.

Bongo and Daisy on the Honeybee Trail Watoga State ParkIf I were to tell you that Bongo and Daisy dragged this downed tree off the trail, you may not believe me. Therefore I will take the credit for it and give them a treat as recompense.

Happy Hiking,

Ken Springer

Bongo and Daisy looking for Old Growth at Watoga State Park

Watoga Trail Report March 4, 2018: Family Reunion Central

If the Bear Pen Trail is any indication of the current condition of the rest of the trails at Watoga State Park then the trail volunteers are in for a big clean-up task.  Cleaning large branches and trees off the section of the trail from the trailhead to just the junction of Buck and Doe took nearly 2 hours.  Praise be the person who invented the z-rig.   Family Reunion Central.

Last week’s “Watoga- Where Is It ?” photograph of the memorial plaque at the T.M. Cheek overlook has a backstory.  And I will share it with you.

Family Reunion Central

Char Weise has a long family history at Watoga State Park dating back to
his great grandfather who lived in Renick, WV.  Great Grandfather Weise started a grand tradition of annual family reunions at Watoga.  These family gatherings continue to this very day as the family has grown through many generations.  At one such reunion some years back they filled every cabin in the park.

Here is how Mr. Weise recounts how that familiar landmark came to rest at the T.M. Cheek overlook:

Char Weise’s Story

“Our family has been coming to Watoga every year for the Spencer family reunion since 1963.  From the late 1960’s at least, our family usually spent the week in Cabin 21.  The trail up to TM Cheek from Cabin 21, which was then called the Honeymoon trail, was my parents’ favorite walk.  They’d often go up there early in the morning while my brothers and sisters and I were still asleep and look at the view from the overlook.  It was still their favorite walk in their later years.  My Mom died in 1995 and my Dad in 1997.

We asked for the plaque to be installed around 2005.  The superintendent, Mark Wylie, told us that there was an interest in reintroducing American chestnuts, which had been wiped out in a blight many years ago, to the park.  We thought planting some chestnuts at that spot would be a fitting tribute to our dad, who was a biologist with a great interest in conservation.  Now every year when we come to Watoga, my siblings and I and our spouses and kids make sure to hike to TM Cheek in the morning, up the trail that our parents loved, to think about them and pay our respects.”

TM Cheek Overlook at Weise Chestnut Watoga State ParkThanks to Char Weise and John and Margy Goodwin for this bit of history about a park that just seems to bring forth such wonderful memories.  Let us hope that many more generations will be able to experience the joy and beauty of being in West Virginia’s largest and best park.

Plaque commemorating Charles and Joan Weise TM Cheek Overlook Watoga State Park

Happy Hiking,

Ken Springer

Rock Slides and Remembrance of Forest Primeval

This is the scene this morning at Mile Marker 44 on the Greenbrier River Trail. Two rockslides have partially blocked the trail. Caution should be exercised when passing this section of trail, particularly when raining. There are some huge rocks on the slope that are hanging on by a thread; it is a contest now between gravity and very tenuous holds on the slope. And of course, gravity will win. Rock Slides and Remembrance of Forest Primeval.

Bongo at rockslide and remebrance of forest primeval

I have noticed on this rockslide, as in previous ones, that large dead hemlocks tumble over bringing up their root ball with them starting a cascade of rock down and on to the trail. Erosion as a result of heavy rain only exacerbates the problem. This is an area with frequent problems.

Update of Watoga Logging Proposal

Well, Senate Bill 270 by all accounts is now dead. So at least for the moment Watoga will be spared from the plans to log her. Many of you expressed your opposition to this ill-conceived idea. Your comments were genuine and moving and you are to be commended for expressing your love for Watoga State Park.

Brian Hirt, a fan and frequent visitor to Watoga, expressed in this modification of a song by Gordon Lightfoot his sentiments about the need to preserve and protect all that is in, and within, Watoga State Park for all generations to come.

In reading his lyrics I can only request that he pick up his guitar and share it with the rest of us in song at his first opportunity.

Thanks Brian

There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run. When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun, long before the white man and long before the wheel. When the green dark forest was too silent to be real.

Rembrance of Forest Primeval

But time has no beginnings and history has no bounds. And to this verdant country they came from all around. They floated logs upon her waterways and timbered the forest’s tall, built the mines and the mills and the factories for the good of us all.
But then they looked back at the mountains and what did they see a barren landscape without any trees, with rivers overflowing with silt looking like a wasteland if you please.

Their minds were overflowing of the visions of their day but thankfully some looked into the future and saw places like Watoga so that today we too can walk in the green dark forests tall and imagine a time when the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun long before the white man and long before the wheel and when the railroads did not run.

Happy Hiking, at Watoga of course !

Ken Springer

Watoga Trail Report February 28, 2018: Monongaseneka Trail & Chestnut Musings

Upon arriving at the Monongaseneka Overlook this morning Bongo and I saw fit to tarry a bit and “take in the view”. And what a view it is; changing with each visit depending upon the time of day, season and the weather. One thing that is always striking is the sense of an endless forest stretching out and up the slopes of Droop Mountain and beyond.  Monongaseneka Trail & Chestnut Musings.

Thinking Back in Time

I often find myself considering what it may have looked like to the indigenous people and to the pioneers in Appalachia. If I could go back in time it would be my greatest desire to see our primeval forests. Not intending to take anything away from the beautiful forests of today, but those ancient trees of such immense proportions would dwarf today’s trees, even those we consider “old growth”.

Todays forests have many of the same species of trees that greeted the earliest visitors to Appalachia with one very big exception, the American Chestnut. It is estimated that this one species accounted for 20 to 30% of the forest growth. It was one of the most important trees to early settlers. The chestnuts were an important food source for humans and animals alike. The lumber was used for fence posts and to build cabins including flooring and furniture. Some of the Wormy Chestnut can still be seen today in the legacy cabins at Watoga State Park.

When I was a youngster an old man who remembered the American Chestnut fondly told me that the greatest thing about that tree was the shade provided by the huge thickly leaved canopy. He said that even in the dog days of August you could find relief under a chestnut tree.

The Chestnut Blight of 1904 began to kill off the trees and once having gathered steam decimated this wonderful tree throughout its range by 1940.

Protecting Old Growth Forests

Knowing these things makes our existing old growth even more precious. We should, we must, be vigilant in our protection of that which is rare and struggling to become what it once was. For, as yet unknown forces, be it disease or man, will always present a threat to that which we love simply because it is there.

Bongo and I cleared a number of obstacles off of Monongaseka Trail up to and including the overlook today. The trail is good to go. Monongaseneka Trail & Chestnut Musings.

Happy Hiking,

Ken Springer

Photo courtesy of Timothy Van Vliet

Watoga Trail Report February 24, 2018, Hiking with Canine Companions

A nice loop trail from the Pine Run Cabin area is starting on either Pine Run Trail (Cabin 28) or TM Cheek Trail (Cabin 21).  The loop is sewn together with a short section of the Honeymoon Trail and TM Cheek Road.  An added plus to this moderately strenuous hike is passing the TM Cheek overlook.  Since it is approximately the halfway point, it is a good spot to sit on the bench and take in the great view for a bit.  Today was hiking with canine companions.

My canine associates and I cleaned up this loop hike today.  We left behind a few larger trees to be cut with a chainsaw in the near future.  These obstacles were delimbed and are easily negotiated.

Canine Trail Companions

I want to introduce you to one of my two trail maintenance assistants, Mr. Bongo T. Bones.  Bongo came to me by way of a dog rescue group in Missouri who, in turn, got him from a breeder.  Bongo had the misfortune of being born with an under-bite.  Breeders do not often tolerate any physical irregularities; sometimes destroying such dogs when they are puppies.  I personally love his slight imperfection. I think it gives him a unique look matching his enthusiastic personality.  He is always ready for fun or work.

Bongo, Ken's canine companion on the trail at Watoga State ParkBongo is a West Highland White Terrier, a breed originating in the Scottish Highlands.  So our West Virginia mountains are a perfect home for this breed.  Westie’s as they are called are smart, friendly and seem to know that we are out in the woods to perform a task.  When I stop on the trail to remove an obstacle they sit off to one side and patiently wait.  Then I give the order to “go trail ” and we resume our hike.  They absolutely could not be better companions.  And they never, ever, complain. Hiking with canine companions.

Now meet Mr. Mossy Log………  No, I will save that for another day.Mossy log at Watoga State Park

Happy Hiking,

Ken