Dark Sky Park – Watoga

Background

The very first time I saw the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, it was from a distance of 12 miles and approximately 11 hours before I would start the climb to its summit. It rises straight up out of the pine-clad hills, an ostentatious imposition on a terrain that abhors any vertical challenge to its otherwise gentle rolling landscape.

I had pulled my truck off the gravel road that headed straight as an arrow to the basaltic monolith that I would get to know much more intimately upon the next daybreak. I was leaning against my vehicle focusing my binoculars on the great rock when a pickup pulled alongside and a middle-aged man in a Stetson asked in a friendly way if I was lost or broke down. “Neither”, I said, “I am just a bit awestruck by its size.” I did not mention the jitters I was feeling about climbing its dead-vertical face by way of a continuous 2 inch crack on the next day.

He told me that he was a rancher in the area and I commented something to the effect that it would be cool to be able to see such a beautiful landmark every day. He replied, “Well, you would think so, wouldn’t you? but to be honest I go years without really looking at it.” That statement has always stayed with me because I was to learn that his ambivalence is often the rule rather than the exception. We humans sometimes forget to see the beauty around us; it starts to blend in with the surroundings: But only if we allow it to.

Louise McNeill

Our own Poet Laureate of West Virginia, Louise McNeill, never succumbed to the irresolute when it came to her awareness of the beautiful surroundings here in Pocahontas County, particularly the total darkness of the night sky. She often speaks to the exceptional brilliance and multitude of the stars here in this part of the Appalachians.

Referring to the Aurora Borealis of 1941 in The Milkweed Ladies she recounts that “We ran out into the yard and looked up over us. The whole round of the heavens was beginning to quiver with a wild, flickering crown, at first from the north; then the east and south and west joined, and the green-red-blue-gold-purple spear tent was streaming up to the point of the heavens and riving as it came.”

“As I stood there, a kind of awe and fear came to me, as though God had not yet unloosed his might. But he had it, held back somewhere in the banked fires of the Worlds.”

A recent study revealed that 80% of the population in the U.S. are unable to see the Milky Way at night due to light pollution. Most of us here in Pocahontas County have the good fortune of being able to share the joy of Louise McNeill in having a nearly unobstructed view of the nighttime heavens.

However, we should not take this for granted – light pollution is slowly but surely encroaching upon the few remaining ‘dark sky’ regions, not only worldwide, but more particularly here in the eastern part of our country. Pocahontas County is responding to this dilemma by taking the necessary steps to protect and preserve the dark skies for future generations.

Dark Sky Park

Recently Watoga State Park entered into the initial stages of a program administered through the International Dark-Sky Association that will have many potential benefits for our area. The Watoga State Park Foundation, in partnership with the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, has begun the preliminary steps to getting the park designated as a Dark Sky Park.

Watoga Lake under a starry sky

Mary Dawson and Louanne Fatora, board members of the Watoga State Park Foundation, are spearheading the effort to obtain the dark sky status for the park. They both reiterated that this project is still in the very early stages and that it may take up to two years to obtain the dark sky designation.

Meanwhile, preliminary measurements taken by local astronomers have shown that one of the major requirements seem to be met – the Milky Way can be seen with the naked eye. (Louise McNeill could have told them that) Additionally, measurements are required to be taken on a quarterly basis to determine if the visibility requirements exist year-round.

Also required for Dark Sky status is an inventory of light sources within the park, and if necessary they must be shielded. Interpretive programs for park visitors and the general public is required, which will complement the already excellent naturalist’s program at Watoga.

Stargazing

Benefits are numerous, an obvious one being the draw of amateur astronomers and their families to the park and to other parts of Pocahontas County. Anyone who has observed the annual Perseids Meteor Shower from the Scenic Highway knows what a breathtaking display that it provides. This will be a definite boon to tourism.

Less immediate benefits will include the preservation of another of the steadily decreasing number of locations that can justly be called Dark Sky areas. As education about the alarming loss of these areas spread, sources of light pollution such as towns will be more likely to adopt plans that attenuate pollution, furthering the preservation effort.

We have nothing to lose and much to gain in this project. It is hoped that the entire county will respond in a positive manner to preserving the things that those before us marveled at.

I cannot help but think that Louise McNeill, were she still living on her farm near Buckeye, would be overjoyed and supportive of the notion that we have a duty and the will to protect those things of creation that we hold dear.

I will close this edition of the Watoga Trail Report with one of Louise’s poems from her book of poetry, Hill Daughter.

The night will come, though not the “sable” night,

Though not the dark, not the “wished for balm,” the still……

But deathly brightness, thermo-neutron night,

Until some star mad watcher on a hill,

Across galaxies will peer and cry

That where there was once nothing in the sky,

Now there is flame beyond the southward horn

A small, new planet, risen fully born

In one wild surge of green and glowing birth,

And looking at it, he will name it

EARTH.

From the mountain trails of Watoga,

Ken Springer

Watoga Memorial Bench with Plaque

The Watoga State Park Foundation has available a Watoga memorial bench with plaque. The bench is durable and high quality. Also, it includes a memorial plaque and is made in the USA.

You can memorialize a loved one with a minimum donation of $500. Watoga will place the bench in a mutually agreed location on the Park’s 40 miles of hiking trails, scenic overlooks or historic sites.

Watoga Memorial Park Bench

The beautiful bench, made of 100% recycled plastic, should last many lifetimes. Besides that, this exciting opportunity to memorialize your loved ones will fund an important amenity for the Park.

To order a bench, go to the donation page and make your minimum $500 donation. To detail the memorial plaque, go to the contact page and include the details in you message.

For further information, contact Watoga State Park Foundation Treasurer Mac Gray at 304 653-4373

Most importantly, order your Watoga memorial bench with plaque now!

Music in the Park

Saturday September 15, 2018

It’s a great day of Music in the Park at the picnic shelter at Watoga State Park. The The Watoga Foundation  supports this event and encourages you to enjoy listening to the following  musicial artists at the picnic shelter in Watoga State Park

11:00 a.m.- 12:00 p.m.

Trevor Hammons – Bluegrass
Trevo Hammons, musician to perform at Watoga Music in the ParkPocahontas County native Trevor Hammons has made a name for himself in West Virginia, Virginia, and surrounding states. Trevor was also part of a band, “Mud Hole OUT of Control,” for 6 years. Having won many awards for his ability to play banjo, Trevor has some roots in bluegrass music that run deep. Accordingly, he released a CD with his former band in 2016, and has performed on various stages. Trevor can play with the best. He was born with an “old soul” that you definitely do not want to miss listening to.

12:30 – 2:30 p.m.

Amy Andrews – Country
Amy Andrews, musician to perform at Watoga Music in the ParkBorn and raised in Baltimore, MD, Amy Andrews is a wildly talented, charming, and award-winning artist known for brilliant performances, stunning vocals, unassuming charm on stage, and traveling the continent to perform gigs with her dog in tow.

In the last year alone, Amy has gone solo, received national press, chatted with the good folks of National Public Radio, and completed an international tour, sharing stages and opening for artists from Gregory Alan Isakov, Rose Cousins, Stu Larsen, Joseph Arthur, Glen Phillips and Toad the Wet Sprocket, Levi Lowrey and Clay Cook (of Zac Brown Band and John Mayer), and more.

This tree-hugging, ever-traveling, modern day torch-singer and songwriter is one you need to hear live!

3:00 – 5:00 p.m.

Rush Run Philharmonic – Americana
Rush Run Philharmonic to perform at Watoga Music in the ParkAn eclectic group of musicians occupying the hills and hollers of southern West Virginia, Rush Run Philharmonic plays music rich with harmonies. The band created their name based from the words“Rush Run,” a creek in West Virginia; and “Philharmonic,”a French word meaning the love of music and harmonies. Combining acoustic guitars, bass and vocals, the band interprets songs from artists such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Woody Guthrie, and many more. Rush Run weaves a harmonious musical trail through songs we all love.

5:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Phoenix Rising – Southern Rock
Composed of mixed musicians who have played in various bands previously, they are rising from the ashes of those bands to bring one of the best in classic and southern rock in Pocahontas County. Having performed on various stages, Phoenix Rising can get the crowds going, and give you a performance you won’t forget.

Join the Watoga Foundation and the Watoga State Park staff for a great day of Music in the Park!

 

Welcome to Watoga!

We have great places to stay and great places to play!  Welcome to Watoga!

Reserve Cabin

Hope you can be here a few minutes.  Get to know us a little.  We have the most return visitors of any West Virginia State Park.  Come see us soon!

Stay at  Watoga

Check out what people say about our cabins  and our campgrounds

If you are looking for a hiking wilderness adventure, check this one out

Something a little more tame?

We have a kids friendly swimming pool and great playgrounds.  Paddle boats on the lake.  Amazing mountaintop overlooks.  Best soft serve ice cream in the universe at Jack Horner’s Corner in Seebert.   Beautiful mountain valley around nearby Hillsboro, WV.

Experience Watoga’s old growth forest!

Watoga State Park is 10,000 acres.  The southwestern section of the Park is unmaintained Wilderness.  Hike the Burnside Ridge Trail to access this area.  Allow yourself several hours to get out and back.  Further south from this area is the Spice Run Wilderness Area of the Monongahela National Forest.

Become a Friend of Watoga Now!

Monongaseneka Overlook of Greenbrier River Feb, 2018
Overlook of Greenbrier River from Monongaseneka Trail

Read Ken Springer’s articles here on trail conditions, park history, and natural history.

If you have questions, be sure to contact us.