With the Fourth of July just a few days away, I was thinking about our country’s 200th birthday in 1976. What was I doing as a teenager growing up at Watoga State Park? Sure, there were picnics, hot dogs, baseball, firecrackers, and the swimming pool. But just why was a pyramid being built at the pool?
Obviously, we were not building a pyramid like the one the Egyptians constructed. Our mission and adventure during that bicentennial celebration was to find and then stack 7 Up (also known as the Uncola) cans into a triangular shape. End result? Read on.
United We Stand
Just what was it about those cans? Well, 7 Up’s clever advertising team designed them to have a wide appeal across the U.S. For that matter, the strategy also worked at the state’s largest park.
Known as the “United We Stand” collection, 7 Up debuted its 50-can set in 1976. As shown in the photo above, West Virginia’s can revealed more specific details (for example, 1863 as the year admitted to the Union; 35th state; capital of Charleston; and nickname of The Mountain State). The other 49 states followed the same pattern.
So how did these cans go together? Each was numbered 1-50. On the back of Can No. 1 were instructions how to build the display. Can No. 50 had the words “United We Stand.” Once completed, the other side portrayed an image of Uncle Sam (remember those iconic Uncle Sam “I Want You” recruitment posters?)
Obsessed with the Uncola
Before, during and after the Fourth of July, finding 7 Up cans became a months-long adventure and obsession.
While catchy tunes like Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” often blared on an 8-track tape player at swimming pool, we sometimes found a missing can park guests had left behind. Our stack of red, white, blue, and 7 Up’s signature green cans began forming something unique.
After all, myself, my sister, Vicki and our cousins, Deb and Kim, and even the lifeguards were on a mission find those cans — at the pool, at the grocery store in Marlinton or at empty campsites at the Beaver Creek Campground. And when we found a can, we learned interesting details about that specific state.
Did We Succeed on that Fourth of July?
In 1976, my family’s Fourth of July celebration at Watoga featured the standard picnic food, but also some of that lemon-lime-flavored refreshment. Rest assured that no cans were harmed or dented during consumption. In case you were wondering about our success or failure: Yes, by summer’s end, we had found all 50 cans.
Four generations of the Bott family have stayed at Cabin 20, nestled in the pines next to the swimming pool at Watoga State Park.
For 72 years, the Botts have fished, swam, hiked, and along the way have made countless memories at the state’s largest recreation area. Specifically, from 1957-1967, these kinfolks called this particular cabin their home away from home.
And this is David Bott’s story about the swimming pool, the cabin next door and the park.
Discovering Watoga, Cabin 20 and the Pool
“My parents began traveling to Pocahontas County in 1948, staying at Graham’s Motel in Buckeye, fishing the Greenbrier River. Discovering Watoga, they soon began staying in the cabins. I began my love affair with Watoga at two-years-old.
“We stayed at Cabin 20 for at least ten years when my sisters [Barbara and Jane] were young. Before they were born, we generally stayed in the Pine Run area. Later we stayed in Cabin 1 and 2 down by the Greenbrier River. After I got married and had children, we stayed in Cabin 3 until it burned down.
“When Barbara and Jane were young, it was a logical choice for kids with a lot of energy and a need for activities. Mom liked the convenience of everything plus it allowed us to be entertained most of the time.
“Swimming during the day, exploring Island Lick Creek in the evenings, and catching crawdads to fish the lake. My parents almost always stayed the last week of August because they wanted to give us one last summer hurrah before school started.”
The Majesty of Cabin 20
“I think the layout was one of the features my mother enjoyed the most. The front door was almost center of the cabin. Walk into the living room/dining area. On either side of the fireplace were single beds. Mom and dad slept here. It was a magnificent fireplace. To the right was a hallway, first on the left, the kitchen, across the way, a bedroom. Down the hall on the right the other bedroom and bathroom across the hall. Backdoor to the woodshed and the little back porch was the raccoon dining area.”
Swimming Pool Humor
“I was in grade school; Barbara was in preschool and Jane was a toddler. My mother would require us to take a break from swimming in the afternoon. Barbara had to nap, but I got to run around. Instead, I jumped the fence and went back to the pool. Well, my mother went to the front desk and spoke with the lifeguards. They promptly came out and made me get out of the pool. They made a big show of it and banned me from swimming the rest of the day. Of course, all of this was contrived by my mother.”
Still Making Cabin 20 Memories Decades Later
“One of my favorite memories is a more recent one. My daughter, son-in-law and granddaughters stayed with us at Cabin 20 in 2007, the year of the extreme drought. We saw black bears venturing into the park. I spent a lot of time enjoying my granddaughters, helping them learn how to swim, teaching them how to dive. They had to do numerous trivial things for me that week because they lost a bet that I could not swim the length of the pool underwater.”
More to Come
In the next installment, Jane Bott, David’s sister, tells us about her days at the swimming pool, Cabin 20 and Watoga. Stay tuned.
For the uninitiated, the thought of managing a state park may conjure up visions of spending your days walking on wooded trails and talking to park visitors. The sort of job that many people would call a “dream” job. And to a certain extent, this was true at one time. But in today’s world, you would most likely find yourself behind a desk looking at a computer screen.
You would not have to spend much time at that dream job before realizing that running a park is not that different from running a resort, but with far fewer resources and a much smaller budget.
Successfully managing a large park today requires a whole new set of skills that was not necessary just a few decades ago.
The State of Watoga Park 2020 is strong!
Watoga State Park has 35 cabins, two campgrounds, 50 miles of trail, roads, bridges, work vehicles, water and sewage treatment plants, swimming pool, lake, Recreation Hall and a whole host of other buildings.
All of this infrastructure must be maintained while at the same time providing the visitor with a quality experience; one that makes them want to return over and over.
In addition to the ability to manage employees effectively, today’s park superintendent must have considerable business acumen. Most parks, particularly state parks, have a limited amount of money in their annual budget and it must meet all of the infrastructure and labor needs discussed above.
In short, managing a park in this day and age requires a new breed of management. Jody Spencer, Superintendent of Watoga State Park, represents that new breed of manager.
In a recent conversation with Jody, he explained to me that, “Few parks are actually designed to be self-sufficient, in part because the facilities are spread out over much greater distances than that found at typical resorts. And, unlike large resorts, we have a limited number of lodging and camping sites.”
“Some West Virginia parks”, he said, “have no means of generating revenue so they must be supported by the other parks that do generate revenue.”
Private resorts can afford to invest a good portion of their earnings back into their business. This is not so with West Virginia State Parks where earnings go into a state-wide fund that is then redistributed to all of the parks in the system, even the ones that do not generate revenue. Therein lies the challenge to the modern park superintendent.
In July of 2016, after 14 years as Superintendent of the Greenbrier River Trail, Jody was asked to take the helm of the very park where he had served his college internship, Watoga State Park.
During those years overseeing the Greenbrier River Trail, his office was located in the administration building at Watoga. Jody said that this arrangement afforded him, “An insider’s view of Watoga State Park.”
Unlike the Greenbrier River Trail, Watoga has cabins and campgrounds that bring in visitors expecting certain amenities and standards. And like all modern park managers, Jody takes in-service classes on hospitality right along with the mandated law enforcement training.
Shortly after Jody became superintendent an order went out to five state parks in West Virginia to close their swimming pools due to decreased use by park visitors and the resulting loss of revenue. Watoga was one of those parks.
Jody remembers a time when the pool was packed every day of the summer. He remembers it well because he had worked at the pool as a young man. The pool was a popular attraction at Watoga, and Jody knew that with some work it could be popular again, saying, “If you fix it, they will come.” The State of Watoga Park 2020 is strong!
He appealed for and was granted a chance from his boss to draw those visitors back to Watoga. He asked for ideas from others, a hallmark of his management style, and one of the things that kept coming up was the legendary low temperatures of the water.
Jody knew that this could be remedied with solar panels, so with some help from the Watoga State Park Foundation, an array of panels was purchased and installed. The water is now much warmer and far less appealing to polar bears.
Adding to the improvements was the addition of Wi-Fi, sliding boards and snacks. The park naturalist, Chris Bartley, ran special pool events, bringing young swimmers in by the busload, literally.
Revenue from the pool increased within the first season proving something that Jody shared with me during our discussion, “It’s all about figuring out what the public wants and balancing that with the needs of the park.”
“I look at what makes the resorts that I take my family to successful,” said Jody. “People expect clean facilities; you don’t want to take a shower in a place that creeps you out.”
Improvements slated for 2020
Over the last two years, the shower houses at the Riverside Campground have been fully renovated, as well as major improvements made to the campsites. This year this same effort will be focused on the other side of the park at the Beaver Creek Campground. The State of Watoga Park 2020 is strong!
A welcome infusion of money from oil and gas dollars was responsible for the remodeling of eight of the classic cabins. As well, 24 of the Legacy cabins are undergoing remodeling, including new heating/AC, and decks. All thanks to three million dollars of bond money that found its way to the park.
An added benefit is the opportunity for local contractors to perform the work of renovating the cabins.
As the park continues to be improved there is an increased number of paying visitors. More people are staying in the campgrounds and cabins and using the swimming pool. Plus, the new West Virginia State Park reservation system is making it much easier and more convenient for those wishing to make a reservation.
Gone are the bad old days when you had to send a postmarked application to the park. It had to arrive no earlier than February 15 to get a reservation to camp at the Riverside Campground for the calendar year ahead. Now you can make all camping and cabin reservations online with immediate confirmation. If you prefer calling, you may call the park call center or the park for reservations.
It was recently revealed that the swimming pool has not only been removed from the imminent closing list but will receive the largest upgrade since its original construction. “The swimming pool will be replaced with a new system within the next 18 months,” says Jody.
The swimming pool has deteriorated quite a bit since it was built by the CCC in the 1930s. It was recently examined by a state engineer who humorously commented that “The only thing that we can re-use is the hole in the ground.”
Accordingly, the plans include an entirely new pool structure with a maximum depth of five feet. Being considered is a “Zero-Depth Entry” such as that found at water parks. In other words, you enter the water on a gradual slope like you would at a beach.
This will provide a much safer entry to the pool, particularly for the young and those with physical limitations that would not allow a conventional ladder entry. The State of Watoga Park 2020 is strong!
“We are always looking for ways to make people linger,” says Jody. So he is looking into the installation of the popular splash pad for kids. A splash pad consists of a series of fountains arranged within a slightly concave textured concrete pad. Suffice it to say, youngsters love running around in a splash pad, confirming Jody’s assertion that with the right attractions people will linger.
Also slated for improvement are the 15 plus miles of road within the park. Watoga is on the 2020 list for resurfacing by the West Virginia Division of Highways.
Other projects on the horizon for Watoga include the Dark Sky designation. All outdoor lighting at Watoga will soon be fitted with proper shielding to attenuate artificial light as required for the designation. Further testing of the night sky will be conducted and plans are already underway for educational programs on astronomy for the public.
Plans are underway to expand the popular disc golf course; which may result in a single 18- hole course or two 9-hole courses located in different areas within the park.
The long-awaited bike trail is still in the planning stage and we hope to get moving on its construction soon. This will be a family-friendly mountain bike trail that will be located adjacent to the Ann Bailey Trail. Historic stops along the way will be the Workman Settlement Area and the Ann Bailey Tower.
With Jody’s business-minded approach to managing Watoga State Park, we can expect continued improvements to the park. Jody represents the very best of this new breed of park manager. And for the folks here in Pocahontas County who cherish Watoga State Park, we can be assured it will continue to be the largest and best park in West Virginia.
Jody can often be seen driving around the park checking up on projects and talking with employees and visitors alike. And every once in a while he is known to head out on one of Watoga’s trails. You can be sure that when he walks among the beauty of this park it reminds him of why he chose a career with West Virginia Parks.
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.
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.
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.
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……
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 Pocahontas 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 Born 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 An 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!
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.