Growing Up at Watoga State Park — The Untold Story of the Black Bear

Excerpt from The Deans ©2020

C.J. Maxwell
Part One

Seeing a black bear is not always a pleasant experience.

A black bear foraging for vegetation at Watoga State Park behind Cabin 16, Bucks Run Cabin area, June 2014. Photo by Stanley Clark.

During that magical summer in 1971, there had been endless bicycle rides to the scenic overlook at T.M. Cheek Memorial and carefree plunges into the mountain-fed waters of the Watoga State Park swimming pool.

Later that fall, I met THE black bear.

The deep red leaves on the oak trees were at their peak. My brother, Ronnie, and I learned about West Virginia’s future state animal – the secretive and shy, but intelligent black bear. It wasn’t until 1973 that the black bear became West Virginia’s designated mammal.

My dad, Vernon Dean, worked at the park. We lived near the Beaver Creek Campground. Our home was just a stone’s throw away. Dad, along with Richard Dale, park superintendent, and his teenage son, Jerry, taught Ronnie and me about this magnificent species.

We learned that black bears average between 125 and 550 pounds. They mainly eat acorns, pine nuts, fruits, berries, grasses, and other vegetation. The black bear has a lush playground in which to thrive in at Watoga State Park, nearby Calvin Price State Forest and Monongahela National Forest.

As a camper, cabin guest or resident, you may have seen a black bear during a leisurely bike ride, a hike on one of the park’s many trails or even in the backyard of your favorite cabin at Watoga.

In 1971, bears were not as common as they are today. If you chat with residents of Marlinton, Hillsboro, Seebert or Huntersville, you may hear a vivid tale or two about their encounters with a black bear.

Here’s mine:

“Come here, I wanna show you boys sumthin’,” Dad said. “Maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.”

“What is it, Dad?” I asked.

“You’ll know soon enough. Just come with me. Hurry up, Ronnie and Johnny!”

Quickly leaving the babbling brook next to our home, Ronnie and I ran excitedly toward the park’s maintenance garage, just below the rustic campground.

“See it, Johnny?”

“No, Dad, what is it?”

“I see it, Dad,” Ronnie said, “and would you look at that? Wow! Oh my gosh!”

“Look at what, Ronnie? What is it?”

“You don’t see it, Johnny? Really?”

“No, not yet. What is it? Where?”

“Come closer, Johnny,” Dad instructed. “And you’ll see.”

I did move closer. Much closer. Amazed, shocked and stunned, I didn’t dare move an inch.

WHAT just happened?

Please email me at cjmaxwellwrites@gmail.com with your creative finale. Any social media contacts may post on my Facebook page. I will share selected endings in a future blog. Part Two will be the never-before-published story of THE black bear at Watoga State Park.

C.J. Maxwell is the pen name of John C. Dean. He is a graduate of West Virginia University, 1984, BSJ.

John “C.J.” Dean embracing the captivating vista at T.M. Cheek Memorial overlook, Watoga State Park, October 2012. Photo by Jennifer Pierson.

John lived at Watoga State Park for 16 years until his father, Vernon, retired after 43 years of service.

Since 2001, John has been an editor at Puritas Springs Software, a legal software development company in Hinckley, Ohio. Previously, he was a senior legal editor for an international law firm in Cleveland, Ohio. In the mid-1980s, John was a reporter and bureau chief for The Register-Herald in Beckley, West Virginia. He is currently writing two novels, The Deans and The Jack and Max Story … How Two Black Labs Changed My Life Furever.