Tales From a Watoga Naturalist

Jim Meads, Professor Emeritus, Glenville State College, was Park Naturalist at Watoga in 1967 and 1968. Here are Jim’s stories from his time at Watoga.

Background

Judy and I have been married 52 years this July, 2019. Watoga State Park is such a special place for us. We started our wonderful life together here. In June of 1967, I was hired as a seasonal naturalist for Watoga. I was going into my Senior year in the fall at Glenville State College majoring in Biology and Chemistry. Richard Dale (wife Verna) was the Superintendent and Dale Crouser (wife Gwen) was the Assistant Superintendent. Their kindness will never be forgotten. The precusors to Tales from a Watoga Naturalist.

We were married in Parkersburg on July 2, 1967. My lovely wife was a city gal with not much experience in the world of nature. She never had an indoor pet except for a goldfish. Our plan was to leave for Watoga after our wedding in Parkersburg hauling a small Scottie trailer behind. I should tell you that in the trailer was a poodle given to us as a wedding present. No, never buy a pet for someone else. I also had an injured red tailed hawk, a bag of snakes, and an assortment of amphibians. Our plan was to live in the trailer at the Beaver Creek Campground.

Hawk Head

I need to stop here and explain the injured red tail hawk. He was discovered before our wedding on the road going from Seebert. We named the hawk, Garth, and Garth took up residence in the trees at our Beaver Creek Campground location. I fed him bluegill. If I wore my green park uniform, I could call his name and he would fly down and perch on my head. I had a scabby scalp that summer. Garth got into trouble when a camper was grilling hamburgers. Garth eyed the juicy meat, swooped down, and flew away with his catch.

I then moved him to the lake by the Administration building to keep him out of trouble. He was always a welcome addition to my nature lectures by the lake. When I called his name he would appear, land on my head, and amaze the park visitors. I had to laugh when one day a fisherman appeared in the office complaining that “the damn eagle had swooped down and grabbed the bass he had just hooked”. I knew it was no eagle but just an opportunistic red tailed hawk. Good ending to this story. Garth found a bride and I am hoping many Garth descendants are around Watoga.

As we entered the park through Seebert, along Island Lick Run, the rhododendrons were in full bloom. Judy told me later that, as we traveled the road toward the Administration Building, she was wondering if she could ever find her way out of that vast wilderness.

Accommodations

We setup our camper beside the Beaver Creek Campground’s bath house and lived there for a couple of weeks. Mr. Dale realized our accommodations were a little cramped and asked if we would like to move to a large room over the restaurant in the Administration Building, which was built in the mid 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corp. Most of the logs and lumber used in the construction was salvaged from blight-killed American Chestnut. Judy was excited to live in the large room with a bathroom on the side.

Mr. Dale gave us access to the storage shed and we found an electric hot plate and a table. We were now ready to live in our new abode. Judy was a trooper. She adapted to the camel crickets that shared our shower. Only two appliances could be used at a time, she realized. Otherwise we would pop the breakers losing power not only to our room but the restaurant beneath us. We did have the luxury of an electric skillet, crock pot, and coffee pot.

Cricket Tales from a Watoga Naturalist.

I loved it when we first moved in to the room and Judy heard tiny squeaks coming from the windows. She said that it is so nice to hear the chirping of baby birds. It was not until we were leaving for the summer that I confessed that those bird sounds were actually bats resting in the cracks of the windows.

I had such a wonderful experience working as naturalist at the Park. I would help with Monday check-ins of cabin guests. We would always plan a marshmallow roast up by the Recreation Hall each week. I learned early on the horrors of flying burning marshmallows launched by the kids of cabin guests. The Rec Hall is where we would show a 16 mm Disney nature classic. Who can forget “Bear Country” or “Squeak the Squirrel”? Tales from a Watoga Naturalist.

Usually after cabin check-ins we would have one cabin complain about finding bats in the cabin. There was no way they were going to believe that this was part of the park experience. I would don my superman suit (green park attire) and arrive at their cabin with a large container of bat repellent spray. Actually it was plain ole water and I would liberally spray the rafters. It worked almost 100% of the time. Plain water equals no bats.

Field Trip Tales from a Watoga Naturalist.

I would schedule motor field trips to Cranberry Glades. Oh, the memories of leading a tour to Big Glade and getting my direction confused in the alder thickets. There was a memorable time where we had several Mennonite ladies hiking through the sphagnum bogs. With their long dresses and buckle shoes, a person would think that it would make the trek difficult. They hiked better than I did. We scheduled trips to Bear Town before it officially became a state park. This unique natural area was finally purchased in 1970 with funds from the Nature Conservancy and a donation from Edwin G. Polan.

I shared Watoga’s unique animal and plant life with Park guests. I collected beautiful Timber Rattlesnakes from an old wood pile located at the end of the old airport runway at Beaver Creek. They were beautiful reptiles indeed. Tales from a Watoga Naturalist.

We always had a botany hike along the trail by the lake. As I was pretty good at plant identification, I learned a technique to use if one of the plants stumped me. “ I am not certain of the proper name of that plant but the locals call it….”. and would make up an Appalachian sounding name. However, that identification technique could not be used more than twice during one field trip! As I was diligently working, my good wife and Gwen Crouser would walk to Watoga Lake and put two reclining lounges in a row boat so they could sun bathe. A beaver tail slap beside the boat often greeted them.

Pre-Riverside Campground Tales from a Watoga Naturalist.

It was such an exciting time for us. Before the construction of Riverside, newest campground, we parked at Cabin Three, a great large cabin that tragically burned. We would hike along the Greenbrier River and enjoy the wonders that we encountered. I recall one evening that we packed our supper. We hauled a coffee pot and large container of water to a waterfall. Sadly, after transporting the heavy items, we discovered we had forgotten the coffee! Tales from a Watoga Naturalist.

It was on this trip that my good city wife had a scary experience. Going around a wet area in the path, she decided to take a detour. She stepped on a pile of limbs and quickly realized she had fallen into a beaver’s lodge up to her hips. Judy thought that the beavers would chew her legs off. I pulled her out and explained that beavers were herbivores and she had nothing to worry about.

Watoga memories continue to be a part of the fabric of our lives -from a night search for a lost cabin guest on Honeymoon Trail to collecting ancient coral fossils at nearby Calvin Price State Forest. As we get older, we realize the importance of life stories and feel so blessed to have Watoga as an amazing part of our story.

Jim Meads, Glenville State College Professor Emeritus of Biology

Memories of Horseback Riding at Watoga State Park

Some of you generously shared your recollections of riding the trail at Watoga State Park.  Others also shared information about who ran the operation and some ideas about its demise.  Memories of Horseback Riding at Watoga State Park

I am told the riding operation was run by Stuart Horner’s father.  Stuart and his wife Kristy currently run the iconic Horner’s Corner, a familiar sight to visitors as they pass through the village of Seebert en-route to Watoga.

It has also been confirmed that the high cost of liability insurance finally brought this popular activity to a close. The horse trails have been resurrected as the Busch Settlement and The Bonnie Trails and are now serving the public as wonderful hiking trails.

Well, we still have our memories of things that are no more, and here are yours.

Memories of Horseback Riding at Watoga State Park

“I remember the horseback riding very fondly!  Went a few times when I was little during one of our Spencer Family Reunions.  It was a real treat back then. We often would also just go over to visit the horses at the fence line if we were walking the trail between there and the Rec Center. We were so so sad when the horses left but happy to have the memories” Krin Goodwin Hupp

“I remember going to my Grandmas house in the summer when school was out and went swimming and horseback riding. Always like doing that with Grandma Burr. My uncle buck (Henry), his son Dewey and my Cousin Mike Pyne all work there and Dewey still does” Thomas Purdy

A Newly Wed’s Story

“ I do have a Watoga horseback riding story. My husband and I spent our week long honeymoon in a cabin at Watoga. I am the “horse person” between us two, but talked him into doing the “one hour” trail ride one day. A couple days later, I wanted to go again, but he wasn’t quite as interested. When we got to the stables, we were still discussing it, and the 2 men that worked the stables then overheard us. They knew from our first ride that I was an experienced rider, and said that they hadn’t been on the “two hour” trail yet that early in the year (it was May) and if I wanted to go, they’d charge me less, since some clearing of the trail, or going around downed trees might be involved.

My husband saw I wanted to do it, and gracefully let me know he’d be fine with it, but he didn’t want to go. So, on my honeymoon, I went on a 2+ hour trail ride, just me and the 2 “stable hands”. I should have known I’d never live it down, as it turned out, I got pregnant on our honeymoon, and my husband joked that our firstborn son belonged to a stable hand! He blamed the other 2 on the mailman and the UPS driver…but he can’t deny a single one of them, as they all 3 look like him, But I did enjoy the trail ride! And miss horseback riding being available like it used to be, but as a horse owner myself now, I understand the difficulties” Sheila Murphy Weakley

More Memories of Horseback Riding at Watoga State Park

“I still remember my favorite horse to ride back then. His name was Blaze! What fun it was back then.” Meg Goodwin Berger
“In the 1950’s horseback riding was very popular. The first summer (1956) I worked at Watoga there was a very bad accident. A couple on their honeymoon was riding and the horse the man was spooked by a snake and threw the man. The fall broke his back, we never heard if he was able to walk again.

One night a week there was square dancing in the upstairs with a live band and on other nights we had a jukebox and cabin guests came up and we danced. I believe the reason horses are not there now is because the insurance is so expensive. Lost River still has horseback riding. Had some good times in that barn. After the guests left for the evening the help learned how to trip the jukebox and danced later”. Charlotte McKeever Emswiler

“I believe the horseback riding stopped due to continued budget cuts. In the end, the state was contracting with individuals and their horses and it was just too costly. As far as the trail name, I think your name sounds much fancier than plain old “Possum” Trail”. Lisa Miller Rich