This week our house has been full of excitement. We have the older two boys this weekend, and it will be their first camping trip of the season. It will also be their first opportunity to partake in the West Virginia Very Import Park Person (WVVIPP) Program and explore a new park.
We will be embarking to West Virginia’s largest state park, Watoga. Named after a small town North of the Park, Watoga covers over 10,100 acres of land and feature 34 cabins, 88 campsites, a swimming pool, 11-acre fishing lake, 40-miles of hiking trails, the 400 acre Brooks Memorial Arboretum which is home to more than 60 species of trees, Ann Bailey’s Lookout Tower, and access to the 78-mile Greenbrier River Trail.
Thursday is our packing day for our weekend trips. It’s the day all our gear and supplies get loaded so we can simply get in and go. With all our gear loaded, we called to see how many spots were available. It’s our first time going to Watoga, and we now have made our first mistake. We wanted the Riverside Campground, but all spots are reservable, and all have been reserved. The second campsite is Beaver Creek which is located across from Watoga’s North Bound Entrance, and it’s a first-come-first-serve site. So, with fingers crossed and a small backup plan to stay at Seneca State Forest, we hit the road for another outdoor weekend.
We finally arrived at Watoga. Worrying about no camping spots at Beaver Creek was a concern we didn’t need. Beaver Creek looked sadly forgotten and us wanting to make the best of our trip decided we needed to make a location change. Maybe an opening at Riverside came available. They are calling for rain all weekend. Wonder if they have any cabins available?
This evening has been met by multiple rain storms, and as I type this, you can hear the rain hitting the canopy we placed over our picnic table and occasionally when a leaves capacity is met a large water droplet will fall making the sound of a kernel of popcorn popping off our tent. In the distance, you can hear little peeper tree frogs calling out and the sound of a waterfall.
Setting up camp today was a wet experience. We laid a tarpaulin on the saturated ground and set our tent up on it. We covered the back, West Side, of our tent facing any new approaching storms. Not zipping our lower doors, the rain collected and pooled on the lower side of our tent. We ended up with one soaked pillow and sleeping bag. Not too bad for mistake number two of our trip.
All settled in; Heather made us some tomato soup and bologna and cheese sandwiches while I started a camp fire. The park check-in stations close at 5 o’clock, so we were not able to obtain dry firewood. Zach collected what he could scavenge, and we gave it a shot. Only having packed one fire starter, no accelerant, and all the wood was dripping wet. The only camp fire made was from the fire starter that quickly burnt out.
Leaving a small lantern burn outside, to shed a little light on a dark wet forest and to give ease for those who hear things and want to peek outside, made for the perfect setting cut from a scene of the Twilight Zone. Behind the dark edges of the forest sounds of a tranquil waterfall is heard. Blasting from within the woods came the sound of a jet engine shredding through the water. The sounds of a whirlpool being created just yards from our campsite. We have now had our first scare of the trip. The tranquil waterfall was a submerged pump that received an airlock in a nearby filtration pond.
The oldest two are snoring, Leo is silently sleeping beside Heather, and I’m listening to all the sounds outside our tent. A new day awaits. Hopefully, tomorrow will be a kick-off for a great Watoga experience.
Friday morning we awoke and started packing our Beaver Creek Campsite with hopes of an open spot at Riverside. After checking for availability, at the Park’s Head Quarters, we left with a two night rental of Cabin 4 near Riverside. Park Officials said that Riverside Campgrounds were full and there was signage hung at the park entrance stating so. But, we circled the campground every day to verify the validity of their statement and noticed the same four sites open all weekend. I am not sure if this was a ploy to get us to rent a cabin or those sites have issues causing them not to be used. The weather was calling for thunderstorms with heavy rain. Renting the cabin may be a blessing in disguise.
Cabin 4 will not be ready until 11:30 am, so we headed into a little town called Marlinton that sits directly beside the Greenbrier River. The land where present day Marlinton lies, was surveyed by Andrew Lewis in 1751 for the Greenbrier Company when he came across Jacob Marlin, from which the town is named, and Stephen Sewell living there. Jacob and Stephen are known to be the first settlers West of the Allegheny Mountains. Today, Marlinton is the County Seat of Pocahontas County and conveniently located on the Greenbrier River Trail, just South of the Cass Scenic Rail Road and Green Bank Observatory, and North of the Calvin Price State Forest, Watoga State Park, and Seneca State Forest, and East of the Mongehala National Forest, providing nature enthusiasts an array of outdoor activities.
We stopped at a local eatery called the Greenbrier Grill and Lodge. Here we sat on the outside covered patio above the Greenbrier River, eating our breakfast while geese and ducks swim below. For 50 cents a small sandwich bag of dried corn can be purchased to feed the ducks and geese. The kids found it surprising that you were allowed to feed them. This event was also special knowing that my father once ate here and fed the ducks as well. It made for a beautiful, serene moment. When leaving an older gentleman came over and said he would like to offer something fun and small to our children. He gave them each a 1 dollar gold coin. I then asked him if he remembered the Susan B. Anthony dollar. He then replied, “Wait right there, young man.” He then returned carrying a 1979 Susan B. Anthony dollar, and after a little bit of history about the coin, he handed it to me and said, “See, I didn’t forget you.” He said he has handed dollar coins out to visitors of the restaurant since its opening. He finds that it is a great gesture from his community and kids seem to like it.
Stopping by to visit the Marlinton Depot we discovered that it is now the 4th Avenue Gallery. The depot was built in 1901 by the C&O Railroad. It was closed in 1958 and later became the Pocahontas County Convention and Visiters Bureau. The inside was destroyed by a fire in 2008 and was forced closed. The depot secured funds to be remodeled and is now a gallery for an Artisan Co-op of over 30 members that focus on the local heritage by running year-long exhibits in the gallery.
Returning to the Park’s Head Quarters, we took the boys up and showed them how the WVVIPP works. They were extremely excited learning about the program but more excited to receive their stamp and learn they could obtain a gift card after completion of the program. I think they already know what they want to buy. The Park Head Quarters also contains a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Museum that includes tools, clothing, and other memorabilia creating an excellent historical collection from the legacy of the CCC. We highly recommend exploring the museum during your visit to Watoga.
The boys have never stayed in a rustic cabin before, and they didn’t know what to expect. Sadly, neither did we. Rustic to me meant you crap outdoors and wash in a river. Heather reassured me even though the rustic cabins were built in 1934, they have had electricity, running water, a shower, and a working toilet installed. The cabin did not disappoint, it was unbelievable. The smell of the chestnut, the commanding presence of the stone fireplace, cathedral ceilings, its original locks and hand-cut wood took you directly back to the early days when pioneers first built their homes for their settling families. With no phone, television, internet, or air conditioning (AC), and with a rainy weekend in the forecast, we could open the windows, let the wind blow through, and have a quiet, relaxing lazy weekend.
Today’s weather has been nothing but light showers, and they are now calling for thunderstorms to hit tonight. Taking this opportunity, we are hitting the Greenbrier River Trail and heading toward Marlinton. The trail is a highly humid ride beside a rather milky river. Coming upon the Watoga Bridge, which was the highlight of the trip, a small path leads down beneath it. Continuing on the trail, we have arrived upon a small trailside campground which will be our turning point. Stopping back at the bridge, following the side path down to the Greenbrier River, the boys are skipping rocks and taking a short break. Motivating the boys with food, we are heading toward Jack Horner’s Corner in Seebert for Pizza, Chips, and Ice Cream.
Returning to the cabin, we opened the door, and all received a massive shock. With the coming storm, the humidity caused nothing but dead air and heat to be trapped inside the cabin. With no AC or fan and an evening of lights out ghost stories, it is going to be one long and hot night behind closed windows and locked doors.
Saturday, what a long night! We have now had our second scare of the trip. All night long we were awoken by, “Did you hear that? What was that? Guys, did you hear that?” Maybe lights out ghost stories wasn’t the best idea for a peaceful night sleep. This morning the boys are snoring, Heather is making fresh coffee and camping breakfast burritos. Today we have planned to adventure toward the small town of Clover Lick and ride the 6 miles (9.6 k) to the 511-feet (155.7 m) Sharp’s Tunnel that leads you across a 299-foot (91.1 m) curved bridge crossing the Greenbrier River. The vehicle is loaded for our 1-hour drive and once breakfast has been consumed the trail is ours.
Passing by the Seneca Camp Grounds, we did a side tour. It was our backup plan if Watoga was at full occupancy. I am glad we didn’t have to utilize this plan. Seneca Camp Grounds are beautiful but utterly remote. If you are looking for a place that is tucked in a secluded valley where you will be camping alone, it is the place. If we were camping with a group or other families, it would be an excellent place to set up a base camp for the week or weekend. But, with what we were looking for this weekend, it wouldn’t have been for us.
Arriving at Clover Lick was pretty uneventful, but that quickly changed. While getting the bikes ready and doing some minor maintenance, we noticed that Zach’s back tire is flat. Yesterday we needed to use some bike-tire-fix-it-flat which seemed to have done the job. But, today, it is entirely flat. Every bit of air pumped into the tub blows fix-it-flat out like the venom of a spitting cobra. We started packing everything up, and I’m ready to call it a day, when Heather stepped up and made a wonderful suggestion, “We are only 10 miles from Green Bank Observatory. Have you ever been there? If not, let’s go and not call the day a total loss.”
Driving into the Green Bank Observatory is intimidating. I have seen photos of the Rober C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) and have driven passed it before. But entering the grounds, you start getting the idea of how large this radio telescope is. The Science Center has a gift shop, small restaurant, a touring wing, and educational discovery section. The discovery section is full of tools used to listen to our universe, guiding young and old alike through how the process of radio astronomy was created and is used to map and listen to our universe. We loved the discovery section and found it fun and educational to learn through their exhibits. There is also a model of the GBT with a joystick that allows you to control the model’s movements.
Two tours of the grounds are available, a self-guided walking and biking tour with a brochure and kiosks or a guided tour. Not getting to hike or bike today, we decided to walk the 3-mile tour. Exploring the telescopes of the past and those still in operation is a very insightful and unique experience. Finishing our walk to the GBT, you come to respects its size. At 485 feet tall and a diameter of 328 feet 1 inch makes it the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope. It is a must see! This telescope is massive! Noticing a Nature Trail, we decided to head back to the Science Center via the trail. It made for a nice loop instead of a paved road out and back.
Stopping at the Green Bank Dollar General for a few snacks and a fan for the cabin, we said farewell to Green Bank and gave it and Heather a much-needed thank you for saving our day.
While driving back to the park, we passed a public radio station WVMR 1370AM (Click Here to Listen Live). Switching over from Sirius/XM to lesson to some public broadcasting, we learned that it is part of the Allegheny Mountain Radio network that is a non-commercial community station. WVMR has been providing news, entertainment, an open forum for residents, and the promotion of the Pocahontas County area since going on air in August of 1981.
Back at the cabin, the fan is running circulating the cool evening air. The sound of sizzling hamburgers and hotdogs on the grill. ROAR! What was that? We have now had our third scare of the trip. While attending the grill and enjoying the air, I heard a distinctly loud and too close for comfort black bear roar. It didn’t sound like a roar of fear or intimidation. It sounded like a roar to get another bears attention or to call a cub in, to return to momma bear. To me, no matter how it sounded, the sound meant to get back inside and let the family know. The boys shut inside, Heather and I went back outside to finish grilling but with one of us on bear patrol. The sounds of sticks snapping and leave’s rustling could be heard on the adjacent hillside. We finished our grilling and headed back inside for our evening meal. With a little bit of fear to enhance our senses, it will be another night of lights out ghost stories. Thank goodness we had the windows open earlier and the fan running to circulate the air because I’m sure it will be another closed window and door kind of night.
The smell of the fresh morning mountain air coming through the screens of the open door and windows is revitalizing. The smell of the coffee, the smile on Heather’s face, the sound of morning boy farts and snoring. Dad Life! Today is our last day at Watoga, and the weather is beautiful. The thunderstorms missed us all weekend and hit further North. We want to bike the Ann Bailey’s Lookout Tower Trail and visit the Tower, and the older two are wanting to swim in the pool. With camping gear loaded, boys dropped off, and bikes unloaded at the trailhead. We start our trek on the 3-mile journey to the tower.
The Ann Baily Lookout Trail is a roadbed following the ridge lines of Pyles Mountain and Workman Ridge ending at the Ann Bailey Lookout Tower, named after the famous pioneer scout. The best way to explain this trail from the trailhead is 2 miles down of pure biking excitement and 1 mile of hiking your baby and bike up a hill. The return is worse, 1 mile down of pure cycling enjoyment and 2 miles of hiking your baby and bike back to the trailhead. Being able to explore the tower and experience the view of the Greenbrier River and Valley below is worth every bit the effort it takes to get there. We would repeat this trail and recommend it. The feeling of accomplishment alone is a great reward, the tower and view were a bonus.
With Father’s Day weekend coming to an end. It’s time to head home, unpack, and have a nice Father’s Day cookout. Pulling in at our house, we were met with a massive mess to pick up. An animal got on our deck and into a bag of trash. It must have stormed at home while we were gone because anything paper or plastic was blown across the yard, deck, and into the pool. Everyone jumped into it and helped unpack and clean up all the trash. Father’s Day dinner was grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, corn, and pickles with a side of baked beans. Bellies full and stories from our weekend filling the air, the time for bed is upon us.
This weekend was met with mistakes, obstacles to overcome, unpredictable weather, dry/humid heat, loud sounds at night, a roar of a bear, and spooky ghost stories. We explored a new park, introduced our oldest two to the WVVIPP, adventured around old train towns, was educated on radio astronomy, took a walk through history, and spent time with those we love. To my family, I love and thank you for such a beautiful and adventuress weekend. To the State of WV, thank you for having such a beautiful State to explore. From your valleys, mountains, trails, and streams, from high-tech research to listening to other galaxies, you never disappoint. Happy Father’s Day!
Watoga State Park: Park Trail Map
Watoga State Park: Bever Creek Campground Map
Watoga State Park: Riverside Campground Map
Greenbrier River Trail State Park: Rail Trail Map
Greenbrier River Trail State Park: Milepost Descriptions
West Virginia VIPP: Registration Form
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