By Geoff Hamill
The Pocahontas Times
Watoga State Park is a sparkling gem in the West Virginia state park system. The largest of all state parks, Watoga covers more than 10,000 acres of magnificent mountain forests. Since its construction by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934, Watoga has provided a fun and relaxing getaway for hundreds of thousands of visitors from across West Virginia and the nation.
Now, like FDR asked for volunteers to join the CCC, Watoga managers are seeking volunteers to serve in a foundation that will support the park.
State law provides for the creation of foundations to raise money, labor, materials and land in the private sector for the benefit of state recreation areas. An exemplary state park foundation has operated for several years in Pocahontas County – the Mountain State Railroad and Logging Historical Association, which provides significant support to Cass Scenic Railroad State Park.
Mary Dawson, of Buckeye, approached Park Supeintendent Mark Wylie and Assistant Superintendent Kelly Smith with the idea to start a foundation at Watoga. Dawson is active in the Pocahontas County Nature Club and supervised a Master Naturalist program at the park.
“I love Watoga,” said Dawson. “I think it’s a great park, but it has some needs that can’t be addressed with the state budget. It’s a beautiful park and it could be better. I think there’s a lot of people who feel the same way.”
Wylie and Smith liked Dawson’s idea.
“Budgets are tight and it’s hard to get much done, other than the routine stuff, with the budget we have,” said Wylie. “Foundations have been very successful at other parks and there’s a statewide state park foundation, as well. We had a meeting about a month ago and we like the idea.”
The next meeting will be held at Watoga State Park headquarters on Saturday, January 10 at 10 a.m., to conduct an initial planning session. Anyone interested in helping the foundation or serving on the foundation board is invited to attend.
“What we’re doing is just trying to get a general idea from interested parties, in order to form a foundation board,” said Smith. “We want to form a 10-member board.”
A non-profit foundation will have access to grant money, otherwise unavailable to the park.
“As a non-profit organization, they would be eligible to apply for grants, additional funding, maybe do some fund raising in the community,” said Smith.
In addition to fundraising, a foundation can provide maintenance and construction assistance.
“My experience with foundations in other parks has been anything from picnic shelters to measured walking trails, maintaining park trails and overlook platforms,” said Smith “At Cacapon [State Park], they built the nature center. So, by having an organization like this, they’re able to accomplish things that maybe we wouldn’t be able to do alone.”
Wylie said the park needs help with trail maintenance.
“They’ve done several surveys in the past and almost every time, one thing almost everybody marks is walk trails,” he said. “Trail maintenance is actually very low on our staff priorities because we have facilities that require maintenance, like our cabins.”
The Superintendent described another ongoing project where foundation support would be useful.
“We don’t have a restaurant anymore, so we’re trying to move our offices into that portion of the building,” he said. “Then we can move the CCC Museum into the current office area and the Nature Center into the CCC Museum. Then the little Nature Center room in the Rec Hall building will be turned into a kitchen for groups to use. They haven’t funded this project, so we’re just kind of picking away at it a little bit at a time.”
So, Wylie and Smith are hoping for a good turnout on January 10.
“People who want to serve, people who want to do something, active people,” said Wylie.
“Just in the short period I’ver been here, I’ve met so many people who have a vested interest in our park,” added Smith. “They all have a special story or a special connection. I think it’s those people, who have a true love for the park, that are interested in seeing it advance and become as good as it can be.”