To celebrate National Trails Day last Saturday, Watoga State Park hosted a guided hike through the Fred E. Brooks Memorial Arboretum. The arboretum covers more than 400 acres and encompasses the drainage of Two Mile Run. The tree park was named in honor of Fred E. Brooks, a noted West Virginia naturalist who died in 1933. The Civilian Conservation Corps built the arboretum between 1935-1938.
Kelly Smith, assistant superintendent at Watoga, led the hike.
“Today’s hike was to focus on the Fred E. Brooks Arboretum, to give a sample of the diverse trees, plants and wildlife that’s here at Watoga,” she said. “Also, it was National Trails Day, so people were logging miles and participating in a national event.”
A dozen hikers joined Smith and park naturalist Cheryle Boggs for the 4.5 mile trek along Honeybee and Dragon Draft trails. Throughout the arboretum, markers are placed to identify
several species of trees, including red and white oak, red and sugar maple, pitch pine, white pine, beech, hickory and sycamore.
Besides trees, the hikers examined and identified several other examples of forest flora. Some hikers carried field guides and assisted Smith with plant identification. In addition to many other species, the group identified yellow woodsorrel, witch hazel, elephant ear lichen, deer antler lichen, lily-leafed twayblade orchid and rattlesnake plantain, also a variety of orchid.
Taking a short break beneath a rock outcropping, the curious hikers examined the rock strata. Boggs, a geology specialist, helped identify the type of rock as a sandstone.
Smith was pleased with the hike.
“I think it went fantastic,” she said. “We had a lot of interested individuals, participation was fantastic and everybody did a great job. We had some great questions on wildflowers, trees and salamanders, coming down through the stream. Some great questions and even questions I couldn’t answer. That’s one of the great things about nature – it’s an ongoing lesson. I’m not going to know everything, but it’s a great way to learn.”
Watoga staff members conduct a special event on the first Saturday of each month. On Saturday, July 5, at 10:30 a.m., Smith will lead a herpetology hike.
“On that hike, we will be hiking and actively looking for reptiles, whether they be salamanders, turtles, snakes – any of our reptiles that live at Watoga,” said Smith. “We’re planning to do the lake trail. Along the trail, we may find a few things under rocks or along the lake’s edge. I hope to have a few specimens that people can get a closer look at, if they choose. I know some people have hesitation sometimes with reptiles. But it’s just a wonderful introduction. Hopefully, this will be a good learning experience.”
The August 2 special event will be a fern walk, to learn about the variety of ferns growing at Watoga. Boggs also has a series of programs that she leads every Tuesday through Saturday during the summer. For a full schedule of events at Watoga State Park, call the park office at 304-799-4087. A partial schedule can be found at http://www.watoga.com.
The American Hiking Society sponsors National Trail Day on the first Saturday in June. The event evolved out of a desire by individuals and organizations around the country to promote the importance of trails in the U.S. and highlight the work of thousands of volunteers who help maintain those trails. America contains more than 200,000 miles of trails, which provide recreation, education, exploration, solitude and inspiration. Pocahontas County contains more than 800 miles of trails, including a stretch of the famous Allegheny Trail, which passes through Watoga State Park. See americanhiking.org for more information.