Laura Dean Bennett
Little did Jody and Becky Spencer know on their wedding day – August 6, 1995 – that they would, 21 years later, be celebrating their wedding anniversary as Jody became the superintendent of their favorite state park – Watoga.
Spencer has been the Superintendent of the Greenbrier River Trail for 14 years. Moving to his new post at Watoga State Park, he will retain his responsibility for the river trail as Acting Superintendent – place-holding for the next Greenbrier River Trail Superintendent.
“The recent flooding caused some serious damage to the Greenbrier River Trail, all the way from from Caldwell to Anthony, and it’s going to take a while for us to get it all cleaned up,” Spencer said. “Between working at Watoga and the river trail, I’ve been basically working seven days a week.”
Good thing he loves his work, and he knows just about everything there is to know about Watoga.
Spencer lived in the apartment at the swimming pool at Watoga for two years after college, when he was working there as an intern – a utility worker, meaning he did all kinds of jobs around the park, whatever needed doing.
Spencer, who is from Richwood, met Becky, from Barboursville, at Marshall. They spent much of their courting time hiking the trails at Watoga.
There was always a special place in their hearts for Watoga. So when it came time to get married, they chose their favorite place for the ceremony.
In the intervening years, Jody and Becky took jobs and settled into Pocahontas County and had two children, Conner and Haley.
Becky, for many years a teacher at Marlinton Elementary, will be taking the post of principal at Hillsboro Elementary School this fall.
Now that Spencer has taken on the job of superintendent at Watoga, the family will be moving from their home near Mill Point to the superintendent’s residence in the park.
As the new superintendent, Spencer has his work cut out for him. And it’s a good thing he likes hats, because these days, he’s always wearing at least two of them.
I caught up with him after he had spent several days showing FEMA representatives the damage to the Greenbrier River Trail.
He’s been working seven days a week for a while now with no relief in sight.
“Since the flooding in June, we’ve really had our hands full around here,” he said.
Spencer supervises about 30 people at Watoga, from maintenance, housekeeping and office staff to lifeguards and campground attendants.
His responsibilities include not only managing the park and its staff, but he will also be responsible for increasing the number of visitors and guests at Watoga.
“We have to show the central office in Charleston that Watoga attracts a significant number of visitors. We have to prove that we deserve funding for all of the improvements that we have in mind,” Spencer said.
With state funding especially tight, Spencer will need to bring all of his ideas and energy to bear.
Despite what many feared would be a swimming-pool-less summer, the Watoga pool is open to guests and local Pocahontas County residents alike. Its hours of operation are 11a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
“We are lucky to still have the swimming pool open at Watoga.,” Spencer added. “Five West Virginia parks have permanently lost their pools. In order for us to keep our pool, we’re going to have to show the state that we really use it – meaning I’m going to have to come up with ideas for increasing attendance at the pool.”
Fortunately for all of us, Spencer is full of good ideas.
“By next summer, the pool will be featuring some upgrades – wifi, new pool furniture, a sliding board and a snack bar,” he said.
Spencer wants to offer more family-oriented activities at the park and looks to modernize some of its features. He also plans to institute an aggressive main- tenance program to repair and protect the many CCC structures in the park.
And there’s more.
Spencer’s ideas for modernizing include adding a laser tag course, a disc (frisbee) golf cage and even an archery range.
The Spencers, along with Bob and Heather Simmons, started the Pocahontas County archery program which has become not only popular, but quickly has shot its way to regional acclaim, and to national and world competitions.
“I think I know why people come to Watoga,” Spencer said. “They come for the same reasons Becky and I, and now our kids, have always come here. My family is the exact demographic of our park visitors. We come to the park to hike, fish, camp, swim and enjoy nature. It is so important for people to have access to the beauty and the recreational opportunities that our state parks afford us.
“Watoga is one of the natural gems of Pocahontas County, welcoming visitors and local residents alike. We are the richer for having this wonderful park here.”
Spencer said the Watoga State Park Foundation was recently formed to help re-invigorate the park. Anyone interested in making a financial contribution to revitalization efforts at Watoga or joining a volunteer work crew, is encouraged to visit their site on Facebook or call the Watoga park office at 304-799-4087.
While there may be disagreement as to where the name “Watoga” came from, there’s no disagreement that Watoga is one of Pocahontas County’s most beautiful parks and we are lucky to have it here.
And if Jody Spencer has his way, it will be here for the enjoyment of generations to come.