Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park is more than pastoral views and lush forestland. It’s a reminder of the history of West Virginia and the men who fought in the Civil War.
The park attracts visitors who wish to experience the history and beauty of the park, as well as get a first-hand glimpse into how the soldiers lived and fought there.
For the past two years, members of the 31st Virginia Company I Lewis Rangers reenactment unit have volunteered at the park to help with upkeep, as well as provide a living history for visitors.
Droop holds a special place in the hearts of unit captain Jason Studenwait and his wife, Ronna.
“We were married there,” Ronna said. “We do Civil War reenacting, and we met doing reenacting, so we decided that a Civil War wedding would be appropriate. We were friends with the previous park superintendent [Mike Smith] at Droop. We decided to have our wedding at Droop Mountain, and we did – over by the tower.
“That’s just kind of our spot now,” she continued. “That’s kind of our park. We’ve adopted it.”
When Smith retired and Sam Parker became superintendent, Ronna admitted that she held him to a high standard – which he easily met.
“I told him in the beginning I wasn’t sure if I was going to like him,” she said. “But I love him, now. I wouldn’t trade him for anything.”
This spring, members of the unit came to the park to help with several maintenance projects to get it ready for the summer season.
“The first project that we tackled and took on was the overlook because the trees and the brush had grown up so tall that even from up above in the tower, you didn’t have a very good view,” Ronna said. “We spent one weekend cutting and piling brush, then we went back another weekend to burn the brush.”
The unit also cleaned up the brush and dead trees behind the museum and opened up the landscape more.
The final project was repainting the cannon near the museum – a feat taken on by several, including unit member Maresa Hunyady.
“It definitely was a lot of work, because we had to wire brush it down first and then paint it and all of the details,” she said. “I know one thing that will get in the very, very small spaces. I was sitting there with a Q-tip – painting this cannon.”
Like the Studenwaits, Hunyady has a special connection with reenacting that goes back to her childhood.
“As far as reenacting all together, I have been doing it for twenty four years,” she said. “I started when I was two. My father got into the hobby when I was two, and I was such a daddy’s girl, I did everything that he did. It started with me going with him and as I got older and was able to understand why we were doing it, I just absolutely fell in love with the hobby.”
Hunyady took several years off from reenacting when she lost her father, but after her son was born, she found herself drawn back to the life and the second family she gained in the unit.
“My dad and Ronna were in a unit together when I was little,” Hunyady said. “When my dad would take the field – he couldn’t leave me alone – so Ronna would watch me. She has boys that are around my age, so we grew up together. She and Jason are like my second parents. It’s definitely still a family affair.”
One that she is passing on to her son like her father did to her.
“He loves it,” she said. “I didn’t start him quite as young, but he absolutely loves it. He just turned nine last month, so he understands why we do it, but he still thinks of it as just getting to go out and camp for a weekend.”
The unit will return to Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park Saturday, July 3, but this time it will be to host a living history program – complete with period costumes and uniforms – and a camping area.
“This will be the second year in a row that we’ve done this,” Ronna said. “As long as we can, we’d like to keep it as a tradition. To us, it’s just kind of continuing the legacy, preserving the history. That’s what we like to try to do is preserve the history.”
During the day of July 3, the unit will welcome visitors to the campground and show them the different types of tents soldiers slept in during the Civil War. They will also have cooking demonstrations, uniforms and period clothing for visitors to try on and toys from the time period for children to enjoy.
There will also be rifle and drilling demonstrations.
“We try to get people involved as much as we can,” Ronna said. “Last year with the COVID-19 pandemic, we did what we called a drive through history because we couldn’t get close. We all had to social distance. This year, we’re going to be having it right behind the ranger’s house next to the museum. We’ll be there to answer questions and do demonstrations.”
As someone who grew up in the reenactment circle, Hunyady said she really enjoys the living history aspect because it gives visitors a better understanding of the history and offers a hands-on experience.
“As re-enactors, you have your big events – you have your battle – but you don’t get that one-on-one with the spectators,” she said. “When you do a living history, that’s all it is, just one-on-one. I enjoy doing that more so than the big battles.
“I love getting to talk to people, especially with kids and just teach them the history.”