Tourism in Pocahontas County has rich history
William P. McNeel
The Pocahontas Times
In 1923, the George Craig and Sons Lumber Company sold the U. S. Government 9,674 acres as the first property in Pocahontas County to become part of today’s Monongahela National Forest. At the time, recreation was not one of the factors behind the creation of the federal forest reserve. In March of 1907, heavy rains caused bad flooding along the Monongahela River and other streams and in the city of Pittsburgh. Studies following the flooding led to the realization that part of the problem was the stripping of the timber from the mountains in the headwaters of the flooding streams. Without the tree cover, much of the natural ability of the land to prevent flooding was lost. The need to rehabilitate the forestlands in the eastern United States came to the attention of Congress, and in 1911 the Weeks Bill was passed and signed by the President. Under this law, the government was given authority to purchase land for the protection of watersheds.
The first property for the new forest preserve in W. Va. was acquired in 1915 in Tucker County. Today (1997) about one third of the total acreage of the Monongahela National Forest is in Pocahontas County.
The State of West Virginia also began to acquire cut-over land for conservation purposes. In 1924, the W. Va. Game and Fish Commission purchased from A. D. Neill the 10,847 acre tract that forms most of Seneca State Forest.
The land included in Watoga State Park was acquired in two purchases. In 1925, a 4,536 acre tract was purchased from the Watoga Land Association and 5,107 aces of former Maryland Lumber Company land were acquired in 1934.
As mentioned above, recreation was not one of the considerations behind the Weeks Law nor was it a factor with the state land purchases. Recreational development was a gradual process. In the early days of the MNF, access to the forestlands was difficult for those who lived any distance away due to poor roads. Also, the cut and burned over land was not overly attractive anyway. Only a few hardy folks, used to outdoor living, used the public lands for hunting and fishing.
The emphasis in the early years had to be on the reforestation of the badly exploited land. Money was not made available for recreational development, except as a side benefit of other work. For example, trails put in for access for fire protection also provided access for those wanting to use the land for recreational purposes.
The first recreational development of record on the MNF was the old Frank Mountain Campground in Pocahontas County. It consisted of an improved spring and a toilet.
For both the federal and state owned lands the first substantial progress with the development of recreational areas came with the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The history and success of this depression era program is too well known to take space to detail here, but the development of recreational areas was among the projects undertaken by the young men enrolled in the program. In Pocahontas County at total of 10 CCC camps were established during the life of the program.
By the time the CCC program came to an end in the early 1940s, recreation was firmly established as an integral part of the economy and future of Pocahontas County. In the area of recreation, the major achievement of the CCC was the development of Watoga State Park. Three CCC camps were located on the park. One existed for only a short time. After the construction of roads, cabins, trails, lake and restaurant/office building, the park was opened to the public on July 1, 1927. Before the end of the CCC program, the swimming pool was also completed. Today, Watoga State Park remains one of the finest family vacation parks in the state.
The CCC enrollees also developed the facilities at Seneca State Forest and Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park. Although a public campground had been opened at Seneca in 1928 at the site of the present campground, lack of funds restricted work on the forest to mainly fire protection and a tree nursery. At Seneca, the CCC program resulted in the construction of roads, cabins, trails, picnic areas and a lake.
The land at the site of the Battle of Droop Mountain was purchased in 1928 by the state as a shrine to the casualties in the November 1863 battle. However, as with other state owned land in the county, development had to wait the coming of the CCC. Picnic areas, trails, an observation tower, and cabins were built in the park during the CCC years.
Most of the CCC camps in the county did their work on national forest land and constructed roads and trails, accelerated the reforestation efforts, and worked fire prevention and control…
The facilities on the MNF directly relating to visitors in this county came after World War II when funds for recreation became part of the regular budgets for the national forest. Various special conservation programs as well as appropriations for particular projects on the MNF have resulted in the many facilities that exist today including: Lake Buffalo, Cranberry Mountain Visitor Center, Falls of Hills Creek trail system, interpretation of special areas such as Cranberry Glades and Allegheny Battlefield, and the Cranberry Wilderness Area.
To be continued…