Thanks to the efforts of a local nature lover, a private foundation has been formed to support Watoga State Park. Last fall, Mary Dawson, of Buckeye, approached Park Superintendent Mark Wylie with the idea to form a foundation. Wylie supported the idea and, last Saturday, the Watoga State Park Foundation became a reality.
A group of West Virginia State Parks officials, park foundation officers and local volunteers attended a meeting on Saturday afternoon at Watoga. Officials in attendance included State Parks District Administrator Brad Reed, Watoga Superintendent Mark Wylie, State Parks Foundation President Lin Dunham, Cacapon State Park Foundation President James Michael and Mountain State Rail and Logging Historical Association (MSRLHA) President Bob Hoke.
MSRLHA, the foundation for Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, is one of the pre-eminent park foundations in West Virginia and a prime example of what a foundation can do for a state park. MSRLHA built Whittaker Camp, a recreated historic logging camp, and provides interpretive guides at the park. MSRLHA raised funds and built a machine shop at Cass, where the group is rebuilding an extremely rare Climax locomotive. The vintage train is expected to be operational in the next year.
The Cacapon State Park Foundation is another excellent example of a successful park foundation. Michael described several projects the group has undertaken in the past year, including new signage and extensive renovation of historic structures. The Cacapon Foundation applied for and received a $30,000 Community Participation Grant, that was used by park staff to complete additional improvements. The Cacapon Foundation previously built a Nature Center at the park.
Reed said State Parks is making a new commitment to work more closely with park foundations. The District Administrator said a liaison would be hired to work in Parks headquarters in Charleston, to ensure a close and beneficial relationship between the parks and their foundations. Hoke, Michael and Dunham gave advice from their years of experience with successful park foundations. Wylie discussed projects that needed completed at the park, with which a foundation could be of great assistance.
A draft charter for the new Watoga Foundation was reviewed and approved and initial officers signed up. Charter officers include Maureen Conley, Mary Dawson, Mark Mengele, Ken Springer, Tom Meadows and Geoff Hamill. Wylie will be an ex-officio member due to his position as Park Superintendent.
The group will meet again at Watoga on March 14 at 10 a.m., location to be announced. Bylaws, fundraising and other issues will be considered. The group needs approximately $500 in order to incorporate and file paperwork to become a non-profit organization. Anyone interested in helping the foundation is invited to attend. For more information, call Mary Dawson at 304-799-4766.
Watoga State Park in southern Pocahontas County is West Virginia’s largest state park, covering 10,100 acres and offering a multitude of recreational activities including hiking, swimming, fishing and boating. The park was built in the early 1930s by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers. Watoga features a CCC Museum, currently being moved into its new quarters in the park headquarters building.