Watoga Trail Report

NOW YOU SEE it, now you don’t. There is no doubt that the disappearance of the Ann Bailey Lookout Tower is the strangest thing to happen to Watoga State Park in many years, but this park is no stranger to mysteries.

Without a trace
Iconic Ann Bailey Tower disappears

After returning from a hike with his wife on Arrowhead Trail Monday, Jerry Simonetti, of Akron, Ohio, stopped by Watoga Park headquarters complaining that the official trail map states “this steep trail leads up to the Ann Bailey Lookout Tower.” 

Complaints about this trail are usually directed at the trail map’s failure to stress that this is a “very, very steep trail” rather than merely a steep trail. 

Anyway, Mr. Simonetti claimed that he and his wife struggled up this very, very steep trail with the express intention of climbing the Ann Bailey Lookout Tower, specifically for the spectacular views promised by the trail guide.

The park official on duty told Mr. Simonetti that park personnel are not responsible for atmospheric conditions, assuming that the Simonetti’s view from the tower was obscured by the heavy morning fog on Monday morning, adding that control of weather conditions were “above her pay grade – way above it.”

“No, you don’t understand, there is no Ann Bailey Lookout Tower,” Mr. Simonetti responded.

Well, of course, people, particularly those from Ohio, often think they are at the top of Arrowhead Trail where the tower resides, when really they are just at the first fairly level spot on this very, very steep trail; and the park official told Mr. Simonetti that very thing.

Jerry (I am tired of typing Simonetti) replied, “we know we went to the top because we hiked all the way out to the Ann Bailey trailhead where we had shuttled our car.”

The park official was impressed.

“You hiked all the way up Arrowhead and then all the way to the Ann Bailey trailhead? I’m impressed,” she said.

See? I told you she was impressed.

“You are missing the point,” Jerry responded. “We hiked right past the spot where the Ann Bailey Tower is supposed to be, but it’s not there.”

Well, it took a while for all of this to sink in, and even more time to find someone willing to volunteer to climb up the Arrowhead Trail to investigate. As it happens, I received an award last year for being a fairly good volunteer – the plaque I received actually says, “This Award is Granted to Ken Springer, A fairly Good Volunteer.”  

And like all fairly good volunteers, I volunteered to climb up the very, very steep trail to determine if the Ann Bailey Lookout Tower was indeed missing. I did, and it is! 

The beautiful log two-story structure that was built by the CCC in the 1930s – that veritable symbol of Watoga State Park – is totally gone. It is as if one of those giant helicopters hooked up to the log tower and lifted it right up off of its cornerstones and flew off with it.

In my mind, I could see the lookout tower suspended from a Sikorsky helicopter making its getaway across the Little Levels and up towards Cranberry Mountain never to be seen again. Could it be that those sneaky Russians made off with our park symbol that graces every park publication and T-shirt sold at the souvenir stores?

But then again, fingers have been pointed at me as one who harbors certain beliefs that are not well grounded in reality. As an example, my contention that a family of bigfoot (is it bigfoots or bigfeet when plural?) are sporadically living in the Workman Cabin, based upon scraps of food and litter found around the cabin.

But my friend Delbert, up in Mudwallow, Ohio, counters that argument with the supposition that Bigfoots probably don’t have access to granola bars, oranges, Red Bull and Walmart brand bottled water. Delbert believes that they live in hollow trees in Watoga’s old growth area and eat blueberries and snowshoe hares. More on that in a future Trail report, now back to the missing lookout tower.

Once word got out that the tower was literally stolen, calls started coming in to the park office reporting sightings of the famous tower in the Marlinton High School soccer fields, the big field behind the Yew Mountain Center and even on the White House lawn. One guy claiming he was from New York City said “It’s sitting plumb on top of the Empire State Building.”

We knew that was a crank call as New Yorkers are not known to employ such phrases as “plumb on top of.”  They are much more likely to say “youse guys bettah get da lookout towwa offa da big building or else, capeesh?”

The park officials are considering this a crime; a grand theft on a grand scale, so to speak. As Jody Spencer and Josh Feather pondered the motive, means and opportunity in arriving at a suspect, I humbly suggested that a Sikorsky helicopter could have been used to pluck the tower right off the top of the mountain, after all there were no motor vehicle tracks in the area, and it would have required such an aircraft.

They seemed to be giving some serious consideration to my theory until I added, “Or, it could have been removed by a UFO with a tractor beam, like the one in that episode of the Simpsons where a UFO pulls Bart, Lisa, Marge and the baby up into the spaceship with a tractor beam, but had to use two beams to get Homer up.”

That is when they suggested quite strongly that I should go and cut some trees off the trails.

There is no doubt that the disappearance of the Ann Bailey Lookout Tower is the strangest thing to happen to Watoga State Park in many years, but this park is no stranger to mysteries.

What really happened to the first newlyweds to stay in the Honeymoon Cabin? Did they check in only to never check out again, as some say?

Decades ago, stories circulated that swimmers would enter the spring-fed swimming pool at Watoga looking quite normal, only to exit an eerie blue color that would last for hours and make their teeth chatter uncontrollably. Could the pool be haunted? Why is the speed limit in the Riverside Campground 9 ½ miles per hour?

These are questions we will probably never know the answer to, and possibly it is because the real answers lie outside the realm of normal explanation.

When the tower is finally located and the criminals identified, you will hear about it first in this publication. There is a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any and all parties involved in the theft of the Ann Bailey Lookout Tower from Watoga State Park on April 1, 2019; which just happens to be April Fools’ Day.

Happy Hiking,
Ken Springer

Note:  David Copperfield’s office refused to return our calls. And none of the National Park Service employees stationed at the Statue of Liberty would comment on our situation, stating that they have problems of their own following the temporary disappearance of Miss Liberty some years ago – evidently she was returned to her pedestal with the Tabula Ansata in her left hand replaced by a bronze issue of the National Lampoon, and a Gucci toe ring on the pinky toe of her right foot.

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