THE FRED E. Brooks Memorial Arboretum, a 400-acre outdoor classroom, was established in 1938. There are seven miles of trails within the Arboretum.
The Flame Azalea is currently in bloom and on standby for viewing and photo ops on the trails and in the Arboretum at Watoga. It accurately mimics the color of the popular frozen Creamsicle. K. Springer photos

Ken Springer
Watoga Park Foundation

The Trail Report
about trails

My friend, Delbert, from up in Mudwallow, Ohio, recently informed me, in his usual straightforward way, that I should be writing more about trails. I was taken aback by his assertion that I should write about something as trivial as footpaths, but I checked the title of the column and, sure enough, it does say Watoga “Trail” Report. He went on to say that I have been straying from the path, so to speak, writing about mushroom recipes, ramp festivals, silly antics of my dogs and that preposterous story about the theft of the Ann Bailey Tower.

Therefore, this edition of the Watoga Trail Report will concern itself solely with trails – specifically, the trails of Watoga. There will be no feeble attempts at humor, no digressions into matters beyond my comprehension and limited vocabulary, and no barber-shop philosophizing – just stuff about trails. Anticipating that you may find the subject of trails a bit on the soporific side, it is suggested that you put off reading this column until just before bedtime, particularly if you experience difficulties arriving at the land of Nod in a timely manner.

Watoga State Park is cherished by locals and visitors alike. For many, this park is associated with memories of their youth and time spent with their families. They speak of summers spent at the swimming pool or camping at the Riverside Campground where a float trip down the Greenbrier River was always a highlight of their visit. Some families have been staying in the same cabin each summer for more than a half century, and in doing so have introduced several new generations to the beauty and wonders of this park.

You may feel that you know the park quite well, but if you have not been to the Fred E. Brooks* Memorial Arboretum you are missing out on the very crown jewel of Watoga State Park. Established in 1938, this 400-acre tract of land was designed as an outdoor classroom where visitors can see and learn about the vast variety of plants and animals that thrive here. Nearly seven miles of trail takes the hiker through a variety of terrain and ecosystems found within the Arboretum.

Dragon Draft Trail follows the entire length of Two Mile Run with 23 stream crossings, consequently, you may expect to dump a little water out of your hiking boots following heavy rains. The 4.5-mile Honey Bee Trail circumnavigates the entire Arboretum staying mainly on the higher, and drier, ridges. The Buckhorn Trail cuts right through the middle of the Arboretum, allowing for hikers to plan a shorter route.

Along the trails you will see reminders of the Civilian Conservation Corp who built the Arboretum. It is estimated that there were close to 20 benches placed along the trails at various points. The surviving pedestals are stones that were fashioned on site, onto which a chestnut seat was affixed. The only surviving chestnut seat is found under a dry rock overhang on the Honey Bee Trail. At the convergence of Buckhorn and Dragon Draft Trails a rustic chestnut log and stone picnic shelter is found.

Of the many plants to be found in the Arboretum the Flame Azalea and the Pink Lady’s Slipper are currently in bloom and on standby for viewing and photo ops. The Flame Azalea, which very accurately mimics the color of the popular frozen treat called Creamsicle, is found here and there throughout the Arboretum.

To see the Lady Slippers, you will have to hike all the way up Dragon Draft Trail to the headwaters of Two Mile Run which is, well, two miles in length. The orchids can be found on a terrace above the junction of Honey Bee and Dragon Draft Trails where they make a showy appearance each spring and only reveal their beauty to those willing to expend the effort to see them – kind of coy for a flower, huh?

Now, I would not suggest that you get out your hiking boots and head directly to the Arboretum quite yet. The Brooks Arboretum, the first in West Virginia and one of the first in the country, is in dire need of some human help with her trails. The winter storms and those dreaded high winds earlier this year that caused power outages, downed trees, and school delays have also wreaked havoc on Watoga’s trails, the Arboretum included.

A recent assessment performed by this old bald guy and his canine companions has determined that there are a heap of trees down in the Arboretum. And though the downed trees can be blamed on storms, we have to look at the prolific spring growth to explain the overgrowth on some portions of the trails. Slashing through these sections of Dragon Draft one feels like Indiana Jones in a Peruvian jungle searching for the Golden Idol of Fertility, or in my case, the Golden Idol of Hair Restoration.

In order to remedy the situation at hand, a trail-work day will be posted soon on the Facebook page www.facebook.com/HikeWatoga/

So, if you have not previously had the opportunity to visit the Arboretum, now’s your chance to see it and give it a hand at the same time. You may just end up being a frequent visitor there.

Well, if you fell asleep between the second and third paragraphs of this trail report about trails, my apologies, and glad that I could be of service toward a good night’s sleep. And Delbert, I hope that this satisfies your obsessive need for relevance in the content of trail reports. But be advised that the next trail report may test the limits of hyperbole; all the while being informative, shocking and mildly interesting. Until then.

Happy Hiking,
Ken Springer

*The namesake of the Arboretum is Fred E. Brooks, a native of Upshur County. The brass plaque on his memorial, located at the trailhead on the main park entrance road, states that Brooks was a noted entomologist, botanist, agriculturalist, ornithologist and naturalist. Of course, this is true, but Fred E. Brooks was also just one among an entire family of notable naturalists here in West Virginia. His brothers Earle, Albert (namesake of Brooks Bird Club) and Alonzo were also highly regarded naturalists and authors. Fred’s son, Maurice, continued the legacy as a professor of biology at WVU, later teaching wildlife management for the Division of Forestry.