Watoga swimming pool, date unknown. Photo courtesy of Preserving Pocahontas

Ken Springer
Watoga Park Foundation

The Watoga Swimming Pool
Part Two

There is something almost magical about childhood memories. They seem to filter out the unpleasant and the imperfect in favor of the wonderful. Childhood, after all, is a time of discovery and delight; and these early memories are tempered by an openness to all things. Things that we often become blind to in the process of becoming an adult.

These sentiments are aptly expressed in the following memories shared by readers. They will speak of the taste of ice cream on a summer day at the pool that can only be that delicious when we are young.

The readers will speak of children cramming into cattle trucks and old Buicks for a day at the Watoga swimming pool. Why should such simple pleasures cease to be a great adventure as we move past childhood?

Many speak of the cold water in the pool with a bit of humor, accepting it as being just another cherished part of their summer experience. If only we could continue to approach life with the zeal of children; what memories we might carry into our later years. But cynicism is always the wolf at the door.

Solar panels at Watoga pool for heating the water. K. Springer photo

Here is what readers have to say about the Watoga swimming pool:

“In the 1950s, every summer at the end of bible school at Marlinton Presbyterian Church, our minister, Mr. Melton, would load us children up in a cattle truck and take us to Watoga for a day of picnicking and swimming at the pool.” ~ Judy Glum

“I’m thinking early 1960s family vacation. Cold isn’t the word – and that was the kid’s pool. We lived in St. Albans then, and our grandparents had a cabin in Seebert, but the 1985 flood took it. I love this area, and I understand that the pool is now heated. My brother Alan will test the pool this week (before swimming) but I, on the other hand, there’s no way – I am still cold from 1960.”  ~ Harry Stone

“I worked in the Rec Hall in the summer of 1988. That summer is still one of the hottest on record. No one cared that the pool was cold that year, it was packed every day. I often had to close the Rec Hall counter to work the counter at the pool, so all of the lifeguards could be on the deck. One day it got so crowded that the head lifeguard came in and handed me a lifeguard shirt and told me to close the counter and go stand by the kiddie pool. When I replied, “I can’t swim,” she said, “It’s the kiddie pool. If anything happens, just pick the kid up out of the water and yell for me.” ~  Scott Tripplett

“I went swimming at the Watoga pool on our honeymoon on May 16th, 1981. Notice that I said ‘I’, not ‘we’; my husband preferred not to, a little too chilly for him.”  ~ Shirley Murphy Weakley

(Author’s note: and Shirley obviously never let him forget it.)

“My parents began coming to Pocahontas County in 1948, staying at Graham’s Motel in Buckeye. While fishing in the Greenbrier River, they discovered Wato-ga State Park. When I was two, we began renting cabins at Watoga. At five years old and while watching the guard at the pool teaching someone to swim, I did everything he did. I learned to swim that summer. I can still swim the length of the pool underwater.

“We vacationed at Watoga in the last week of August each year – a last hurrah before the beginning of the new school year. For many years we stayed in cabin 20 (by the swimming pool), and it was a child’s dream. Swimming each morning when the water would take our breath – but beating the crowds. By mid-day the kiddie pool would warm so the guards were always chasing us out when we went over to warm up.

“Today, the big trees are gone, in my youth shadows covered two-thirds of the pool all day. We would buy frozen Zero bars at the pool each day. When the pool closed, we would walk the Lake Trail, fishing for bass; no trout in the lake then, but hundreds of blue-gills.”  ~ David Bott

“About 25 years ago, I was a cabin cleaner for one summer. My family had a free pool pass, so my teenaged girls spent almost every day there, and I would go after work. I never got in the water – too cold for me – but I remember telling park employees how an uncle of mine heated his pool by laying several garden hoses all over the top of his garage.” ~ Cheryl Nellis Stanley 

(Author’s note: the park did try this method but with limited results)

“Nearly every Sunday Aunt Eula [Buckley] would load us up in her Buick and take us to Watoga to go swimming. Aunt Eula always wore a dress, and she sat on a bench in the shade and never rushed us. On the way home we stopped at the Watoga commissary to get ice cream, chips, Cokes – anything we wanted. And I remember that nothing ever tasted better, and the sun was a welcome relief from the cold water of the swimming pool.” ~ Jaynell Graham

“I spent many an hour in that pool with blue lips and chattering teeth. My grandad was in the CCC and would always make a family outing to the annual CCC reunion held there. I miss those days.” ~ Sadie Mae

“That pool was freezing at times! I remember in the mid-70s some of the lifeguards used to have rooms they stayed in above the bathhouse. My mother ran the restaurant there, and we stayed above the restaurant in the summer. I have great memories of Watoga. I would walk the Lake Trail to the pool every day. Good memories.”  ~ Chuck Angell

“I remember the frigid water during the 40s when we had our family reunion at Watoga. For me, it was the highlight of the year.” ~ Carol Evans

“Many long hours of great times in this pool. Lived at Watoga as a child and spent my college summers working in the restaurant.”~ Charlotte McKeever Emswiler

(Author’s note – Charlotte is the daughter of the much esteemed former West Virginia Park’s Chief Kermit McKeever)

“I lifeguarded in the summer of ’83. I guess it was an average summer. Some days it rained all day, some days you thought that you would freeze to death. But on the 4th of July – look out – that pool was packed from end to end. Good times.” ~ Karen Dean

Tom Workman recently shared his memories of the Watoga pool with me. He said that when he was a child he, “loved to dive in the pool but couldn’t swim,” but there was always a lifeguard on hand to pluck young Tom out of the water.

During his college years at Marshall, 1970 through 1972, Tom worked summers at the Watoga pool plucking other little daredevils out of the water. He said that the male lifeguards had bunks on the top floor of the bathhouse and after the pool closed down for the day they would head over to the old airstrip to watch the sports car races that were active there for several years.

As he told me these stories, I had the distinct feeling that he was sharing some of the best years of his youth.

The theme of this Watoga Trail Report has been about memories made at the Watoga swimming pool.

Lyme Disease is a memory you do not want to make, so always do a thorough tick check after hiking or working outdoors.

Ken Springer