Watoga Trail Report

Imitation is (not always) the sincerest form of flattery.

It is probably unnecessary to point out that few systems are perfect; the system in place for maintaining the 45-plus miles of trails at Watoga State Park has flaws. Nature and mankind share immutable laws that prevent a totally perfect system; even the speed of light, once thought to be an unalterable universal speed limit, is now believed to have some built-in caveats.

But the methods and means for maintaining Watoga’s trails are good when one considers that our efforts are persistent and eventually every trail is cleared and stays open for use. So, when our system is to be used as a template for developing a trail maintenance system in another state, we can feel a certain sense of pride.

A friend from Mudwallow made an unannounced visit to me back in October. Delbert Lee Dinkle informed me that he had exciting news that couldn’t wait until my annual spring visit up to Ohio, emphasizing it was “face to face” news. Face to face news for Delbert is an exceedingly long monologue that doesn’t get to the actual point until three cups of coffee and a piece of pie later. He is the proverbial horse that trots around the barn three times before going in the barn door. He finally arrived at his long-awaited announcement: “After careful review of your methods for maintaining the trails at Watoga State Park, I have put together a crack team to do the same at the old buffalo mudwallow up in Ohio.”

“But,” I said, careful not to rain on Delbert’s parade, but also seeing a glaring problem with his plan, “you don’t have any trails at the old mudwallow.”

“That could be a problem indeed” he replied, saying that it could be a minor impediment to his plans, considering the fact he would be seeking funds from the Leber County Parks Board.

To this I agreed wholeheartedly. How does one ask for money to maintain trails that do not exist?

Recently I was wondering how Delbert’s trail maintenance plan was coming along so I gave my sister a call. If you want to know anything about Mudwallow, Ohio, then it is my sister, Sherry, that has the inside scoop on all enterprises, scrupulous or not, in my childhood home. Sherry is editor of the only newspaper on the Ohio side of the river for some miles in either direction. The Leber County Inquirer is a bit of a misnomer in that very little of the news and town happenings are actually “inquired” into in the normal probative sense of the word.

Below the paper’s masthead it states “All the News That’s Print to Fit,” a subtle admission to the belief that rumors about an event are usually much more exciting than the actual details of the same event. In other words, make the news fit the appetite of your readers for sensationalism and the lurid rather than the oft-boring truth.

As an example, a recent front-page story had local farmer Charlie Wiggins rolling his John Deere tractor over on a hillside, pinning him to the ground. The story detailed how his truffle-hunting pet pig, Marvin, upon seeing his master in this unfortunate predicament, immediately set to digging old Charlie out from under his tractor, thereby saving his life. This is great stuff for a local newspaper, it is the kind of story that launches parades – I imagined a picture of a teary-eyed Charlie with his grateful arms around his hero pig.

Sherry didn’t even have to drive all the way out Sproat Road to interview Charlie. There was no need when a short trip over to Ethel’s Early Bird Café where one can find a whole room full of local chatabouts every morning who have been tweaking and making both minor and major improvements to each re-telling of the event since it occurred some three days ago. And all, enthusiastic to share their revisions of the event at hand.

A phone call to Charlie himself revealed a completely different account of the event. According to the man it actually happened to, he merely got his tractor stuck in a ditch along Sproat Road, and while Charlie was hooking up a chain to tow the tractor out with his pickup truck, Marvin was busy digging a 10 ounce black Perigord truffle out of the soil beneath a nearby hazelnut tree, which alone would have made the front pages in France.

So, I was reluctant at first to accept as accurate the Leber County Inquirer’s version of events concerning Delbert and his “crack team” of volunteer trail workers. But only after assurances by my sister and her occasional use of the phrase “this is off the record,” I began to take as gospel the following story. In the local parlance saying that something is “off the record” means that what you are about to hear is what really happened, as well as a reminder that you didn’t hear it from the person divulging said information. 

It seems that Delbert had recruited a small group of retired and semi-retired townspeople to not only work on the non-existent trails but to actually build the trails. I will not comment at length on the wisdom of his choices of those to be on the “crack team,” but let it be said that as far as I know not one of them knows the first thing about trail work. To the person, they wouldn’t know a Pulaski from a kielbasa, or for that matter, a chainsaw from a posthole digger.

But somehow Delbert convinced the Leber County Parks Board to give him enough money to purchase a chainsaw and other equipment necessary for trail work based upon a list I had provided him during his visit. Delbert wasted no time driving over to New Martinsville, West Virginia, to buy the items on his list at R.F. and Sons Hardware.

Robyn, the store owner, always makes it a point to inquire of those purchasing power tools if further instruction is required. To which Delbert, a real fly by the seat of your pants kind of guy, told her that it wasn’t necessary as they would figure it out in due time. Robyn shouted out to him as he was leaving “Now Delbert, if you have any problems with anything, you just bring it right back in here and we’ll make it right.” Robyn is known to be somewhat of a clairvoyant, and I suspect she had some concerns right off the bat, but she is also tight-lipped about such matters and said nothing about her concerns.

On the first sunny day with reasonable temperatures, Delbert and his trail crew set out in Curtis Stipes’ van to commence work on building trails around the old buffalo wallow. In addition to Curtis, the crew consisted of Larry Sprout, aka Lead-Pipe Larry, our chain-smoking plumber who stands firm on his conviction that lead pipes pose no harm to children or adults. Larry also claims that seat belts have killed more people than cancer, saying that if you roll your car you’re better off being thrown clear of the vehicle.

The final member of this illustrious group is Betty Hickox, former owner of Betty’s Fairly Good Buffet out on Route 7. Betty tells all newcomers to Mudwallow that she is the great, great, great granddaughter of Wild Bill Hickok, and the general disposition of Mudwallow’s townsfolk is to refrain from pointing out to Betty that her name is spelled differently from that of old Wild Bill. And even if they did, it probably wouldn’t matter to Betty – she has a framed picture of the famed gunslinger and folk hero over her fireplace mantle. 

Well, to complete this drawn-out tale, my sister suggested I call Robyn at the hardware store to get the “rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey used to say. Robyn told me that indeed the frustrated crew did return to the hardware store toting the chainsaw they had purchased. Delbert told Robyn that the saw doesn’t work as well as they thought it might. When asked what exactly was the problem, Delbert replied “Heck, we worked two hours on a dead eight-inch diameter pine tree, each taking turns until we were all plumb worn out, leaving the tree still standing.

Robyn then took the chainsaw out back behind the store followed by the little flock of aspiring trail builders and said: “Well let’s take a look at it.” They looked on with great interest as she checked to make sure there was fuel and bar oil. She then primed the saw and set the chain brake. Then setting the chainsaw on the ground and putting one foot through the handle she pulled on the cord and it immediately fired up with a roar.

It was at that very moment that the problem was immediately identified. All four members of Delbert’s crack team jumped back in unison about three feet, with Curtis shouting at the top of his lungs “What the h**l is that racket?”

Well, The Mudwallow trails initiative has a long way to go, but we will be checking in from time to time on their progress.

Happy Hiking,
Ken Springer

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