Watoga State Park Naturalist Chris Bartley stands next to the sign for the Brooks Memorial Arboretum which is being restored to its original glory. B. Nottingham photo

Brandon Nottingham
Staff Writer

Many people don’t realize what a special place Watoga State Park really is. One thing that makes it special is that it is home to the Brooks Memorial Arboretum. The Arboretum is a 400 acre conservatory located on the Hillsboro entrance side of the park. The Arboretum has 10 miles of hiking trails and is home to more than 60 different species of trees.

The Brooks Memorial Arboretum was established in the 1930s as an “Outdoor Classroom” by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was dedicated to Fred Brooks, a native of French Creek in Upshur County, who wrote many books about nature. Brooks came from a family who loved the outdoors, and he worked for the Department of Agriculture from 1911 to 1932.

Since it was established, the Arboretum has been a special place for park visitors and the people of Pocahontas County. But over the years, it has been damaged by storms and time has played havoc on the natural beauty of the memorial.

Watoga State Park Naturalist Chris Bartley has taken on the task of restoring the Arboretum to its natural beauty.

“I absolutely love being outdoors,” Bartley said. “It has always been my calling. I am originally from Virginia, and I remember, back in high school, I used to tell all of my friends that I was going to get someone to pay me to play in the woods, and they would just laugh. But look at me now. My office is the amazing scenery that nature has to offer. So when my boss half jokingly asked if I wanted to restore the Arboretum, I jumped at the opportunity. It’s just like your desk or your work truck. You wouldn’t want everything in disarray in your personal space, so I want to get this place back to its original glory. We are going to be working hard to get it back into shape, and my goal is to have it completed by Memorial Day weekend.”

There are many things that will go into fixing up the park, such as cleaning up the trails, replacing the old signs with new ones, and planting new life in the Arboretum.

“The signs were probably our biggest priority,” Bartley said. “The old signs were made out of wood and they just couldn’t withstand the pressures of time. Plus, bears like to get ahold of them, and they are definitely not bear-proof. Carnifex Ferry State Park, who does all of the signage for West Virginia State Parks, has made us brand new signs out of a sturdy plastic composite that will hopefully last for many generations to come. And the new signs will be much more detailed when it comes to describing and explaining the species of trees. I also want to praise all of the volunteers that came out last Saturday, on National Arbor Day, to help with the Arboretum. We planted 1,000 Red Spruce trees all throughout the Arboretum.”

Along with the signs and planting new trees, there are other things that can be done to help with the project.

“We welcome any and all volunteers so that we might get this done in our short time frame. On May 12, we will host a public day, and encourage everyone interested in helping to come out. We are going to work from 9 a.m. to noon, then we will stop for lunch. If anyone wants to come back to help some more after that, they are certainly welcome to. And I also want to invite everyone to our upcoming events.”

There will be a scavenger hunt Saturday, May 6. Bartley has hidden 25 Geocaches around the Arboretum. Visitors who are renting or come in on a day pass are welcome to hunt for the caches. After that weekend, everyone is welcome to try their luck in finding the leftover Geocaches.

“We also plan to bring back the Fishing Derby,” Bartley said. “It will be held May 20 for kids thirteen and under. After the Derby, we will host a fish fry in the parking lot at the swimming pool.”

For more information contact Chris Bartley at crbartleyt2@yahoo.com or call the park office at 304-799-4087.

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