Renovations Continue At Beartown State Park In Pocahontas County
Hillsboro, WV – For locals of Pocahontas County and many visitors to our area, Beartown State Park, located on Droop Mountain, is a frequent stop. But rarely do thoughts drift to the hard work and dedication it took to create these meandering boardwalks, and even less to the history behind it’s existence. Mike Smith, longtime Droop Mountain Battlefield and Beartown State Park Superintendent, describes how the park began.
“Beartown is one of our younger State Parks in West Virginia, it got its start in the early 1970’s as the result of one boy, Ronald Keith Neil, who was a lifeguard down at Watoga during the summers in his high school years,” says Smith. “And he had heard about the rocks up at Beartown, course on private property at that time, and went up and visited them. And [he] just was enamored with them, as many people are now. He crawled around in them, wrote home, wrote letters home about them all the time.”
“After he graduated from high school, he was drafted into the Army, went off to Vietnam, and was killed there. His mother, remembering how he had enjoyed those rocks at Beartown, wanted other people to be able to enjoy them also, so she donated money to the Nature Conservancy, which purchased the property and later transferred it over to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.”
Recently, excursions to these rocks have been stopped. The gate, at Beartown’s entrance, usually open near the beginning of April, has remained locked, while crews have been attending to some much needed renovations to sections of the boardwalk and surrounding vegetation. Superintendent Smith says the original was built with pressure treated yellow pine and white oak woods.
Eventually it became evident that the white oak was not nearly as porous as the yellow pine and therefore the pressure treatment not as effective. The white oak sections became severely deteriorated and in need of replacement.
“So back in February, late February, the weather still being good, we got in there and began rebuilding the boardwalk, tearing out the old and putting back new,” he says. “Not the entire boardwalk, just those oak sections. The pine sections, 1975, 1978 and 1986 all those are still good, the lumber has held well, very well. The only problems with any of those is some of the very early sections, some of the nails rotted, and had to be re-nailed. But, the boardwalk itself, the lumber itself, is still good.”
“So we [sic] been working on that for the last month, month and a half, had to tear out about 450 feet of the boardwalk, and are putting it back. Of course, flat, level ground it would be fine, you can move pretty quickly, but down at Beartown, every board has to be carried in, all the old boards have to be carried out. Just a difficult area to work, everything has to be moved by hand, so it’s going fairly slow, but I’ve been pleased.”
Although Beartown State Park remains closed until sometime in mid May, Droop Mountain Battlefield, just a few minutes drive north, is open to the public. Mike encourages anyone interested to check out the website, droopmountianbattlefield.com, for activities, tours and a reenactment schedule. Mike also wishes to remind the public that next year marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Droop Mountain, and special activities are planned to celebrate.