Friday, March 21, 2014

Watters Smith Memorial State Park

An old homestead in Watters Smith State Park in Harrison County West VirginiaBy Mike Layne

Hidden along a small stream named Duck Creek, on a road of the same name, Watters Smith is 7 miles off of Interstate 79 in Harrison County.   Until spring 2014 I wasn’t even aware this park was here.  We have visited Watters Smith twice now, both times in the off season, so we haven’t had a chance to experience the park while it’s open.  I can tell you that, for what I was looking for, solitude, Watters Smith in the off season was perfect.   A 532 acre historical park and national historic district, Watters features a pioneer homestead, museum, horseback riding, guided tours and swimming pool in the summer months.   In the off season the park can still be accessed for hiking and biking.  We visited first on March 8th, 2014.  The following week we returned to hike the north portion of the park.

Watters Smith Memorial State Park may be reached by taking Exit 110 off I-79 (Lost Creek exit) and following the directional signs to West Milford, left on Duck Creek Road to Watters Smith State Park (approximately 7 miles). Visitors traveling US 19 should turn off at West Milford and follow signs three miles to the park.
TRAVEL NOTE: Duck Creek road turns left just before you cross a bridge going into West Milford. Coming from the interstate, there is no sign pointing you toward the Watters Smith State Park like you would expect. If you go into West Milford (like we did) you’ll see the sign on your way back toward the interstate.
TRAVEL NOTE: Google directions will tell you to get off exit 105, take US19 for 5.3 miles and follow Hackers Creek Road to the park. I don’t know if road signs have been stolen, but there is no sign for a Hackers Creek road on this stretch of 19. There is a Hidden Valley Road and I believe this is what they are pointing you to, but there are not signs on this road that let you know you are headed for the park

This is pulled from the State Park website. It’s a pretty comprehensive short history, so I didn't feel the need to re-write it. Watters Smith, the son of Thomas Smith of England, was himself born in Trenton, New Jersey, on July 15, 1767. In 1793 he married Elizabeth Davisson, a first cousin and neighbor of his father. His father owned a 1,000-acre tract of land in Harrison County, then in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Smith purchased 112 acres adjoining his father's for the sum of $266 in 1792, but the lingering threat of Indians prevented him from moving to the area immediately with his new bride.
In 1796, he and his wife moved to their future farm on Duck Creek and began clearing the land, planting crops and building a cabin. His tools were made by hand and necessitated the construction of a blacksmith and a carpenter shop. The goods that could not be grown or handmade were obtained from distant urban areas over "roads" that were mere wide, hazardous trails cut through the wilderness.  Watters and Elizabeth Smith had eight children, and Charles, their second, was the first white child born on Duck Creek. The youngest child, Watters Smith, Jr., eventually inherited the property. He, in turn, gave it to his son John, who passed it on to his son Alexander, who was born in 1847. In 1876, Alexander, better known as "Uncle Doc", had a home constructed to replace the original hand-hewn log Smith cabin. Today, this home is used as one of two museums on the park and is open to the public.

The farm was operated as a business for four generations, and the implements seen in the museums and in the barns and sheds were used to keep it running. Thanks to the foresight and generosity of Burr Smith, the farm now stands as a lasting tribute to a family who carved a life out of the wilderness and preserves for us a view of frontier life from 1796 to the early 1900s.

We mostly used the state park website to plan our visit.  We made the mistake of using Google directions to plan our approach and ended up doing a little unnecessary back road touring off of exit 105.  This is probably a fine way into the park, it just lacks usable signage.  My experience with state parks thus far has been that they do not do a good job of telling you what is available during the off season.  My wife and I are off season kind of folks.  We're not crazy about big crowds, long lines or paying full price for anything.  Here is what I found to be available off season:
  • Duck Creek road runs through the middle of the park and is fully accessible and a public road.  (no gates on this road)
  • There are gates leading into the park at a few points that were closed and locked.
  • There was one gate leading into the park that was open, but no sign to let you know when it closed, so we were afraid to park inside for fear of being shut in if we were late getting out.  
  • We parked on the side of Duck Creek road in a wide spot and had no problems accessing all the hiking/biking trails from there.
  • Because hiking is what we are primarily interested in this time of year, we were not disappointed, but no other facilities appeared to be open.
  • Click Here for a good Canadian blog that addresses the joys of off-season trips

On the drive into Watters Smith, it was hard at first to get the impression you were headed for a little secluded spot of wilderness.  Back roads in West Virginia look remarkably alike and the lack of signage coming from the interstate makes the problem worse.  However, once you pass the sign that announces the park, the impression changes quickly.  The fields are well kept, the homestead buildings are visible from the road and signage on the park is good.  Duck Creek is also visible from the road and is a very nice little stream. 

Trails are all well marked with blazes of identifying colors.  They correspond to the online PDF Trail Map.  They are all well maintained.  Even in the off season there was evidence of recent clearing of fallen trees.  Click below to read more about each of two visits so far.

Closing thoughts
Watters Smith is close to my home in Clarksburg, WV.  A short 20 minute drive, so we will be making many return trips.  I’m anxious to see the goings on at the park in the summer.  They advertise night hikes and programs that sound fun and I’m sure the pool is a hit in the summer months.  All in all, this is a splendid example of the kind of place a family can easily take advantage of to get the kids outdoors.  Mountain Biking seems to be the thing here, with tire tracks on every trail we hiked.  We saw a few bikers at the wash racks near a small playground.  We’ll keep you posted on our return trips.  Do you have any experience with Watters Smith?  Share your stories with us, or submit a guest blog for consideration.  Thanks for reading and happy trails.

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