LETART, W.Va. — Sometimes what you’re looking for is in your own backyard.
With visiting restrictions in some state parks and anything involving crowds frowned upon by public health officials, finding a place to reconnect with nature has been a challenge but an acceptable and rewarding activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hiking trails are an option for those wanting to connect with nature and escape humanity. In Mason County, there are roughly seven miles of hiking trails and a gravel walking trail at Letart Nature Park, just behind Letart Community Center. The property is owned by Mason County, and maintained by the volunteers with the Letart Nature Park Development Organization, which took over as stewards of the acreage in 2013. There are 263 acres dedicated to the Nature Park and nine acres on the Community Center/Park area for a total of 272 acres.
In 2015, with the help of the Army National Guard and volunteers, trails were cleared, mapped and marked. Specifically, the Guard graded the main trail, built silt dams to control erosion and added culverts for drainage.
“Several trails have been expanded to connect to other trails,” Maryilyn Kearns, president of the park’s development organization said. “Trails are mowed several times a year. Benches, birdhouses and a pollinator station have been added. A massive amount of trash has been removed which included one area that had been an unofficial dump for many years. We have seeded parts of some trails to control erosion. We typically have a couple fundraisers during the year which has allowed us to purchase a bush hog and also build a metal pole building for storage.”
Volunteers are continuing to make and set trail markers, with continuous mowing and maintenance of trails and benches, adding more trails and connecting existing trails, adding duck houses around the pond, building and setting up additional pollinator stations.
“The maintenance of trails includes constant removal of fallen trees and branches as well as trimming back growing brush and vines,” Kearns said. “Woodmen of the World has donated a flag and flag pole which will be set up and lighted on the hillside as soon as weather permits.”
Though many trails have been created and marked, they are a project that is never really “finished.”
“The trails will never really be done, however we hope to improve on some remaining drainage issues, continue clearing new trails, complete installation of remaining trail markers and updating of maps as new trails are added,” Kearns said. “We will continue to enhance the trails with benches, picnic spots, educational stops, viewing sites, etc.”
One of the jobs that is “never-ending” is trash pick-up and Kearns said they welcome help from individuals or groups who would like to volunteer picking up trash left at the park and on the trails. The group also plans to remove a few larger items from the property (rusty metal and appliances).
“We would like to continue to grow our membership,” Kearns said. “Although our members and others in the community continue to put in many volunteer hours, we still need more manpower. We need people with construction skills to build picnic tables, benches, footbridges, birdhouses, etc. One of our goals is to clean-up or restore the two ponds that are on the property and we are seeking professional guidance and funding sources for that project. We need mowing equipment for the narrower and steeper trails.”
To promote pollinator populations, the park has added two pollinator stations/plots to provide habitat to help rebuild populations.
“We hope these stations will be an educational source and also inspire visitors to build their own stations or plant pollinator plots,” Kearns explained. “Two stations have been constructed by park members … one has been set-up and the other one will be installed in the near future. They are being filled with nesting material for bees, butterflies, birds, wasps, and various other pollinators. The flower plots surrounding the stations will be completed within the next few weeks. We will also be providing additional educational materials at each station.”
According to Kearns, trail development has been the group’s main focus, however, in keeping with their mission statement to also promote educational opportunities, the park committee have been able to host the traveling Korean War Memorial and the traveling WWII Memorial over the past two years.
“Both of these events were well attended and provided a unique opportunity to showcase the park as we paid tribute to those who served,” Kearns said.
When asked what she wished more people knew about the park, Kearns answered, “Many people are not even aware the park exists. It is easily accessible and only about 10 minutes from New Haven and 20 minutes from Point Pleasant. The address is 23669 Sandhill Road. The park trails are open year round. The park is open to the public and there is no cost to people using the park. The Nature Park has been developed and is maintained by community volunteers and donations.”
Although the park committee’s social activities are temporarily on hold due to COVID-19 concerns, maintenance work is continuing such as mowing, trimming branches, planting flowers, or anything that can be done while maintaining social distancing.
“We encourage everyone to watch for upcoming events on our website at www.letartnaturepark.com or Facebook at Letart Nature Park Development Organization,” Kearns said. “Our monthly meetings are also temporarily suspended, however we will make an announcement on Facebook once we are able to resume meeting.”
Also at the park, areas to picnic, a playground, a primitive restroom facility and multiple trash receptacles.
Beth Sergent contributed to this article.
© 2020 Ohio Valley Publishing, all rights reserved.