Friday, February 28, 2014

The High of the Tygart

West Virginia State Parks ran a special promotion in January, offering most of their lodge rooms for just $50. We decided to use this opportunity to explore Tygart Lake State Park near Grafton. The lodge is built on a bluff not far upstream from the dam itself, and provides a majestic panoramic view of the lake. The dining room within the lodge was recently taken over by the Boston Beanery, a Morgantown-based restaurant chain, and has become a popular dining destination. There was even a talented duo that provided an acoustical music performance for entertainment the night we stayed there.

Tygart Dam was built near Grafton as a flood control project during the Depression. As with many other major lakes in the state, each fall the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers drains the lake in anticipation of spring flooding to restore the normal water level. I think it is fascinating to see the exposed lake beds during the winter. The draw-down results in an other-worldly landscape, almost reminiscent of NASA pictures taken on the Moon or Mars.

In one stretch near the marina, the “skeletal” remains of numerous pine trees are visible, each with a concrete block connected to the trunk. These were former Christmas trees that had been deliberately sunk to the bottom of the lake to provide some habitat where small fish could be safer.

In another area of the lakebed, we spotted the remnants of a house foundation. Some area residents were forced to relocate when the dam was built. Now this former home site is only visible a few months each year.

We also spent some time at the overlook above the dam itself. While we were there, we spotted what appeared to be an eagle. When we got back to the lodge, others guests and employees were talking about seeing the eagle as well.

Dams are quite a marvelous feat of civil engineering. Not only do they provide flood control, but also lots of recreational opportunities, especially in the summer months. Although we enjoyed our brief overnight visit to Tygart, we look forward to returning this summer. It will be interesting to see the contrasting view of the lake filled to its brim, and remember how it looked while nearly empty in the winter.

Another agenda item for our return trip this summer will be a visit to Valley Falls State Park. Located downstream from the Tygart Dam, this beautiful series of river rapids is closed during the winter months, but is an interesting destination the rest of the year.

Finally, as we left the Grafton area, we made a stop and paid our respects at the nearby West Virginia Veterans Cemetery. Although relatively new, it already has had enough interments that the multitude of identical headstones, all carefully placed in precise rows, leaves a lasting impression on those who visit. We must never forget the sacrifices made by our veterans.

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