SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Twelve days since “Sandy” hit the spine of the Potomac Highlands, Blackwater Falls State Park employees have been working with no power, heat, or hot water in the lodge. “Anywhere from 30-50 inches of snow fell across the park as a result of the Oct. 29 storm depending upon where you measure,” said Rob Gilligan, superintendent. Gilligan oversees Blackwater Falls, Canaan Valley, Cathedral and Fairfax Stone state parks.
Cathedral State Park, in adjoining Preston County, a 133-acre tract of virgin hemlock, also took a hit. According to Park Ranger Eric Risinger, all buildings have trees on them and trails are blocked by the massive hemlocks, many of which fell onto the trails from the weight of the snowfall. Cathedral is temporarily closed until some of the more than 24” of snowfall melts and trees can be safely removed from structures and trails.
The wet, heavy snow has not moved easily with conventional snow removal equipment. Blackwater staff is used to snow removal in the winter months but this storm is unparalleled to any recent snow fall in memory. The park roads remain closed to continue removal of fallen trees and the dangers of overhanging limbs. Blackwater Falls typically receives 150 inches of snow during a normal winter and ski season. “This storm generated almost 1/3 of our normal winter snowfall in less than 24 hours and it isn’t winter yet in the valley,” Gilligan said. Employees have worked non-stop since Tuesday Oct. 30 clearing trees and a moving monumental amount of snow, making the park safe for visitation.
Power restoration is possible by Saturday, Nov. 10. Even with power there will be some structural repairs necessary at Blackwater Falls Lodge and associated structures. Gilligan said park employees have done an outstanding job of sacrificing to get the park area open. “You’ll not find a more dedicated group of individuals than state park employees.” Many employees’ homes remain without power and other utilities.
There is one phone line in service at Blackwater Falls. The volume of calls has been overwhelming from patrons being concerned about the park as well as checking on reservations or wanting to make reservations. “We are certainly appreciative of the many guests and their understanding with our temporary closure as we get things cleared up,” Gilligan said. “Many callers are unaware of the unusual conditions we are experiencing here at the park and in Tucker County.”
The front desk operation has moved to the gas log fireplace for employees to have some heat in the workplace. Internet and any equipment that requires electricity is not functioning. “The destruction of power poles and lines from tree damage is extensive here at Blackwater Falls,” Gilligan said.
Information is recorded by pen or pencil, written on a piece of paper, and illuminated by window, fire or flashlight depending upon the time of day. The park number is 304-259-5216. “We won’t go home and give up. Hard work and dedication gets the job done until the lights come on again. You just pick up and go on,” Gilligan said.
Rob Gilligan, Blackwater Falls State Park Superintendent