“Growing up, I knew I wanted to work outdoors, in the parks, if possible,” said Chris Bartley, the new superintendent at Kanawha State Forest, after showing a visitor a few improvements planned for the 9,300-acre park.
While earning an associate’s degree at Dabney S. Lancaster Community College, in Clifton Forge, Virginia, and a bachelor’s degree in recreation, parks and tourism management at West Virginia University, Bartley spent several summers as a seasonal employee at Virginia’s Douthat State Park.
“From the time I started working at Douthat, I knew I wanted to be a park superintendent some day,” he said, alighting from his state-issued pickup truck outside the forest’s office. “Now I’m living out the dream.”
It’s a dream Bartley has barely begun, having just completed his second week as superintendent of Kanawha State Forest. The Clifton Forge, Virginia, native fills a vacancy created in March by the departure of former superintendent Kevin Dials. After working more than 12 years at KSF, nearly five as superintendent, Dials left to become manager of Mercer County’s Glenwood Recreational Park.
The new superintendent said he was drawn to apply for the top position at KSF for two main reasons: “I see a lot of potential for its future, and I was attracted by its [Civilian Conservation Corps] past,” he said.
Like Douthat State Park where Bartley spent his summers, and Watoga State Park, in Pocahontas County, where he worked as activities director and naturalist for the past three years, Kanawha State Forest was built by the CCC. The forest’s large picnic shelters, its dam and pond, the superintendent’s residence, and a number of footbridges are all products of the New Deal infrastructure development program.
“I started learning about the CCC and the work they did while I was working at Douthat,” he said. “I found out that a great uncle of mine was a superintendent of a CCC crew that built a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The art and the craftsmanship of the guys in the CCC is not found today” by contractors building similar projects, he said.
At Watoga, he curated the park’s CCC museum and hosted CCC-related programs.
At Kanawha State Forest, repairs, repainting and electrical system upgrades will get underway this year at its CCC-built shelters, he said.
The long-awaited completion of KSF’s new headquarters building and nature center could take place next spring, Bartley said, assuming HVAC gear is installed by this fall to accommodate interior work through the winter by the forest’s staff.
Inside the building, display cases along one wall of the nature center will include photos and other memorabilia of CCC work and camp life at what would become Kanawha State Forest. The headquarters section of the building will include staff office space, a conference room and a gift shop.
At handicap-accessible Spotted Salamander Trail, Bartley said he would like to build a second playground and a restroom near the trail’s parking area that would both meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
At Dunlop Hollow, Bartley stopped to show a visitor the foundation and partially built block walls of a new bath house that will serve a new group camping area that could possibly expand into a nearby flat, grassy field that once included a baseball diamond.
Near the turnoff for the forest’s campground, he pointed out components of a partially built disc golf course he would like to see expanded to 18.
In the campground, Bartley drove past a row of primitive campsites where he plans to install electrical service, and at a small former campsite where larger trailers and RVs are accommodated, 50 amp hookups will soon be installed, while a 30 amp system will serve their smaller counterparts.
A small prefab building was recently installed near the trailer and RV sites, where an attendant will dispense information about the area, sell campers basic supplies and food items to allow them to avoid 20-mile round trips to town, and help book online reservations to other state park campgrounds.
Bartley said he and his wife and two young children enjoy living within a short drive of Charleston to take part in activities there, yet be able to return to a home in a forest setting.
While on staff at Watoga, Bartley traveled the state park system to host programs and deliver presentations on campfire cookery, focusing on the backcountry’s best-known baking device — the dutch oven.
Activities he created and hosted at West Virginia’s largest state park have been credited with drawing larger numbers of new visitors in each of the three years he worked there.
“This is a beautiful place with an energetic, hard-working staff,” he said. “Big things won’t happen overnight, but I think people will soon start to notice improvements to a lot of little things and support what we’re trying to do.”