~ Wednesday, June 22, 2016
For over 30 years Mike Smith, Park Superintendent at Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park in southern Pocahontas County, has served as sentry over the precious land where in 1863 the last significant battle of the Civil War in West Virginia took place.
Mike just doesn’t do his job. Mike is the epitome of living an extraordinary life, dedicated to the state of West Virginia, with a true conviction to educate all he meets to the wonders and secrets of Droop Mountain, all it was, and all it is.
Surrounded by artifacts in the rustic, three-room museum at Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, Mike exudes a passion for history that is contagious. As the park’s superintendent for the last 30 years, Smith has researched the stories behind these relics and shared his extensive knowledge of Civil War history with countless park visitors.
"I’ve discovered many wonderful and tragic stories in various letters, diaries, and reports from park guests, as well as in public archives," he says. "New information still occasionally comes in here. You never know."
It is as if the mountain knows Mike is there to watch over and protect it. Many times, according to both he and his wife Chris, Mike has stepped out of the headquarters office and come upon an old glass milk bottle or an arrowhead lying right in front of him. Now mind you, it wasn’t there yesterday but the wind and rain unearthed it in what seemed to be overnight.
Mike is a recognized scholar of the Droop Mountain Battle. Another recognized Civil War expert, Hunter Lesser, told me "For over three decades, Mike Smith has made Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park his labor of love. His vision, passion, and hard work have turned that mountaintop into a "must see" destination for West Virginia tourism. Mike is a master of interpretation. His gentle style pulls visitors in, crafting tales that have captivated audiences from every walk of life."
Mike does more than just talk about Droop Mountain. Mike lives the life of an authentic mountain man whose years of trekking the same ground used by Brigadier Generals William Averell and John Echols during the Battle of Droop have taught him to respect, and yes, to love this mountain and all the mystery, history and science it holds. Mike hunts deer in the area, tans the hides, makes clothing from the leather, wears the clothes made from the skins and then works within the community to demonstrate and teach to students and visitors the sequence of events to achieve this.
Mike does not separate locals from visitors. When either comes to him for information, or clarification, he is open and stops what he is doing to discuss and explain. Many visitors to Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park have ancestors who fought in the battle. Through some of these contacts, Smith has compiled a number of personal documents related to the war.
In the above picture, Mike accepts the Tourism of the Year Award from CVB Executive Director Cara Rose on left, and CVB Board President Mary Snyder on right.
As he’s looked at planning his one-day retirement, Mike and his wife Chris looked at land to relocate. After several years of searching, both in and around West Virginia, their final selection became obvious – a mountaintop about five minutes away where Mike can continue, even in retirement, to be the sentry, the guardian over the sacred land of Droop Mountain.
For the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Droop Mountain (November 1863) Mike put together a selection of four unique excursions intended as memorial hikes to honor the soldiers of the Battle of Droop Mountain: June 22, 2013 - 10th WV Infantry & 28th Ohio Infantry Memorial Hike; July 20, 2013 - 2nd & 3rd WV Mounted Infantry Memorial Hike; August 31, 2013 - 8th WV Mounted Infantry Memorial Hike; and November 5-6, 2013 Echols’ Brigade, Confederate Army of Southwestern Virginia Memorial Hike, a night hike 27 miles north from Lewisburg to Droop Mountain.
I was fortunate, in both timing and good health, to be able to make three of the four hikes - yes, I did the long trek too. It was one of the high points of my summer, and perhaps my life here in West Virginia, taking each step to pay tribute to what happened on November 6, 1863. I was honored to walk them with Mike Smith, and I'll always consider him a friend. ~ By Gail Hyer