The Masked Bandit of Tygart Lake

Jenny Lee McGinn

© Copyright 2020 by Jenny Lee McGinn

Photo of raccoon on trash can.

A few years ago, we spent a fabulous weekend in rural West Virginia with longtime friends from Ohio. The four of us rented a beautiful cabin together at Tygart Lake State Park near the peak of autumn with full myriad colors beginning to flourish. The structure was small with a rustic feel, yet tastefully decorated with pictures of “lake life” wall hangings and comfortable living room furniture. A small bathroom separated two bedrooms; one with twin beds, the other a queen. Although the bathroom met all the requirements one would hope, complete with a toilet, sink and shower, the shower was quite narrow without much room to move. It provided little more room than a coffin, so none of us dawdled as we did not wish for claustrophobia to set in. The fully functional kitchen met our needs perfectly with not only a cookstove, microwave, and coffee maker, but the cupboards were stocked with plenty of pans, dishes, glasses, and silverware. With wood paneling throughout and a stone fireplace to boot, the cabin was a relaxing atmosphere in which to laugh and enjoy ourselves with wonderful friends.

On the porch we saw a large black trash can lined with a plastic bag inside curiously leaning against the railing. It appeared to be a normal, run-of-the-mill trash can, yet upon closer inspection, we discovered it had a lid none of us had ever seen before. The twist top lid was more than childproof; we four grown adults had difficulty opening it. We later learned from a park ranger that this style trash can is so designed to keep the hungry raccoons out of it. He informed us that it was not uncommon for them to rummage through the trash cans, and the screw on lids kept them out. Even though we struggled to open and close the lid, we were relieved that its stubbornness was to prevent wildlife from delighting in our refuse.

The first night we had a small amount of trash which we kept in the kitchen. It wasn’t until the second night we transferred the trash to the outside can. We twisted the lid shut, and no one thought anything more about it.

Around five o’clock the next morning, I awoke to a knocking sound. After realizing it was not a dream, I looked out our bedroom window. There, in the darkness, I could barely make out a figure rustling and scratching on the trash can. Too small for a bear, I concluded that it was a raccoon. Clearly awake and now curious, I jumped out of bed, quickly dressed, and went to the front door to observe the activity. One friend was awake by now and I called her to the front door. We had enough light from the cabin to see the raccoon working diligently on the trash can. When we turned on the outside light, the masked bandit stopped briefly, then continued on as if to say, “Hey, thanks for the light!”

For several minutes we watched the critter twist and pull, bite and grab, chew and scratch on the can. He used the porch railings to brace himself while attempting to open the lid. The raccoon was large, running approximately 20-25 pounds. We decided that since it was so big, it must’ve been a male. I attempted to take photographs, but it was too dark to obtain a clear picture of the rascal. After several minutes, my friend returned to bed, but I stayed on, anxious to see the outcome. I deducted that this fella was quite skilled in trash can lid removal, even the screw top variety. After all, he had several cabins of which to choose, a full buffet of myriad scraps and leftovers to feast upon!

As I watched him tenaciously yet methodically work on the lid, I saw he was actually unscrewing it! The dedication and determination he possessed was impressive! At this point I realized three things were about to occur- he would open the lid, feast on his findings, and leave us a terrible mess. Not wanting to have trash scattered about the porch and yard to undoubtedly attract other wildlife, I distracted him. As I cautiously opened the door, he swiftly crawled off the can and railing then scurried away from the porch towards our parked cars. As a token prize I threw a few pretzels onto the porch, closed the door, and waited. Within minutes, I observed him return. He found the crunchy snacks and began devouring them, but he was too close to the door for me to pull the can inside. After he finished his snack, he returned to complete his quest of opening the lid to feast on the inside. Once again I opened the door, this time with a handful of cheese puffs, and threw them further away. They landed in the grass near the walkway leading to the porch. The raccoon paid no mind to the cheesy snacks. Instead, I watched in utter amazement as he braced himself once more on the porch railings, held onto the can, and with great determination and persistence, he performed the last twist and opened the lid.

I simply could not allow him to continue, so I opened the door once more with hopes that he would scurry away again. He did. It wasn’t until he disappeared into the shadows of darkness that I quickly slipped out the door and dragged the opened can inside, then closed the door behind me.

I watched for our furry visitor to return, and sure enough he did within a minute or two. He found a cheese puff and ate it, then discovered the others in the yard. As he munched on the cheesy delight, I smiled. After all, he deserved to enjoy some fruits of his labor, even if they didn’t come from the can.

Several minutes passed, and he sauntered up to the porch yet again after finishing his snack. He waddled around to the front of the porch out of sight, and after deciding he was no longer a threat, I returned to bed. Our early morning visitor proved quite entertaining, but a lesson also learned.

We all have within us the necessary determination when we want something badly enough.

Like the raccoon opening the trash can, he was not giving up until his task was complete; his end result being rewarded with the food inside. We are no different. When we are tenacious enough, like the masked bandit of Tygart Lake, we are met with the satisfaction of accomplishment, and, when done properly, we are motivated to perform successfully on the next task or project.

 I reside in rural Pennsylvania and enjoy writing poems, songs, and short stories, often for other people on special occasions. I have two faithful pups who are by my side as much as they can be! Spending time with them as well as my family and friends is important and when weather permits, wind therapy on the motorcycle is an excellent way to de-stress and free my soul.

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