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As the story goes, a fugitive from the law hid in this part of West Virginia among the rock outcrops in the late 1800s. Before he went on the lam, he was a cooper, which is a barrel maker. To create a source of income so that he could purchase food and other supplies, he resumed making barrels and sold them to nearby communities. And that is the apparent origin of the park’s name, Coopers Rock State Forest.
Although it was officially established in the 1920s, due to a lack of funds, the state of West Virginia did little to develop it. In the 1930s, as a part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal program, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) descended upon Coopers Rock State Forest. CCC built several shelters, buildings, and restrooms, paved roads, and blazed trails. Many of these buildings are still standing today and are on the National Register of Historic Places.
The closest large town is Morgantown, which is about 13 miles to the west. The small college town has a curious feature: a mass transit system called a “Personal Rapid Transit System” (PRTS), which is a hybrid of a train and a trolley car. Designed in the mid-1970s as a part of an effort to improve mass transit, this particular idea was dropped because it was deemed too inefficient. However, the PRTS is still in use as of 2020.
Coopers Rock State Forest sprawls across a little over 12,700 acres of mountains, valleys, and forests. Bordering Cheat River, there are several outcroppings with excellent views of the river down below, as well as the valley and other mountain ridges. Coopers Rock State Forest has around 50 miles of hiking trails, and save for the offshoots that climb to the outcropping summits, most of the trails are relatively gentle and level. Cushioned by generations of fallen leaves, hikers are rarely footsore at the end of a long day of roaming the deep, lush woods. In winter, when snow descends upon the region and transforms it into a magical winter wonderland, these trails are open to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, though be aware that they are not groomed.
The high craggy cliffs are also popular with rock climbers and boulderers. Most boulderers stick with short climbs of 15 or 20 feet in height, preferring to test their skills as they puzzle their way through “problems” (also known as routes). Difficulties for these challenges range from V0 (very easy) to V11 (difficult). The taller cliffs often are used for top-roping and rappelling, and routes range in difficulty from 5.6 (very easy) to 5.11 (moderately difficult). Climbers should be aware that the use of bolts, pistons, and permanent anchors are prohibited.
Seeking high-octane watery fun? Cheat River is a popular whitewater rafting destination, particularly in spring, after the snowmelt occurs. Due to massive boulders that litter the river bed, drops, and canyon gorges, the fast-moving river often is as high as Class V, which is considered extremely dangerous and potentially life-threatening.
Rent an RV and skip enduring noisy neighbors in a hotel. Instead, enjoy the sounds of nature. Birdsong in the trees. The gurgle of Cheat River nearby. RV camp at McCollum Camping Area and achieve this dream. McCollum Camping Area has 25 sites that are shaded by tall oak and maple trees. All sites have electric hookups. Though there are no water or sewer hookups, the restrooms have flush toilets and hot showers. Wifi also is available.
When space runs out, which happens on occasion, there are a few other campgrounds in the area. Sand Springs Campground is open year-round, and it boasts several features like a swimming pool, rec room with classic arcade games, and two bathhouses.
Alternatively, consider RV camping at Big Bear Camplands in Bruceton Mills. The longtime mainstay campground has been in business since 1972. It features a large pool with waterslides, splash area, and a lazy river.
Hop into a motorhome rental and hit the road. Many towns in this area have unique features and attractions for visitors to explore. Outside Kingwood is Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo, a small zoo that is focused on the conservation of species and sustainability practices. The zoo has a wide array of resident animals from around the world, including but not limited to a grizzly bear, spider monkey, lemurs, and leopards.
Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed several unusual homes, and one is in nearby Mill Run, PA. Named Fallingwater, the modern home teeters over a waterfall. Due to the design and the location of this building, the American Institute of Architects called it the “best all-time work of American architecture.” Fallingwater has been turned into a museum and is open to visitors.
Even in remote West Virginia, there are vestiges of fine craftsmanship and skill. There are several wooden covered bridges that date back to the mid-1800s. Tour the countryside in search of the most scenic bridge. The White Covered Bridge in Waynesburg, PA, maybe a good contender. The white clapboard is a charming contrast with lush green maple trees towering overhead and grassy banks that border a babbling creek.