BRUCETON MILLS, W.Va. – Visitors heading to Coopers Rock State Forest will now be greeted by a piece of history. A replica of the Coopers Rock entryway that greeted visitors in the 1940s and 50s now marks the entrance to the state forest.
The Coopers Rock Foundation, the West Virginia Division of Forestry and the West Virginia State Parks System have been working on the ‘Gateway Project’ since around Nov. 2021, and the foundation announced on Tuesday that the project is finally complete.
But, the idea of having the replica sign goes back several years.
“It’s been on the foundation’s radar for quite some time,” said David Hopkinson, President of the Cooper Rock Foundation. “I started volunteering with the foundation around 2012, and they were talking about it even back then.”
The original sign was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, and it disappeared without trace in the 1950s. No one knows to this day where the sign went and why it disappeared. The assumption by Hopkinson is changing roadways and deteriorating of the wood structure.
The Coopers Rock Foundation did not have a lot of documentation of the entryway other than a few photos, making the building process a little challenging.
The design of the new and original entryways are almost identical. The replica sign stands almost 18 feet tall and features wooden posts and floating letters that spell ‘COOPERS ROCK’ to welcome visitors to the forest, just like its predecessor. The painted aluminum letters are not the same material as the original but are corrosion resistant and low maintenance to help the new entryway stand longer. According to the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, all the wood needed for the project came from trees cut from the state forest. “We’re excited to be rebuilding the forest’s original gateway by using trees cut right here in the forest,” said Jan Dzierzak, superintendent of Coopers Rock, during construction. “Having all of the logs cut from the forest and installed here is going to make the gateway even more special.”
“It’s taken a lot of patience and perseverance to finally get it to where it is,” said Hopkinson.
Other images of the original gateway can be viewed on the Coopers Rock Foundation Facebook page or West Virginia University’s History Center website.
“That was really one of our goals, to make it in the style of the original sign. Obviously, it had to change just to meet modern requirements of the roadway,” said Hopkinson.
The West Virginia Division of Forestry cut logs from white oak and poplar trees for the project in Sept. of 2021, and the actual construction began in October. The new sign can be found on Route 73 about 13 miles north of Morgantown. While no one is exactly sure where the original sign stood 70 years ago, during construction, the construction team used reference photos to get the replica as close to the original location as possible.
“For a long time, it was actually a mystery to us where the original sign was located. We had different ideas about where it might have been. Recently, we unearthed another photo of the entry sign. That picture pretty clearly shows in the background behind the sign, you can see the old trading post building,” said Hopkinson. The trading post is located near the famed overlook.
The poplar logs that span Route 73 are 56 feet long, while the rest of the sign is made from white oak trees.
Hopkinson credits the builder, Ronnie Wiley, an experienced log-home builder, for helping them build their dreams.
The main attraction at Coopers Rock is the Overlook which boasts some of the most beautiful views in West Virginia, but for some, the park was missing the landmark sign. “When you see pictures of Coopers Rock, it’s usually photos of the overlook and most people don’t see anything else that identifies the forest or shows off what else is here,” said park superintendent Jan Dzierzack. “This gateway will give us another location that really stands out and hopefully give the overlook a little competition for the most photographed spot in the forest.”
“It makes a big statement to welcome people into the forest, and it makes a statement about the value of that area to our entire community,” said Hopkinson.
Park officials expect to see lots of people taking pictures with the sign and hope that it will bring more traffic to the park. In addition to the new gateway, Coopers Rock has also received recent upgrades to some of its campsites, trails and picnic areas, and officials are planning more upgrades in the future.
“I really would imagine that a lot of people are going to want to stop and have their picture made with that entry sign, and I think that we’ll start seeing it appear in places you wouldn’t expect,” said Hopkinson.
Coopers Rock is the largest state forest in West Virginia at nearly 13,000 acres and can be found off Interstate 68, about 13 miles from Morgantown. For more information on the state forest, click here.