The trees have yet to yield an old sign, Dave Hopkinson said with a chuckle.
That’s why a new one is being built for Coopers Rock State Forest.
Hopkinson, who is president of the all-volunteer nonprofit foundation that handles fundraising and other marketing affairs for the wooded expanse, is talking about a telling construction project there.
Make that, reconstruction.
A new sign is being built to welcome visitors to the forest, which just off Interstate 68, around 13 miles from Morgantown.
Said sign, with its massive beams of white oak and poplar harvested directly from the forest, is a new version of the iconic one that greeted visitors tooling in from W.Va. 73, in the days when no freeways unspooled over the Mountain State.
Workers in the Franklin Roosevelt-era Civilian Conservation Corps put up the sign for the park, which was established 1936.
It didn’t take long for the forest to make friends.
With its network of trails, all those trees and dramatic vistas – including its signature overlook – that sign, with its striking “floating letter” design spelling out the name of the forest, was the first thing people saw.
Both Hopkinson and park superintendent Jan Dzierzack hope the 21st century welcoming icon will give today’s forest-goers something else to look at in the forest.
They’re referring to the aforementioned overlook known simply as, The Overlook.
It’s a perch that allows an Almost Heaven view of Cheat River and Cheat Canyon, and as Hopkinson discussed as a newcomer to the state 10 years ago, the overlook does most of the heavy lifting, marketing-wise, for the forest.
Telephone directories (and yes, we still have those).
The backdrop for graduation photos and engagement photos.
Hopkinson even spied it depicted on a hospital menu one time.
“Everybody knows it,” he said. “Where’s the first place you take your family and friends who from out of town?”
Now, though, to get to the Overlook, they’ll have to pass under that sign, which rises nearly 18 foot above the roadway.
A certain superintendent has visions of new photo-ops dancing in his head.
“This gateway will give us another location that really stands out and hopefully will give the overlook a little competition for the most photographed spot in the forest,” Dzierzack said.
Sign of the times?
For his part, Hopkinson likes all the cooperation that has already ensued.
He likes that his foundation has put down roots with the state Division of Forestry and Division of Highways for all the project’s particulars.
He likes the rough-hewn, yet polished, look of the marker and that Ronnie Wiley, a West Virginia native and WVU landscape architecture graduate, has taken on the design and construction with his Wiley Log Homes company.
And he especially likes all those volunteer fire crews from West Virginia and Pennsylvania that sped to the forest last March with lights strobing and sirens wailing – to quell the flames of a brush fire they were able to contain to 30 acres.
That’s a tip of a forester’s helmet right there, he said.
“I have so much appreciation for every one of them,” he said. “Look at what they did. This could have been a lot worse.”
Of course, he appreciates the people who joined him on a very specific search for any remnants of the original sign in recent months.
“It probably went away when I-68 went in,” the foundation president said. “We went searching in the forest hoping we could find the original lettering. Nothing yet.”
In the meantime, the new lettering for the new sign is expected to go up Friday using the same “floating” concept, he said.