“This place is a true gem for our state,” West Virginia Secretary of Commerce James Bailey said as he opened a press conference with Governor Jim Justice at Coopers Rock State Forest Tuesday afternoon. “It has always been one of the most visited areas of the state – truly one of the most beautiful places we have.”
With the addition of a new lodging project at the forest, Bailey said Coopers Rock is “about to get a whole lot better.”
“Right now, what’s happening is we are building – we’re building all kinds of stuff,” Justice said. “Twenty-five camp sites, I think. We are building a pedestrian bridge.”
Work on that bridge currently has the scenic overlook location closed for the next few weeks.
The big announcement for the day however was a new lodging project that will begin with construction of five A-frame cabins “that will be spectacular beyond belief,” Justice revealed. “The view will be unbelievable. And 15 more on top of that to come.”
West Virginia Department of Tourism Secretary Chelsea Ruby said when projects like these cabins are proposed to the governor, he gives two bits of advice. The first is asking what the people of West Virginia are looking for – what’s popular, what do we need to expand, where do we need more capacity?
“And two,” Ruby explained, “he says make it bigger and make it better.”
Ruby said when she went to the governor to discuss more lodging in our state parks, she knew it had to be something unique.
“People want something that is different,” she said. “Something they can’t get in other places.”
Recently, the state has gotten a lot of publicity over stargazing and the dark skies, Ruby said. This was a key factor in deciding how the cabins would offer something different.
“I’m thrilled to announce that these first five cabins are going to be the state’s first stargazing cabins,” she said.
Built on the ridge overlooking the canyon by Raven Rock, Ruby assured the A-frames “will have a spectacular view. They are perfectly positioned with skylights and telescopes inside to be one of the greatest places to see stars on the east coast.”
According to West Virginia Division of Natural Resources Director Brett McMillian Coopers Rock will receive over $10 million in investments over the next couple of years and the hope is to have the cabin project and campground completed by the end of August 2024.
“What we are doing and the significance of what is happening here – a brand new adventure,” Justice said. “The stargazing idea, the dark skies in West Virginia is really brand new and everything. We’re really proud to be making the improvements and it’ll just bring more and more and more folks here.”
McMillian said Coopers Rock is one of the most heavily visited forests in the state and revenues are already extremely high due to the forest’s high self-sufficiency rate.
The new cabins, he said, “is going to put them over the top.”
West Virginia state parks are doing really well in general, Ruby said.
“We’ve done $150 million in our state parks over the last couple years,” she boasted. “I am certain that is more than any other state in the country has done in recent years in state parks.”
That trend continues in 2023 with first quarter revenues up over 200% compared to 2019, which Ruby said was the state’s best year on record for parks.
“What that means is that money is going back into our state park system. That’s how we build new trails, that’s how we continue to do new projects and create new amenities for West Virginians and visitors from all over the world,” Ruby said. “We are improving parks for West Virginians and certainly creating an international destination.”
Justice said improvements like these send the message we “are really proud of our own pond.”
“A guy in South Carolina told me over and over, ‘you’re not much of a frog if you’re not proud of your own pond, … ’” he recalled. “What have we done? We’ve just become really proud of our own pond. That’s all we’ve done. … “
“We know how good it is here, but so many people on the outside didn’t know. We were the blunt end of a lot of bad jokes and everything else under the sun and now all the sudden they’ve awakened to, really and truly, just how good we really are. They have awakened to the fact that we are the diamond in the rough that they missed, … “ he said.
“Literally people are coming to our parks like crazy right now. You can’t even get a place in our parks today. We’ve become proud of our own pond and people on the outside are getting there.”