Coopers Rock State Park: More than just a pretty rock face

BRUCETON MILLS (AP) — The view of Cheat River Canyon from the overlook may be the most obvious thing casual visitors think of when they hear “Coopers Rock.”

But the state park is just as popular for activities that aren’t as easily seen.

Every year, while some of the 250,000 visitors are attending weddings on the overlook or holding reunions in the picnic shelters built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, others are scaling rock formations named Sunset Wall and the Big Blocks.

And other park users are trout fishing in the lake or running through the forest. And some visitors are seeking geocaches, capsules of objects that can be located with GPS coordinates posted on a website such as geocaching.com.

Almost every other weekend, regardless of the season, Matt Born of Reedsville puts a line in the water of Coopers Rock’s lake to see where the fish are hiding.

“Sometimes we are packed in there like sheep, elbow to elbow,” Born said. “Other times you have the lake to yourself.

“You have your everyday guys who know their spot and how to rip the trout out of it,” he said. “Then you have the PowerBaiters: both poles out with fancy rod holders just waiting on the bobber that they put on the line to move. Then you have the spoon/spinner people who cast in and out. Everybody has their method of fishing at Coopers Rock and each one of the groups of people is very successful at catching trout and helping others to catch them too.”

Climbers are another group of sportsmen and women who mentor each other in the sport, said Dan Brayack, a climber, trail runner, hunter and beginning mountain biker from Charleston.

Visitors are not allowed to climb at the overlook but there are large boulders where they can climb without ropes. The sport is called bouldering, and it started in the 1980s, according to Brayack, who has published the “Coopers Rock Bouldering Guide.”

“Someone who is not a rock climber, if you’re fairly athletic, you could scramble around on the boulders,” Brayack said. “Even climbing small boulders that aren’t very tall, we do fall, all the time, and we have one piece of equipment that you need to be able to fall and be OK. It’s called a crash pad and it’s basically a couch cushion but more technical. It’s designed for rock climbing.”

Adam Polinski, project coordinator and founding member of the nonprofit Coopers Rock Foundation, who has also written guides to lead climbers on the best routes up the boulders, calls crash pads “the primary safety device other than good judgement.

“It is used into conjunction with somebody spotting you, just like at the gym.”

Coopers Rock’s elevation — 1,200 feet above Morgantown — makes it a cool place to climb in summer, Brayack said, and it has great views.

The rock is special: It’s called gritstone.

“There’s very little gritstone in the United States and the most famous is in Britain,” Polinski said. “It’s kind of a world-famous rock type. Climbers can talk about rock types just like wine connoisseurs talk about the difference between pinot grigio and zinfandel. We’re pretty lucky around here. We have the equivalent of a really cool vintage of rock.”

Coopers Rock isn’t on the scale of Seneca Rocks with its 300-foot climbs or the New River Gorge, Polinski said, but it’s perfect for bouldering.

“It is booming to the point that you might see license plates from any one of six or eight surrounding states,” Polinski said. “People travel from Baltimore and D.C. and spend the weekend because of bouldering. It really has turned into something.”

Trail running is another fairly young sport that is done at Coopers Rock.

“I like using the trails,” said David Hopkinson, president of the Coopers Rock Foundation. “I’m out there taking care of them so I can continue to enjoy them.”

Outdoors enthusiasts who want to buy or sell some recreational equipment can do it at the gear sale during the Celebration of the Outdoors on Oct. 21 in Pavilion No. 2 near the overlook. Half the proceeds go to the seller and half to the Foundation, Hopkinson said.

Admission and many activities are free at the Celebration of the Outdoors. Visitors can try rock climbing and ropes courses. There is usually a raptor exhibit and birdhouse building. A volunteer leads a tree identification hike. Refreshments can be purchased at the state-run snack bar near the overlook.

The Foundation held its annual 10K Stump Jump Aug. 26. Athletes ran a 6.2-mile course from the overlook to the Roadside Trail, then to Laurel Meadows and Rock City, and back to the overlook. It is one of the fundraisers for facilities maintenance and repairs.

Located in Monongalia and Preston counties, Coopers Rock was named for a cooper, a barrel-maker, who was a fugitive. He hid from authorities at the overlook and made and sold barrels to the nearby community, according to Jan Dzierzak, assistant state park superintendent.

The DNR manages the park and WVU leases part of the forest for research.

“There’s a big education component that occurs at Coopers Rock,” Polinski said, adding that elementary, middle and high school students visit too. “I don’t think you see 10,000 school buses there every year but it’s a steady trickle. There are so many things you can learn there, not just tree or bird identification.

“You can study stream dynamics and the macroinvertebrates that live in stream or the emerald ash borer, the current threat to one species of tree in the forest. There are plenty of educational angles.”

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