Wildlife center at Forks-of-Coal natural area set to open

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Wildlife center at Forks-of-Coal natural area set to open
Paddlers explore the state natural area at the Forks-of-Coal State Natural Area. (Photo courtesy Diana Green)

A new wildlife education center at the 102-acre Forks-of-Coal State Natural Area near Charleston, West Virginia, is set to open in spring and is in the final stages of construction, according to officials.

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The 7,000-square-foot center located off the US-119 expressway near the confluence of the Big Coal and Little Coal rivers will include multiple exhibits and a 1,500-gallon aquarium and will be open to host educational events year-round.

Zack Brown, assistant chief of operation for Wildlife Resources Section at the Division of Natural Resources, said the division is busy with preparations for the opening.

Construction is nearly complete at the Claudia L. Workman Wildlife Education Center.
Construction is nearly complete at the Claudia L. Workman Wildlife Education Center. (Photo courtesy Diana Green)

“We are in the process of hiring a staff to run the facility,” Brown said of the Claudia L. Workman Wildlife Education Center, which will provide visitors an overview of area wildlife and the state's management programs and will investigate forestry, conservation, and stream restoration.

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“It’s got several wildlife exhibits outlining the history of wildlife management in West Virginia, talking about some of our habitat work with early successional habitats and everything from agricultural fields to old-growth forests.”

Leanna Preston, president of the Forks-of-Coal Natural Area Foundation, said she's excited to see the center welcoming visitors.

“I’m looking forward to seeing people in there learning about West Virginia wildlife management and what the area has to offer and enjoying the areas and the trails that are really accessible.”

She said the division and foundation have worked together remarkably to see the project to fruition. The foundation raised for the exhibits inside the center, and worked to secure nearly a million dollars through the Abandoned Mine Lands grant, administered through the state Department of Environmental Protection.

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The agreement between the Workman family, which donated the land, and the division was to leave the area in its natural state and focus on conservation. Nearly five miles of hiking trail have already opened in the area.

A pollinator and wildlife-viewing field have also been planted on the property, and the division and foundation are working together to maintain the trails and provide interpretive signage along the way.

The Forks-of-Coal foundation participates in community outreach, including public events such as sponsored hikes, scavenger hunts, and paddling excursions on the rivers.

“We sponsor workdays to do trail maintenance, clearing out trees that have come down and cutting back brush and anything that needs to be done,” she said.

“We are seeking grants for various projects like informational signs," she said. "There have been several signs that we have put up on the trails that we have received funding for. We work with community groups that might want to do something, so we have quite a bit of outreach and support for the area.”

The natural area and wildlife education center are a drive of approximately 20 minutes south of downtown Charleston, West Virginia.


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A kayaker leisurely paddles on a West Virginia flatwater trail.
A kayaker leisurely paddles a flatwater trail. (Photo courtesy Bill Currey)

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