GRANDVIEW, W.Va. — As travel and residency grow across West Virginia, communities are turning to their scenic potential to bolster the economy. Some have found that overlooks can attract tourists and increase desirability without requiring much expense.
Landscape architect Joe Bird, vice president of Chapman Technical Group, says there's substantial economic value in the natural beauty of West Virginia. Though establishing an overlook may not require an architect or engineer, it does require thought.
Bird offers the following advice for public and private development of scenic overlooks.
Don't remove the tree canopy.
"Keep the tree canopy. In considering an overlook, it's crucial to minimize disturbing the existing vegetation," Bird says.
Removing trees and the shady canopy leads to the unsightly growth of brush and young trees, quickly becoming a maintenance issue, blocking the intended view and possibly leading to erosion. Instead, remove just enough foliage to open the view.
"If you have to do a lot of clearing, maybe you don't have the right site."
Seating is important.
"I like to use natural elements for seating where possible. Maybe boulders could be moved and arranged in a way that could provide seating. Or fallen trees. This doesn't mean that benches won't be required; they will still be needed. And they should be spaced so that people can sit by themselves and not feel like they're intruding in someone else's space.
"Trash receptacles are also necessary and again should be strategically placed where they may be used but are out of the way of the scenic view."
Consider a wayside exhibit.
Wayside exhibits and information kiosks are invaluable at overlooks, providing opportunities to underscore community highlights and points of interest visible within the viewshed.
"An informational kiosk is always good. They let people know what they're looking at and provide reference points," Bird says.
The National Park Service has established best practices for the development of waysides. Per the service, they should not intrude on the view or call attention to themselves. The service provides a guide to developing outdoor interpretive exhibits that can be downloaded.
Safety is a priority.
"Of course, safety would be paramount to ensure people can enjoy the view without endangering themselves. Properly designed railing will be essential," Bird said.
Ideally, low-reflective walls and railings can be added at overlooks that accommodate visitor safety without encumbering views. In natural settings, native materials such as wood and stone might be used. In more urban settings, brick walls and wrought iron fences might be more appropriate.
The National Park Service also provides a guide to best practices concerning the development of overlooks. "Low-reflective materials help reduce glare from sunlight. In natural landscapes, more heavily textured materials often blend better than those with a smooth finish. Better-looking, more durable projects result from using high-quality materials appropriate to the setting."
Could a scenic overlook be of benefit to your community? One study examining visitor surveys from national parks found that 90 percent of visitors identify scenic views as "very" or "extremely" important to protect.