The construction projects begin as system-wide state park visitation continues to soar, with first-quarter revenues outpacing pre-pandemic levels by more than 200 percent, Justice said.
The over $10 million project includes the construction of five new stargazing cabins, doubled capacity at the forest's popular McCollum Campground, and forest infrastructure improvements, including a new wastewater treatment plant and construction of a new pedestrian bridge to the main overlook.
"This is yet another exciting day for West Virginia with the addition of these incredible upgrades," Justice said.
"Coopers Rock State Forest is a gem within our state park system, and as we continue to draw visitors from around the world, it's important that we maintain its amazing condition and reputation. This stunning park is among our most frequently visited, and these latest announcements will further support its popularity."
Once completed, the project will build capacity at the nearly 13,000-acre park, which includes one of the most visited campgrounds in the state, the McCollum Campground. The project will more than double capacity at the campground, adding 25 new electric sites and a new bathhouse.
Additionally, the ground was broken on the park’s first cabins—five new stargazing cabins to be constructed along the main ridge between Raven Rock and the main overlook. The A-frame cabins will be ideally positioned to provide one-of-a-kind stargazing opportunities, fully equipped telescopes, and some of the darkest skies on the East Coast.
Secretary of Tourism Chelsea Ruby said Justice had been a committed leader where tourism is concerned in the Mountain State.
"When we go to Gov. Justice with a list of projects, he always gives us two pieces of advice," Ruby said.
"One, he asks us: what are people in West Virginia looking for? What's popular? What do we need to expand? Where do we need more capacity? Two, he says, 'make it bigger and make it better.' So this particular project is the result of both of those things. These upgrades provide all of the above."
The state forest’s main overlook, which has been under repair, is expected to be re-opened by May 1, 2023.
Justice also announced that a new pedestrian bridge will be constructed to the main overlook. That project is expected to be completed by August 2024.
West Virginia Secretary of Commerce James Bailey said the improvements at Coopers Rock indicate the governor's commitment to sound economic development.
"We're here today because Coopers Rock State Forest is about to get even better,"Bailey said.
"We have investments all over the state thanks to Gov. Justice's support. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to him for his vision. Gov. Justice has been the biggest supporter of our state parks, public lands, and outdoor recreation since Teddy Roosevelt. He is the reason we're here today."
The improvements come on the heels of more than $150 million worth of construction projects in the State Park System since Gov. Justice took office. The renovations, coupled with increased marketing, have resulted in never-before-seen growth.
Online reservations for 2023 are already outpacing 2022 — a record-breaking year. First quarter 2023 online revenue exceeds 200 percent over pre-pandemic levels. In addition, self-sufficiency continues to climb, reaching an all-time high of 74% in 2022.
Brett McMillion, the commissioner of the W.Va. Division of Natural Resources, said the investment at Coopers Rock were much needed, and thanked the governor for his committment.
"It's refreshing to see more improvements coming to Coopers Rock State Forest," McMillion said.
"Gov. Justice is the guy who has given the staff the ability, drive, and push to get to these levels. I hope the citizens and all of our guests understand that philosophy because it takes someone with that vision to make these parks so successful."
Established in 1936, Coopers Rock State Forest boasts some of the most iconic views in West Virginia. Located just off I-68, about 13 miles from Morgantown, West Virginia, the park features canyon overlooks, historic sites, picnic shelters, 50 miles of hiking and biking trails, sandstone cliffs for climbing and bouldering, cross-country ski terrain, a lake perfect for reeling in trout and a nearby river for rafting.
To learn more about Coopers Rock State Forest or West Virginia State Parks, visit WVStateParks.com.