Our ultimate destination was the New River Gorge area in the south central part of West Virginia; after that, we weren’t sure of the itinerary exactly. This was to be primarily a road trip, which would preclude extended camping stays – and you can’t really get a feel for how a campground is run unless you stay a while. But I still hoped to find a nice spot where we could stop for at least two nights all the same.
The morning of the third day of the trip was spent around Lake Arthur north of Pittsburgh, doing a mini-tour of the small town where my dad spent part of his childhood. This was nice, but the day got stressful after we were almost involved in what would have been a serious highway accident (some imbecile missed their exit and decided to stop dead in the middle of the road and back up… without hazard lights… thank God we were able to avoid rearending them at the last moment!) Then we got stuck in a Pittsburgh area traffic jam.
This is the sort of day when finding a cool green oasis to hide in becomes an imperative.
We reached Morgantown late in the afternoon, and really the only public camping choice was Coopers Rock State Forest (which, despite the name, is basically a state park with all the amenities thereof). The attendant wasn’t there on a Sunday afternoon, so we chose a site and paid via envelope. This is a small campground of about 25 sites — surprisingly, all electric — in an extremely attractive woodland setting. By the time I got back from paying for the site I had already decided I wanted this place to be the multiple-night stay.
I’m not sure if these were WV State Park system things, or just specific to this campground, but there were three things of note. First, a blanket no-alcohol policy, which you’ll never see in New York OPR or DEC campgrounds, though it’s not unusual elsewhere. Second, this campground had no dumpster, but provided an individual metal trash can for each site. Third, park staff were almost never at the check-in station, but were a constant presence on patrol, making the rounds no less than once an hour.
As for the campsites themselves, they couldn’t have been laid out any more thoughtfully. Even the most claustrophobic tent-snob couldn’t have found fault with the site spacing, and all sites were slightly built up for good drainage. I was pretty impressed with the place. West Virginia isn’t a wealthy state, but they seemed to be making the best use of what must be limited resources. (I understand that WV has branded some of their state campgrounds as “RV Resorts,” so I have a feeling that this attention to detail wasn’t just at Coopers Rock.)
Here’s a 360 panorama of the Coopers Rock campground. From what little I saw and experienced during the two days I stayed there, I have to say that WV made New York’s state campgrounds look… well, a little shabby.
As for the lack of a dumpster, it turns out that this particular campground is horribly “plagued” by raccoons (nothing else, just raccoons). We learned this from one of the park rangers who came by on an hourly round to say hello — something else you don’t get in New York. He had a raccoon in a trap back in his truck (sadly, it was marked for doom) and apparently the individual trash-can strategy works best for keeping the critters away, in their view. We also asked him about the frequent patrols. Coopers Rock is just outside of WVU-Morgantown (aka Party Central) and this is part of the reason why they do it, but I also had to wonder if the patrols were to keep non-collegiate drug users out as well, since WV like many other poor states has had a problem with meth.
In New York, you ordinarily just wouldn’t have an opportunity to chat with a park ranger. I know why that is, but I guess I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the opportunity. We also discussed Mountaineers football (obligatory discussion topic when in WV), bear problems, and upstate New York vs. West Virginia accents.
A backcountry camper would no doubt find Coopers Rock to be unacceptably suburban. But it pretty much fulfilled every criterion of “the perfect campground” for me, which shows my own lack of “wildness” I suppose. (I would have liked it just fine without electric service, though.) By the next morning I was wandering around mumbling things like “Damn, this is the nicest campground I have ever been to.” It certainly was the perfect place to recover from three days on the road.
I supposed that this would be the nicest place we would encounter for the rest of the trip – but I was mistaken (or was I?)…