In Spring of 2015, I decided to get back into running, and not for the first time over the years. I wouldn’t call myself a Runner with a capital “R”, but intermittently, I’ve run regularly. I’ve never really stuck with it, though. Maybe because it’s so darn hard! Or at least it can be. My motivations this time around are different than in years past, though. My son plays soccer, and as a result, now I do, too. Gotta run for that! Also, running regularly will keep me fit so that I can continue with activities I have loved over the decades, like cross-country and downhill skiing, mountain biking and road riding, and rock climbing. Further, I am on the Coopers Rock Foundation (CRF) Board of Directors, and I have seen nearly 100 Board members come and go over 26 years, but at no prior time has the Board been comprised of so many trail runners. I think all their ‘runningness’ is rubbing off on me.
While I can run on roads, and love having the rail trail in the Morgantown Area (thank you, MRTC!) for running, biking, and cross-country skiing, my ‘meat and potatoes’ running (or tofu and quinoa salad) has got to be on forest trails. When I hear the Red Hot Chili Peppers singing “take me to the place I love, take me all the way”, I think of Coopers Rock. If you know me, that is absolutely no surprise.
If you are getting back into running, wisdom dictates that you start slowly. Nothing derails inspiration like an injury. The area depicted in Map #1, the trails at/near The Reservoir, is my Coopers Rock prescription for the perfect place to start, because it consists of a nest of short loops without any extremely challenging hills or overly rocky trailbeds.
The Reservoir at Coopers Rock is partway between I-68 and The Overlook, across the Main Road from the Forest’s McCollum Campground. The Reservoir Parking Lot is known as the place to park for dog walkers. The Reservoir is off-limits for swimming (if you are human), and fishing is prohibited, as the body of water is managed as the Forest’s source of drinking water. But it is okay for dogs to swim in it, so expect to see dogs. You may even go running with one. A look on Map #1 shows that there are several segments of trail in the ¼ to ½ mile range, with numerous intersections. You can “dial-a-route” in here – customize a run to suit your needs. CRF built a brand new ¼ mile segment of trail on the forested side of the Reservoir in 2015, so now there is truly an official loop around the water. One lap is .4 miles. Running within the network depicted on Map #1 exposes you to hills and rocky trails, but at a modest level of difficulty.
If you want to step down one level in difficulty, park in the same place, but run only on Roadside Trail, out toward the Overlook and back, at a time and distance comfortable for you. Roadside Trail has some of the best footing of any Coopers Rock trail, and is relatively flat from Reservoir Parking Lot to The Overlook Area.
Once the distances and difficulties of this area become easier for you, the next step is to park at the Day Use Parking Lot, just ¼ mile from the Coopers Rock I-68 Exit. I’m happy to mention that this parking lot has a brand new restroom, which makes the restroom situation there light-years better than how it has been over the past several years. CRF raised funds for over 2 years, from numerous sources small and large, to get this building purchased. You can start runs on either Advanced Ski Trail, which starts just to the right of the restroom, or at the start of Roadside Trail, just right of the Front Gate on the Main Road. As you can see on Map #2, this is an expansion of Map #1, including a larger part of Roadside Trail, part of Advanced Ski Trail, and the ‘Intermediate Loop.’ Parking here is more convenient and the loop network is larger, with some greater challenges in terms of rocky trailbeds and lengths of climbs. The middle section of your runs will be on trails familiar from Map #1, while the first and last parts add length and challenge. If you were running from 1-4 miles when starting at the Reservoir Parking Lot, now you are running 3 to 5 miles on runs from here. A further advantage of parking here, other than the new restroom, is that this is the only parking lot on the South Side (between I-68 and the Cheat River) open all year around. Since the winter months at Coopers Rock can be anywhere from below zero to above 60 degrees, you may want to cross-country ski or snowshoe, but you may end up trail running, especially in March, as winter closes up shop and spring gets ready to open for business.
The trail network in Map #2 is enough for some runners, and it used to be enough for me. But I’m expanding the length of my runs beyond the 5-mile mark. A round trip on Roadside Trail is 6.2 miles – see Map #3 — a distance you also know as 10 K. Park at the Day Use Lot and take a cruise on some of the best of what Coopers Rock has to offer – over three miles of “Advanced Beginner” trail along the ridge top, out to the Overlook Area and back. If you are planning on entering some 10 K races, seemingly held in every town in America at some point in the year, what better training run could there be?! Roadside Trail is a classic 10 K trail run through the forest, the start/finish of which is just one minute from an Interstate Exit.
If a round trip on Roadside Trail, or a big loop on the trails of Map #2, have become easy for you, there’s multiple times that amount of trail miles that await you. CRF has published the best available trail map for the Forest, so look to that to research your runs at the next level up. That’s what I’m going to do.
Be sure to check out the Coopers Rock Foundation classic 10k Stump Jump on September 3, 2016.