ALUM CREEK, W.Va. — A generous donation by a successful West Virginia businessman will insure many years of wildlife education in southern West Virginia. The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources officially opens the Forks of Coal State Natural Area.
The property, just a few miles south of Charleston on U.S. Route 119, was donated by Jack Workman with the agreement it be a benefit to the public and to conservation education of children in West Virginia.
“He was wanting to donate the property for some conservation cause in memory of his wife Claudia,” said Division of Natural Resources Director Bob Fala. “He went through some processes of evaluation and decided to give it to the DNR, provided we make good use of it with particular regard to the conservation education of Appalachian Youth.”
The just more than 100 acre property is situated between the Big Coal River and Little Coal River and comes to a point where the two rivers merge to form the Coal River in West Virginia. It’s bordered to the east by Corridor G.
Workman used the property as the headquarters for his pipe company for many years. The donation included the company’s former office and warehouse buildings which will become the new headquarters of the DNR’s District 5 which has been looking for a home for a better location for decades.
“It’s kind of been disjointed, here, there and yonder and located way out there in Point Pleasant on the edge of the district for years,” Fala said. “It’s hard to put a price on the service aspect of having it centrally located in the district right here on Corridor G with regard to service to the public.”
Workman and his wife are life long outdoor lovers. The property already included a number of trails the Workman’s created themselves. Those are being enhanced for the public and expanded as part of the natural area.
“This will be a state natural area,” Fala said. “Mostly for day use only, hiking, bird watching, and just enjoying the property in its natural state. It’s just a place to get out and enjoy nature.”
The area will open to the public this weekend, but the Division of Natural Resources has ambitious plans for the area in the future. This week, they unveiled the conceptual designs for what will eventually be the Claudia Workman Wildlife Education Center to be built on the property.
“We are in the process of developing a foundation and using our internal resources to look at building something a little more of a natural looking stone and wood building, something like you see at the Canyon Rim or Sandstone Visitors Center,” said Fala. “This would be located where all of our trail heads meet with bathrooms and a visitors center and plenty of parking for school buses. We just unveiled that this week so we are just in the early stages.”
Beyond the natural value of the property, Fala said the aim will be to preserve some of the property’s rich history and significance to the early days of West Virginia and even in the days when it was still part of the state of Virginia.
“There are some old historical foot bridges and an early girl scout camp. Then you have the history of the sand industry, the cannel coal industry, the lock system on the Coal River which was used prior to the railroad. General Rosencrans from the Civil War lived right down the road here,” Fala explained. “We want to blend those historical items with the fish, flora, and fauna for the folks.”
The Forks of Coal Natural Area will open to the public this weekend for hiking and exploring.