Coopers Rock’s Iron Furnace Cleaned By Climbers

Four members of the Coopers Rock Foundation Board of Directors who are also rock climbers cleaned off the Henry Clay Iron Furnace, of Coopers Rock State Forest, on Friday September 21st, 2012.  “Plants were growing all over that structure,” said Jan Kiger, one of the participating climbers.  “And we’re not talking just ferns and weeds.  There were lots of small trees that had taken root in the soil between the stone blocks.”  Unchecked tree growth could eventually threaten the stability of the structure.

Most of those were birch tree saplings, pointed out Adam Polinski, another CRF climber who helped out that day.  “They are the same kind of trees frequently seen growing on or around the rocks we climb on here at Coopers Rock.”  While the ferns and weeds were relatively easy pickings, the trees were harder to eradicate.  “After we cut the trees off, we dug out as many stumps and roots as we could, to prevent stump-sprouting and tree growth in the same places all over again.”  The woody plants are the greatest threat to the long-term preservation of the furnace structure, explained Polinski.  “The root systems expand as the trees grow, and that can slowly push apart the blocks.”  Carol Tannous added that if something wasn’t done, tree growth on the furnace would lead to its disintegration.  “You can see where some of the blocks have loosened over the decades.  This is a famous local landmark, and we don’t want to see it fall apart.”

The climbers set up rope systems using trees nearby the furnace for anchors.  “We purposely did not use the furnace structure itself for safety anchoring in any way”, explained David Riggs, the other climber who helped with the project.  “We took a ‘tread lightly’ approach.  This is one of the very oldest surviving structures in the greater Morgantown area, constructed in the 1830’s.  We even took pains to not disturb the moss on the sides of the furnace.  It looks good and doesn’t do any harm, so we intentionally left it in place.”

This was not the first time that the Foundation, and rock climbers, helped out the Henry Clay Iron Furnace in this way.  12 years ago, on July 22nd, 2000, two CRF Board members who are also rock climbers, Lisa Rayburn and Adam Polinski, were joined by 5 other local climbers in a furnace-cleaning effort: Rob Riffe, Scott Ridenour, Shawn Stafford, Bryn Perrott, and Richie Moyers.  They accomplished the same task as this go-around.  One of the differences between that time and this was that, in 2000, an approved herbicide was sprayed on any remaining root structures to prevent re-growth.  This time, no herbicides were used, and instead, more effort went into physically removing stumps and roots.  The other main difference was due to the gear and expertise of David Riggs.  David is an expert caver as well as a rock climber, and he provided mechanical ascenders for the group.  “The ascenders allowed us to climb up the ropes.  Between those and rappelling devices, which enable one to descend a rope, each of us was easily able to go up or down a rope and single-handedly cover an entire face of the furnace.”

“It’s a real privilege to care for such an old and important part of our local history – especially in this hands-on way”, said Carol Tannous.  The furnace is about 175 years old. “This work will help keep that structure standing for years to come.”

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