By Jody Brumage
Ascending to a height of 4,863 feet, Spruce Knob is the tallest mountain peak in the state of West Virginia as well as the highest summit of the Allegheny Mountain Range. Located in Pendleton County, West Virginia, Spruce Knob has been a popular scenic attraction for hiking and other recreational activities since its inclusion in the Monongahela National Forest in 1920. Senator Byrd recognized early in his career in Congress that Spruce Knob offered great potential for West Virginia’s tourism industry.
The creation of the National Recreation Area initiated several projects designed to provide visitor amenities that would encourage tourism to the scenic location. Even before the bill reached President Johnson’s desk, Senator Byrd was working in the Appropriations Committee to secure funding for an observation tower atop Spruce Knob. In a press release dated February 24, 1965, Senator Byrd announced that he would seek $100,000 to fund the project.
Building an observatory on the mountain would constitute a step towards the goal of enhancing West Virginia’s attractiveness to tourists, an advancement Senator Byrd believed would help to boost the economy of the state as its main industry, coal mining, was waning. At a meeting with constituents in October 1965, Senator Byrd declared “a law has been passed which I think we can call a milestone in West Virginia’s quest for the golden fleece of ‘tourism.’ Not only you and I, and the people of West Virginia, but also the people of the United States, have recognized that we have something special here.”
In the spring of 1966, Senator Byrd published an article in Outdoor America, the magazine of the Izaac Walton League, a national organization promoting conservation and outdoor recreation. Entitled “Come to Spruce Knob,” the article represented Senator Byrd’s first nation-wide publicity campaign for the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area.