It’s been abused by vandals, and it’s crumbling with age, but the members of the Wheeling Arts and Cultural Commission believe the Mount Wood Overlook can be transformed in a popular destination.
The Arts Commission is inviting any interested community members to join them this Saturday at the overlook for the beginning of its “Guerilla Gardening” project that will include moss painting. The work day will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the “castle” facility, located directly across the street from the Mount Wood Cemetery near the North Park section of Wheeling. Those planning to attend should bring a paint brush and a container for the moss paint.
The artwork will communicate a message promoting sustainability and rebirth of the Wheeling culture and will respond to the challenges of antisocial behavior, graffiti, litter, and safety that this site has experienced.
“This whole project is truly a blank canvass because it’s going to be up to the community as far as what will be moss painted at the Mount Wood Overlook,” said Erika Donaghy, chair of the Wheeling Arts and Cultural Commission. “The timeline will be dictated by the weather, and our first work day is scheduled for this Saturday.
“We plan to do a lot of cleanup at first, but then we plan to get out the stencils and start figuring the best locations for the moss painting,” she continued. “We know the moss painting is going to work in several areas of the overlook, but we are hoping that it will take on the entire structure.”
The Mount Wood Overlook is frequently vandalized with spray painting, broken glass, and various kinds of litter, but Donaghy is convinced that if members of the community join the Wheeling Police Department with caring for the area that it could attract local residents and tourists alike to enjoy the stunning views of the Friendly City.
“There are areas of the overlook that have more of the spray paint than others, so we are anxious to see how the graffiti will affect the moss,” Donaghy said. “One of our goals is to persuade folks to leave the overlook alone long enough for the moss to start growing,” Donaghy said. “We hope that once people start seeing the moss project taking place, they will begin taking more pride in it and not deface it the way it has been for several years.
“One thing we know for sure is that once the moss is on the concrete, it’s not going to be the best thing to spray paint because the person isn’t going to get the design they are going after,” she said. “We also would like to involve some of the artists who do the spray painting because it is really very good. At this point, though, we don’t know who those folks are.”
Donaghy said she believes many Wheeling residents have not enjoyed the sights from the castle-like structure because of reputation.
“It’s a pretty secluded spot, and we know the police do check out that area pretty frequently,” Donaghy said. “If this project takes off and the community does get involved, we believe this overlook will be an asset to our community. This area could be a very nice place for local residents and tourists to visit because of the great views you have here.
“We would also like to add lighting and historical markers down the road because of everything you can see from up here,” she said. “The amount of history that is within the Mount Wood Cemetery alone is very impressive, but you can also see how this Valley was built from up here. It could become a destination spot if the community wants it to be.”
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City officials have agreed to clear away the trees that are currently blocking views of the Fulton and East Wheeling neighborhoods, and collecting additional partnerships also is in the works.
“It could be a gorgeous area, and city officials have pledged to help the project, too,” Donaghy said. “They have said they will remove any of the overgrowth that is currently obstructing the great views to the west and south.
“There also could be the opportunity for some gardening in this area, and that’s why we plan to speak with the folks who are with Grow Ohio Valley,” she said. “It was a community member who got this started by approaching the Arts Commission because he believed this area could be a great place for some public art and a great place that could better the community.”
The history of the Mount Wood Overlook has been researched by local historians, and they have discovered that a local doctor commissioned the construction, which began in 1925. Legend has it that he was building it for his wife but was then convicted of federal drug charges a few years later. The structure was then left to the city of Wheeling.
“And anyone who comes up here can tell why that doctor chose this location,” Donaghy said. “You can actually see both sides of Interstate 70 as it flows through the Wheeling Tunnel, and you can see all the way down the Ohio River into Marshall County.
“If the community helps with reclaiming this area the potential is pretty great as far as a picnic spot or even special events with local businesses and vendors,” she continued. “I can see the Vagabond Chef, Matt Welsch, up here just like he does each week at Grand Vue Park.”
Donaghy explained that this Saturday a few local artists will initiate the moss painting with a concentration on geometric shapes, and stencils will be used as the community experiment begins.
“It can be difficult painting moss onto that kind of concrete surface so we’re going to adapt as we need to,” Donaghy explained. “Once the painting is completed, people will still see some of the graffiti, but it will be more like background colors.
“It’s such a large palette, and that means we’ll be coming up with the overall design as we continue,” she said. “But you do not have to be an artist to come up and do some moss painting. People can bring their own stencils, or they can decide to come up and paint freehand. It’s completely up to the community member.”
“Making the moss paint is a pretty smelly experience, to be honest,” Donaghy said. “It’s a combination of yogurt, corn syrup, beer, and moss, and you place that in a blender and let the blender do its thing. It’s not a hard process, but if you are not careful, you could make a pretty big mess, but once it’s made, you simply use a paintbrush to apply it to the surface.
“The best part about this project is not only will it beautify this area, but it also will be accomplished at a very low cost,” she said. “We all have paintbrushes, and we all have moss, so this Saturday we’ll be figuring out exactly what can be done to make the Mount Wood Overlook a community asset instead of a problem area.”