I made my way east from Coudersport along Route 6 to visit Denton Hill State Park. Denton Hill was primarily operated as a ski area until downhill ski operations were shut down in 2014. The park is still open for access to hunting, fishing, hiking and cross country skiing. The park also had five cabins and a dormitory style bunkhouse in the lodge to support downhill ski operations. Feasibility studies have been done to assess the viability of reopening ski operations and to find other year round uses for the park. The history of ski areas in Pennsylvania state parks is a complicated story and best left for another day.
I drove by Denton Hill in the early 1990s. The ski area was visible from Route 6 at that time. My father, who was born in Lycoming County and raised in Columbia County, was a big supporter of skiing in north central Pennsylvania. The way ahead for Denton Hill looks difficult. The feasibility study and master plan can be found here. The Pennsylvania Lumber Museum is across Route 6 from the park entrance.
I left Austin and proceeded south to Sizerville State Park. This park reminds me of Hyner Run or Reeds Gap. It is a quiet park with a small campground and a pool. Alas, the pool at Reeds Gap is gone, but this type of park remains one of my favorites. The 368 acre Sizerville is surrounded by Elk State Forest and near large blocks of additional state forest land. If it wasn’t so far, I’d like to come back here.
I then made the long journey to Kettle Creek State Park. In retrospect, I should have done this the day before as continuation of my trip to Ole Bull, but now I know better. The park consists of 1,793 acres along Kettle Creek in western Clinton County. The park is in a valley surrounded by mountainous terrain and wilderness. Many of the existing recreational facilities arose from a joint flood control project developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources. The park offers camping, boating, hunting, fishing, hiking, and other activities.
I thought I might be able to save some time getting to Sinnemahoning State Park by driving up to Kettle Creek Vista then cutting across the ridge and down the other side. Of course there were no roads down into the other valley, because there was another lake, with (you guessed it) another dam.
I made the trek back down the valley to highway north to Sinnemahoning State Park. The park, located near the center of the Pennsylvania Wilds’ scenic steep valleys region, encompasses 1,910 acres of beautiful scenery and outstanding wildlife habitat. Situated in Cameron and Potter counties, the park is nestled between the green-shouldered ridges of Pennsylvania’s Elk State Forest and Susquehannock State Forest. The park is long and narrow and includes lands on both sides of First Fork Sinnemahoning Creek — a major tributary to the Sinnemahoning Creek. At the southern end of the park, a 145-acre reservoir created by the George B. Stevenson dam provides fishing and boating opportunities. There is a campground and excellent wildlife viewing opportunities, including elk, bear, and large variety of birds.
On Sunday of Juneteenth weekend, I spent the day checking out a few additional state parks in the Coudersport area along with one historic site. I headed southwest to the remains of the Austin Dam.
The Austin Dam, also known as the Bayless Dam, was a concrete gravity dam in the Austin, Pennsylvania area that served the Bayless Pulp and Paper Mill. Built in 1909, It was the largest dam of its type in Pennsylvania at the time. The catastrophic failure of the dam on September 30, 1911 caused significant destruction and the death of 78 in Freeman Run Valley below the dam. The dam failed because it was not built as designed to cut cost.
The paper mill and dam were subsequently rebuilt, but the mill was lost in a fire in 1933. A new dam was built, but it also failed, in 1942, with no loss of life. The dam was not replaced after the second failure. The remains of the failed first dam still stand and are the site of a local park. The ruins consist of a series of broken sections extending east to west across the Freeman Run Valley. There are five upright sections and two large and several smaller toppled sections. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
There is a small park here. It is also possible to camp here. As I am slightly freaked out by dams and given the history, I don’t think I could camp here.
I decided to stay in the town of Coudersport on my recent trip to Potter County. The town is the county seat and sits on the Allegheny River. It is in a broad valley and has a population of approximately 2,650. In addition to the nearby state parks and forests, popular attractions are the Coudersport Ice Mine and the Eliot Ness Museum.
Up next is a look at the Hotel Crittenden, a restaurant and bar with a small number of guest rooms upstairs. It is situated in the center of town and feels like an historic property that has been in use as a hotel for a long time. This is Room 1, the “Queen Suite,” which has two rooms with two queen beds, a bathroom, fridge, second sink, coffee area, microwave, and television.
The drive north on Route 44 continues with a visit to Patterson State Park. This park sits directly on Route 44 and provides picnicking and a few camping sites. The Susquehanock Trail System passes right near the park, which acts as a trailhead. The park would also be a good overnight camp spot for those doing the entire loop.
Next up was one of the most confounding parks in the entire system – Prouty Place State Park. The five-acre Prouty Place State Park is five miles southwest of PA 44 along Long Toe Road. This remote park offers access to hunting, fishing, and hiking within the surrounding Susquehannock State Forest. There is a grassy area and gazebo with a nonoperational water pump and a notice board. The park feels very remote, yet only a short distance down Long Toe Road were a few very substantial houses a large man-made pond.
Prouty Place was designated a Class “B” campground by the Pennsylvania Department of Forestry from 1922 to 1925. During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a picnic area and campsites between 1935 and 1938. Prouty Place State Park officially became part of the Pennsylvania State Parks system in 1957. The park is a short distance from the Susquehannock Trail System, and is connected to it by a link trail. Prouty Place is tied for second smallest state park in Pennsylvania with Upper Pine Bottom State Park (which we visited in our last installment). Only Sand Bridge State Park (another picnic area) is smaller.
My trip on this Juneteenth weekend began in earnest when I turned left from Route 15 onto Route 44 in Lycoming County. I was soon at my first stop of the day.
Upper Pine Bottom State Park is one of the smallest parks in the state park system, measuring in at 5 acres. It provides picnic tables next to a stream and access to hunting and fishing. It also acts as an entry point for hiking and cross country skiing in the nearby Tiadaghton State Forest.
My next stop was Ole Bull State Park which lies off Route 44 and a short distance down Route 144. Ole Bull State Park consists of 132 acres along the Kettle Creek Valley in Potter County in an area called the Black Forest because of its dense tree cover, mountainous terrain, and wilderness habitat. The park has a fascinating history. It is named for Ole Bornemann Bull, the famous Norwegian violinist who toured the United States in the 1850s. In 1852, Ole Bull purchased a large tract of land in Potter County and attempted to develop a series of Norwegian settlements. He began construction of a home, at what now is called Ole Bull Vista, which has never finished. After a year of severe hardships, the majority of the colony disbanded and moved west into Michigan and Wisconsin.
The park has swimming in Kettle Creek, a campground, and the usual array of state park activities.
Lyman Run State Park was next on the list. One of several parks in this area with a dam, it has a 45 acre lake, swimming, camping, boating and other activities.
A daytime visit to Cherry Springs State Park followed. This park is well known for being one of the best spots on the east coast for dark nighttime skies and astronomical viewing. The park has a public astronomy field for short term viewing and an overnight field. There is also a campground and opportunities for hiking.
This park is beloved, but I have to admit I was a bit disappointed when I returned the following night. The weather was fairly clear with low humidity, and the moon was below the horizon. However, I didn’t feel that the number of visible stars was significantly better than what I could see an hour from home in southeastern Pennsylvania. I didn’t attempt to photograph any. I have seen much better displays of stars during my adulthood in the Florida Keys and on the eastern shore of Maryland.
Near the park is Cherry Springs Vista, which sits directly on Route 44.
Springton Manor Farm is a county park located in Glenmoore, Chester County. Within the farm’s historic landscape of fenced fields, stone walls and misty morning vistas is a preserved patchwork of colonial plantation, Industrial Revolution era scientific farm, Victorian tenant farm, and gentleman’s country estate. The Manor House and Carriage House overlook 300 acres of centuries-old sugar maples, open pastures and stately Penn Oaks, which grace the lower pond. The Manor House is not open to the general public.
Initially part of a William Penn Manor, Springton Manor has been in agricultural use since the early 1700’s. On this demonstration farm, you can meet the animals and learn about Chester County’s farming history. The barn complex consists of the Great Barn, sheep shed, goat shed, a roost and equipment shed. You may see horses, donkeys, rabbits, calves, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens and peacocks. The Family Farm Museum, located within the Great Barn, contains seasonal tools and apparatus used on Chester County farms from the 1700’s to the 1900’s.
Nestled in southwest Chester County near the Maryland line are several patches of a unique ecosystem called serpentine barrens. One example is found at Nottingham County Park. Dedicated in September 1963, Nottingham Park was the first Chester County park. The 731-acre park sits atop an outcropping of serpentine stone greater than one square mile in size – one of the largest serpentine barrens on the East Coast. It features former feldspar and serpentine quarries, and numerous former chromite ore mines. The National Park Service recognized Nottingham Park as a National Natural Landmark in 2008.
Nottingham Park offers nine pavilions, an 18-station fitness trail, and three modern, handicapped accessible playgrounds. To experience the serpentine barrens, one must wander around some of the trails in the park.
Serpentine, a geological outcrop of rare, light-green rock found only in three small geographic areas in all of North America, has soil so low in essential nutrients and so high in some metals that most ordinary plants will not grow. The barrens have their own community of plants, some of them globally-rare, with practically no species in common with the surrounding forests and fields. Typically, serpentine barrens contain scrub oak, pine, cedar and unique wildflowers. Some areas dominated by grasses are known as true prairies. Some areas with scattered trees are known as a savannah, which can survive and prosper with occasional fires.