My annual trip to Lake Naomi in the Poconos with some friends occurred back in August. I took the opportunity to stop at a few locations along the way.
My first stop was the Little Gap Covered Bridge. The bridge was built around 1860, and the structure is a seventy-three-foot, Burr truss-span that crosses the Aquashicola Creek. The bridge incorporated elements of the Howe truss in its construction. A nearby restaurant, the “Covered Bridge Inn,” takes its name from the bridge. In 2011, the bridge was damaged by a hit and run driver.
A second stop, very close to Lake Naomi, is the Hungry Hill historic site on the Sullivan Trail. The site is a Revolutionary War memorial and gravesite of an unknown soldier of the Revolutionary War.
The inscription on the plaque reads: “This encampment site was named by General Sullivan’s expedition of the Revolutionary War, 1779, en route north to avenge the Wyoming Massacre. They called the adjacent swamp Hell’s Kitchen. Army engineers built this first road on the Pocono Plateau, across the desolate area known as the Great Swamp. Meager provisions required the soldiers to live off the land, and one died here.”
Mount Davis (3,213 ft or 979 m) is the highest point in Pennsylvania. Located in the 5,685-acre (2,301 ha) Forbes State Forest near the hamlet of Markleton in Elk Lick Township, Somerset County, it lies on a gentle crest of a 30-mile (50 km) ridge line extending from central Somerset County southward into Garrett County, Maryland. The high point was named for John Nelson Davis, an early settler, American Civil War veteran, surveyor, and naturalist known for his studies of the mountain’s flora and fauna. During the Civil War, Davis served in Company E, 102nd Pennsylvania Infantry.
The summit of Mt. Davis may be ascended by car or a number of hiking trails. Its surroundings are noted for their patterns of unusual circular stone formed by periglacial action. A metal observation tower with a relief map of the region stands near the true high point.
I found this location surprising. It was not what I was picturing in my mind for many years. The area immediately surrounding the summit is state forest, however you can be a five minute drive from the summit and still be going through farmland, which doesn’t make the peak seem that prominent or that high. I guess the surrounding area is at a pretty high elevation.
Ryerson Station State Park is in Greene County in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, near the West Virginia border. It seems to sit off by itself down in that corner. It is near Moundsville, WV, a place I have been to, but that is a story for another day. The 1,164-acre park features the fanciest state park swimming pool I have ever seen, campground, hiking, fishing, picnicking, and winter activities.
Next we have an interesting feature – the remains of an old reservoir. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one quite like this. You can see where the hole was created in the dam to allow the stream to run again. The lake appears to have been fairly shallow.
Near the Pittsburgh metro area, Raccoon Creek State Park is one of Pennsylvania’s largest and most visited state parks. It began as a Recreational Demonstration Area operated by the National Park Service in the 1930s during the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) era. The park encompasses 7,572 acres and features the beautiful 101-acre Raccoon Lake. Facilities are a mix of modern and rustic with group camps from the CCC era.
The nearby Hillman State Park is managed for hunting by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Hiking trails are open to the public. Horseback riding, cycling and other activities are also available. The park also has a model airplane field, an unusual feature. I actually screwed up when visiting here. It looks like one of the main features of the park is a covered bridge, and I managed to miss it.
Moraine State Park in Butler County, which features the 3,225-acre Lake Arthur with 42 miles of shoreline, is a landscape that has endured the effects of continental glaciers and massive mineral extraction. This popular park hosts more than one million boaters, picnickers, hikers, bikers, horseback riders, cabin renters, and swimmers each year. The 16,725-acre park was restored from prior coal mining and oil and gas drilling practices. Unfortunately, it was not a very nice day when I visited in early May.
Jennings Environmental Education Center is one of several state parks specifically dedicated to providing environmental education and recreational programs to the community. This site provides a unique combination of prairie and forest environs, which offer a wide array of resource and educational opportunities. One of the park’s main features, the 20-acre prairie ecosystem, is home to distinctive prairie plants and the endangered massasauga rattlesnake. The most noteworthy and spectacular prairie flower is the blazing star. Jennings was the first reserve established in Pennsylvania to protect an individual plant species and remains the only public and protected prairie in the commonwealth.
The prairie wildflowers are best enjoyed in late July and early August. I did not get very good shots at this site, due to the weather and the time of year.
My trip through western Pennsylvania led me through two parks with some of the largest lakes in the state.
Maurice K. Goddard State Park in Mercer County contains the 1,680-acre Lake Wilhelm, which is popular with anglers and boaters. Many recreational activities, such as hiking, hunting, cycling, skating and picnicking, attract visitors in all seasons. The large lake, abundant wetlands, old fields, and mature forests provide a diversity of habitats for wildlife, especially waterfowl, eagle, and osprey.
Pymatuning State Park in Crawford County, at 16,892 acres, is one of the largest state parks. The 17,088-acre Pymatuning Reservoir (partially shared with Ohio) is the largest lake in the commonwealth. It is one of the most visited state parks in Pennsylvania. The many recreational opportunities include boating, fishing, swimming, and camping. In addition to the state park facilities, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission operates a fish hatchery and visitor center, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission has wildlife viewing areas.
My first stop was the dam at the southern end of the lake. It is the largest earthen dam that I have seen. The area around the lake is one of the few places that bald eagles nested continuously during their years of decline.
On my travels I took a drive through the Allegheny National Forest on Route 59. I was particularly interested in the dam, which I did not remember viewing on a previous trip. Forest surrounds the 7,647-acre reservoir that spans the border between Pennsylvania and New York. In Pennsylvania, the reservoir is completely surrounded by the Allegheny National Forest, and in New York State by Allegany State Park and the Allegany Indian Reservation of the Seneca Nation. At normal summer pool level the reservoir is 27 miles long, 14 miles in Pennsylvania and 13 miles in New York, with 91 miles of shoreline, and a maximum depth of 130 feet.
The 862-acre Chapman State Park includes the 68-acre Chapman Lake on the West Branch of Tionesta Creek. Adjacent to state game lands and the Allegheny National Forest, Chapman is an oasis of recreational facilities in a vast area of wilderness. There is a lake with swimming, a campground and other activities available.
After an overnight stay in the Dubois area, I headed north to Bendigo and Elk State Park. The small Bendigo has a swimming pool and fishing and kayaking in the east branch of the Clarion River. Here are a couple of looks at the pool.
A bit further north is Elk State Park which boasts a large reservoir and a campground. The lake is large enough for unlimited horsepower boating. I have included a few shots of the lake, dam and a cabin the camping area.
Simon B. Elliott State Park and Parker Dam State Park are two parks that offer great access to the area of the “Pennsylvania Wilds” and the Elk Visitor Center. I wanted to check them out to for potential future trips to the area. The first stop was S.B. Elliott. It was gray and raining when I arrived. This park features a lot of interesting CCC built structures surrounded by the Moshannon State Forest, including rustic cabins.
Parker Dam is not far away from S.B. Elliott. As the DCNR website says “a scenic lake, rustic cabins, quaint campground, and unbounded forest make Parker Dam an ideal spot for a relaxing vacation.” This park is great for access to hiking and mountain biking, including a walk through tornado ravaged woods. The lake offers swimming, boating and fishing. Stay overnight in a cabin or in the campgrounds. You may even see some elk.
I had previously travelled through this area in Union and Clinton Counties but did not have the opportunity to visit all of the state parks. I routed myself through this area on my way to western Pennsylvania. My first stop was Sand Bridge State Park, the smallest state park, which occupies three acres. It is used for picnicking and fishing.
I next made a quick stop at the lake and dam overlook at Raymond B. Winter State Park on my way to McCalls Dam State Park. I had previously been to RB Winter and hope to return to do some camping. This park has a wide variety of activities including hiking, fishing, swimming, camping and mountain biking.
The nearby McCalls Dam State Park is also one of the state’s smallest, consisting of a picnic area along with access to hiking, hunting and fishing in Bald Eagle State Forest. I first stopped at a scenic overlook on McCalls Dam Road on my way to the park. Note that even the state can’t decide if there is an “s” in the name of this park or not.
The last stop in this cluster of parks was Ravensburg State Park. It lies in a narrow gorge carved by Rauchtown Run. It was a popular spot with local Amish couples out for a drive on this Sunday afternoon. This lovely spot provides camping, picnicking, hiking, hunting and fishing opportunities. I managed to miss the entrance into a section of the park, but this is a location which will be easy for me to get back to.