Say Hay to Hills Creek

The 407-acre Hills Creek State Park, located in scenic Tioga County, contains abundant wildlife such as osprey, loon, and waterfowl which visit the lake that contains a variety of warmwater fish species. Camping, cabins, swimming, and picnicking make this an ideal spot for a day trip or family vacation. Hiking, fishing and hunting are also available.

It was a hazy day at the lake.
I love the yurts in Pennsylvania state parks.
People were camping in everything from large RVs to tents.
Because you know I can’t resist hay bales.
There was quite an impressive group in this field near the park.
The view from above.
They’re still there. Can you see them?

Some Folks Love this Park

Mt. Pisgah State Park lies in Bradford County not very far west of Towanda. The 1,302-acre park is along Mill Creek, at the base of Mt. Pisgah, with an elevation 2,260 feet. A dam on Mill Creek forms Stephen Foster Lake, named after the famous composer and onetime local resident. The 75-acre lake provides fishing, boating, and skating. The park is also well developed with a swimming pool and snack bar, playground and picnic facilities, and the usual hiking, hunting and winter sports activities.

A nice chat
The dam end of Stephen Foster lake.
A demonstration garden, an atypical offering at a state park.
Nice use of repurposed farm equipment and plants.
More on the Stephen Foster theme.
And not far from the park, we have this charming scene. They’re not your average bears (with bonus barn star).

Mid State Musings

A short trip to some state parks north of Harrisburg made for an interesting day out. Boyd Big Tree Preserve and Joseph E. Ibberson State Conservation Area are located in Dauphin County and occupy a distinctive niche in the state park system.They would be of particular interest to hikers.

The 1,025-acre Boyd Big Tree Preserve Conservation Area straddles Blue Mountain and is the habitat of large trees of numerous species, which are homes for deep forest birds, especially warblers. During the summer and fall, the old field is filled with blooming wildflowers like butterfly weed, In late July and early August, the flowers attract field birds and many varieties of butterflies. There is also a trail network here and opportunities for wildlife viewing.

The extensive meadows at the Preserve.
The chestnut tree plantation.
A lone bluebird nest box.
The view over the valley.

Straddling Peters Mountain, the 803-acre Joseph E. Ibberson Conservation Area is dominated by large hardwood trees. This large block of nearly unbroken forest is a haven for wildlife like forest warblers and other deep woods animals. A main attraction of the conservation area is the elaborate trail system which connects to the Appalachian Trail on the northern slope of Peters Mountain.

A pavilion at the park.
The beautiful countryside near the park.
A nearby farm.

A Little Ski Nostalgia

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.

The lodge.
The runs aren’t grown over.
An old lift.
The cabins.

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.

A Dam Long Way Around, Part 2

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.

The drive up to Salt Run Vista was worth it. Yes, someone must drive up here to mow this.
Salt Run Vista
Trees on the way down the mountain to Sizerville.
A bonus vista – the narrower view at Crooked Run Vista.

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.

Another dam.
A dam with a flag.
Looking down over the edge to the lake. It’s further than it looks.
The valley with the lake is pretty.
A family paddle.

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.

Kettle Creek Vista.

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.

Another valley with another dam.
Park office and wildlife center.
A look inside the Wildlife Center.

A Drive Up Route 44, Part 2

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.

One of the pavilions.

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.

The turn off on Long Toe Road was quite sharp.
Here it is.
A rare contrast in greens on this hillside.
Back along Route 44, we have Long Toe vista.

A Drive Up Route 44, Part I

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.

Yes, we are here.
A nice place for a picnic, with a stream beyond.

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.

The swimming area in Kettle Creek. I bet this was cold.
A monument to Ole Bull, provided by the citizens of Norway, in 2002.
A bridge over Kettle Creek to the campground.
Further up Route 44 is Water Tank Vista.

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.

Another “refreshing” dip.
A view of the dam.
Nice bridge to picnic area.

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.

A stargazing dome at the park.
A picnic area.
A sunset view at Cherry Springs State Park.

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.

Cherry Springs Vista – this is one of my favorite types of views, all trees as far as the eye can see.

A Two-fer in South Central Pennsylvania

If you head west on Route 30 past Gettysburg, you will come across two state parks. The larger of the two is Caledonia State Park. The 1,125-acre park is in Adams and Franklin counties, between Chambersburg and Gettysburg along the Lincoln Highway (US 30). It is situated within South Mountain, the northern terminus of the well-known Blue Ridge Mountain of Maryland and Virginia. The soils on either side of South Mountain are ideal for fruit production, proven by the abundance of orchards in the surrounding area.

Some unique features at Caledonia are a golf course and the Totem Pole Playhouse. It also provides hiking, camping, and hunting and hosts the Pennsylvania Forest Heritage and Discovery Center.

Forest Heritage and Discovery Center
A spartan camp setup,
Let’s enjoy some fall color …
… in the nearby Michaux State Forest as well.

Nearby Mont Alto State Park is a quiet, 24-acre park which features a pavilion, picnicking, and trout fishing. Mont Alto is the oldest park still in the Pennsylvania state park system.

Mixing it Up

Here are a few shots from around Lake Nockamixon. I happened to stop there on my way home from Ralph Stover State Park. The 5,286-acre Nockamixon State Park is in Bucks County and is convenient to Philadelphia and its suburbs. Tohickon Creek, Three Mile Run, and Haycock Run feed the 1,450-acre Lake Nockamixon, which is a rest stop for migrating waterfowl and popular with boaters and anglers. There is a marina and 24 hour fishing in designated areas. You can stay the night in a cabin or enjoy the activities of the park for the day. Popular activities include picnicking, swimming in the pool, hiking, biking, disc golfing, hunting, fishing, birdwatching and boating.

The marina is one of my favorite areas of the park.
I think I prefer the sailboat.
An adaptive kayak launch to the right. A rare win for handicapped access in PA.
Water looks a little choppy but still fun.
A interesting barn I found on the way home.

Can’t Get There from Here

Ralph Stover State Park provides access to Tohickon Creek, which flows through the 45-acre park. It contains a scenic picnic area, and the nearby High Rocks section is a lovely overlook of creek. When high water conditions exist, Tohickon Creek offers a challenging course for closed-deck canoes and kayaks, especially during the end of March and the beginning of November, when there are planned whitewater releases from Lake Nockamixon. Fishing is also available in Tohickon Creek.

This is also one of the most popular areas in southeastern Pennsylvania for climbing. The cliffs and trails at High Rocks are a joint ownership by the state and Bucks County. Within Ralph Stover and Tohickon Valley parks, the cliff faces are made of a common Bucks County rock, red Brunswick shale, which formed along an ancient fault line. Ranging from 30 ft to 150 ft high and extending about ¾ mile long, High Rocks offers close to 100 climbing routes consisting mostly of top rope and traditional climbing. Some areas along the trail closer to the creek edge may be conducive to bouldering.

Here comes the rant. While I am not particularly disabled, I do have tremendous difficulty walking on steep, uneven or eroded surfaces, even over short sections. I had hoped to see the view from High Rocks due to its short distance from the parking lot. It was my main objective in visiting here. I was very sad to discover, that due to trail conditions, even this short walk was inaccessible for someone with difficulty walking. This should be an ideal location for providing some type of handicapped access, at least to the first observation point. However, handicapped access seems to be a low priority of DCNR and the county park systems in this state and many types of opportunities are off limits. Whether this due to funding limitations, desire to limit access for environmental reasons, or indifference, enjoying the outdoors is limited to the able bodied or those that can hike on over uneven terrain. While I certainly don’t expect everything to be made accessible, I think there are specific spots where it could be easily done without substantially changing the experience of visiting those places. You can find the view from High Rocks through Google image search. That is what I had to settle for.

There is a road that runs through the park between High Rocks and main part of the park. This road, however, is impassable due to bridge construction. There were two signs directing you to High Rocks from the main picnic area, but they only got you about half way there and there was no signage at some key turns. If you are going to block a bridge, you need to clearly mark alternate routes.

This bridge, at least, was okay.
As close to the view as I was able to get. So close but yet so far.
Don’t even think about travelling through the park.

From Ralph Stover, I headed up River Road (Route 32), along the way I found the lovely Tinicum Park, which is part of the Buck County Parks system. The historic 126-acre Tinicum Park includes playgrounds, picnicking, hiking, ball fields, boating, fishing, ice skating, a disk golf course and group and family camping at eight campsites. You may even run into a polo match here.

The Erwin-Stover House is on the property.
The barn is available as a rental.
The grass must have gotten quite a haircut.
Moving the bales.

River Road also provides access to entry points for Delaware Canal State Park and Delaware River boat access ramps.