For a few days in mid-August 2010 we were fortunate to be able to use a Keuka Lake cottage owned by some friends. We live very close to New York’s Finger Lakes region and have spent a number of summer vacations “at the lake.” Prior to leaving day, my daughter Corinne and I planned a tent camping trip to Cook Forest State Park in western Pennsylvania. She & I had driven through the park in 1999 during a camping trip in the Allegheny National Forest and the park was high on my list to visit.
Tour #2: We left home and traveled west on Route 17 to Route 219 where we headed south to Bradford PA then wound our way down to the park. When we reached Cook Forest we had no problem finding an open camp site, which in hindsight taught me a lot about taking the time to properly scope out a “good” tent site. We spent a lot of time in the park hiking the trails, wading in the Clarion River and visiting the fire tower. Corinne readily climbed the tower twice to soak in the awesome view while I gladly waited below. The highlight of Cook Forest is the Forest Cathedral, some of the oldest growth forest east of the Mississippi River and a National Natural Landmark. The park is beautiful as is the surrounding countryside.
On the third evening we had severe storm warnings and all the tent campers were on high alert. During the night we had torrential rain and in the morning there was a veritable lake between the bottom of my tent and my ground cloth as I had selected a site on a downside slope. If you’ve ever camped in a tent and awoken the next morning to everything being damp or worse yet, wet; your shoes get wet just walking around and starting a fire seems almost impossible… it was one of those mornings. I woke Corinne; we climbed in the car and headed out for breakfast at Farmers Inn. This place seems to be out in the middle of nowhere but having eaten dinner there our first evening in the park, we knew it was worth the trip.
After our breakfast meal the weather was still damp, foggy and overcast so we visited nearby Clear Creek State Park. The park’s camp ground is small but was close to, if not full of campers. I was fascinated with the disc golf course and the soft green lawns along the calm rolling creek were idyllic on the misty day. For some reason I neglected to have my photo taken next to a Clear Creek State Forest sign so a return trip to the area is in my future.
On the way home from Cook Forest, we traveled a lot of back roads and along the way visited Bendigo State Park which was empty except for the folks working in the park office. From there we traveled even more back roads to find Elk State Park which surrounds East Branch Lake. The Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) operate a camp ground near the dam. The Elk State Park I discovered consisted of a large boat launch area that was extraordinarily eerie due to fact that the lake level was down and the launches were not usable. Again the park was empty of people. To get to the park we passed through Johnsonburg, PA which is home to a large paper mill and thus can be a very stinky place. That day it was awful and Corinne named the town “Godfart.” From Elk we drive north to visit Kinzua Bridge State Park.
Matt and I had visited Kinzua Bridge State Park rather by accident in 1999. On our return trip from the Allegheny National Forest camping trip we got a flat tire on our trailer which was being used to haul 2 ATV’s. It was a holiday Monday and we could not find an open store to get a new tire or have ours repaired so we resorted to calling AAA and the trailer (and 1 ATV) were taken to Mt Jewitt, PA while we returned home. The following day Matt and I drove back to Mt Jewitt and discovered Kinzua Bridge State Park. In 1999 the bridge was still standing and trains were still using it, if not just for tourists. Matt walked out onto the bridge that day while I stayed safely on the soil at one end. In 200? While a work crew was working on the bridge, a tornado tore through the valley and left only a portion standing. When we visited in 2010 there were again crews working on the remaining structure building today’s skywalk. To see the twisted piers tossed upon the valley floor below was an awesome sight. The state has done a wonderful job building observation decks and providing interpretive displays about the bridge’s history and tornado.
We came home with five state parks crossed off my list and more than one hundred to go.