Where It’s Close to Home

My friend Megs and I made a trip to Wellsboro on Veterans Day in 2010 to take in some holiday shopping.  On the way home we drove up to Hills Creek State Park to have my photo taken.  Seeing the park in the waning light of a cold, bleak November afternoon was far from what I remembered of the park from my first visit.  Hills Creek is the closest PA State Park to my home in the Central Southern Tier of New York State.  I took Corinne there sometime around 2003 on a hot summer day to enjoy the free swimming in fresh water but have not returned other than this day.

Seven parks checked off.

Hills Creek 2010-11-11

Where It Feels Like Home

As in each previous summer, Corinne and I camped a few nights at Worlds End State Park in August 2010.  When I first began tent camping alone with my daughter we tried out another park closer to home but never felt the comfort feeling we both get from WESP.  From 2002 until 2011, the two of us made at least one camping trip to WESP in one tent or another.  We have stayed in a number of sites and have discovered our favorite tent (and now camper) site in the park.  With each visit we make the drive to Canyon Vista and the Rock Gardens then farther out into the Loyalsock State Forest to High Knob Overlook.  With each year I am discovering more of the Loyalsock Forest and will continue to call WESP my “home park.”

Worlds End became my sixth park sign photo and the Loyalsock Forest sign photo was my fist state forest pic.

Worlds End 2010-08-31 Loyalsock State Forest 2010-08-30

Tour #2 – The Journey Begins

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.

Me with Cook Forest State Park Sign Corinne at Cook Forest Cook Forest Fire Tower

Tree roots over solid rock at Seneca Point Overlook, Cook Forest SP.

Tree roots over solid rock at Seneca Point Overlook, Cook Forest SP.

The interesting rocks at Seneca Point Overlook, Cook Forest SP.

The interesting rocks at Seneca Point Overlook, Cook Forest SP.

Coriinne with a HUGE tree root

National Natural Landmark marker in the Forest Cathedral.

National Natural Landmark marker in the Forest Cathedral.

Corinne at Cook Forest State Park

The seed is planted

July the tenth, 2010 I set off in my VW with my husband Matt as my passenger to visit a state park or two south & west of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania and check out the camp grounds.  This trip planted a seed in my mind and became Tour #1.

For the better part of twenty years I have camped at least once each year at World’s End State Park.  World’s End was the park my father took us to on those hot, muggy summer days.  We weren’t a camping family but the picnic and swimming area bring back fond memories of my childhood.  My own family began camping at World’s End when our daughter was a toddler; therefore the park will forever hold fond memories of that (and this) chapter of life as well.  I have come to know the beautiful park, the ever-changing Loyalsock Creek and the surrounding Loyalsock State Forest well and their voices pull at my heart when I am not there.

In June of 2010 I visited Ricketts Glen State Park on a day trip with a group of young women I had advised for eleven years in Girl Scouting.  I had previously visited this park a number of times throughout my childhood and as recently as 1997 while camping at WESP.  Ricketts Glen is all the guide books & DCNR web site say it is.  The falls are a National Natural Landmark and the hike along them is spectacular.  It was a beautiful day filled with hiking, picnicking and the usual laughter and good times with this group.

A week or so later I decided to visit a few new parks within a short drive of my home in Corning NY just a few short miles from the PA border.  The first park on my list was Ole Bull State Park and before we reached there I realized I had left my camera at home.  Luckily, Matt had a camera with him so all was not lost.  We hiked a short trail at the park and saw the remains of the stone foundation of Ole Bull’s home and had a nice view of the small town below.  The campground at Ole Bull was nice but lacked the vegetation between sites that we so like. After leaving OBSP we headed to Kettle Creek, missing a turn and ending up in Renovo before turning around.  Along this route we passed the Sproul State Forest Office, twice!  Our visit to Kettle Creek State Park began at the Alvin R. Bush dam and a spectacular view of Kettle Creek below.  The interpretive signage at the other end of the park near the park office left us in awe as to how high the water raises.   I personally do not prefer flood control dam parks as the landscaping is generally less mature and I am left with a stark feeling.  While my main goal at this point was to look at campgrounds, I did not fall in love with the camp ground at Kettle Creek either.  Both parks I found to be beautifully maintained with great signage and a lot of recreational opportunities.  Definitely parks I would spend time in if I lived close by.

Somewhere along those roads leading back into canyon country from the “black forest” of Pennsylvania, past camps and cabins and through farmland, I had a thought.  The thought began with my birth in Pennsylvania, my upbringing in a small rural Northeastern Pennsylvania town and my decision to attend college in New York State. The thought flowed through to my decision to remain in NYS, to make it my home and how that affected my new found love of Pennsylvania’s public lands.  Jokingly, I said, “I should visit every state park and have my picture taken next to the sign, then send those to the DCNR (Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) with my birth certificate and high school diploma and ask if I may please camp at PA resident prices for the rest of my life.”  And thus the seed was planted.  Due to the idea being planted after leaving the two parks on our tour, I had to leave both parks on my list to re-visit at a later date.

Pennsylvania has one hundred and twenty state parks and 2.2 million acres of) state forest land (20 state forests .)  The state park system won “Best Parks in the Nation” award 2009-2011.  All state parks and forests are public land and are open at no charge for day use (some swimming pools may charge a fee.) In my opinion, the Pennsylvania DCNR does a superior job of ecological conservation and environmental education.  The DCNR web site is, by far, one of the most useful tools I have used online and can tell you more about the parks and forests than I could possibly remember.

View from Ole Bull Bush Dam Signage Alvin Bush Dam Matt at Ole Bull Ole Bull Monument 071010 Ole Bull Signage Ole Bull SP 071010