Bald Eagle State Park is an enormous area, with plenty to do and plenty to see.
We debated whether to take our bikes up to the Pine Creek Trail on this gorgeous day (Monday, October 3). In the end, we elected to do our Bike/Site Tour Boogie, riding the Park, while Ken and Diane headed to the Pine Creek Trail.
Armed with a pretty good map and a desire to eventually end up across the lake, where the primitive camping area was, in addition to a little town called Howard and a lakeside hiking trail (that we hoped might accommodate cycles) we set off using the “every right turn” directional program.
There are at least 10 miles of hiking trails in the immediate area, and several marks on the map for cross-country skiing trails, and hunter’s trails outside of the campground (but still in the Park).
Our first right was a “connector” trail called the Shrike Tr., that was just grassy and obviously not for bikes, but we rode through (it was only about 25 yards). The next right turn carried us to a boat launch area where we got right up to, not the lake proper, but Hunter Run Cove.
On the map it looks more shallow than the main lake, which is called Foster Joseph Sayers Lake, or Sayers Lake for short, which is actually a reservoir. Here’s a bit of the history:
Leased from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the 5900 acre state park was opened to the public July 4, 1971. Completed by the Corps in 1969, the 100 ft high and 1.3 mile long dam forms the Foster Joseph Sayers Reservoir. Created to reduce flood damage and provide water-based recreation, the reservoir/lake is1,730 acres where visitors can recreate year-round. The reservoir honors Foster Joseph Sayers, Private 1st Class. A native of Center County, 19-year-old Sayers was killed during a valiant assault on enemy forces during WWII. For his heroism, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
At Bald Eagle State Park the Allegheny Plateau’s rolling highlands meet the steep slopes of Bald Eagle Ridge, creating not only spectacular scenery, but also prime wildlife habitat. Migrating hawks ride ridgeline thermals, black bear, bobcat, porcupine, and turkey inhabit mature forests of oak and hickory. Great blue herons wade in Bald Eagle Creek while osprey pluck yellow perch from Sayers Lake.
The park is the site of one of the most intensive woodcock, songbird, and native habitat restoration projects in Pennsylvania. In addition to the American woodcock, many rare and declining songbirds, like the golden-winged warbler, nest at the park. Partners across the state have been working together to improve and maintain the shrubland habitat for woodcock and other declining scrubland-loving species.
Our next stop along the Site Tour Boogie (the next right would have taken us to the Office and Rt. 150, so we saved that until we had to get onto the highway to get to the other side of the lake, and we went straight through a 4-way intersection instead of turning right) was the Marina. We thought to go up to the Ecological Learning Center, but workers were re-roofing it, so we skipped it. Next time.
The Marina offers summer and winter dry storage for boats, and a variety of boats that are for rent during the high season (closed at this time, however). I heard through the grapevine that there are 200 slips for private use here, and across from the inlet defining the Marina was a lovely picnic and fishing area (there were tons and tons of walk-in fishing sites/trails designated all around the shoreline we visited).
To get over the water to that picnic ground (and more) we rode back up to the four-way intersection and took the next right, which carried more deeply into the park. We crossed a small dam/bridge dividing the “entry area” from the larger park area, and visited an enormous day-use area that includes the picnic site we could see from the Marina. At this point, we got to the northwest shore of the Lake proper.
After biking all those loops (there was a beach area, several pavilions, fishing areas, public rest rooms, etc.) we took our next right and headed toward the Nature Inn, a significant lodge, where we were told many, many Penn State fans come to stay for home games – last weekend, we heard, the entire camping and lodge areas were packed due to a Penn State football game.
We tootled along two more right turns to boat launch places, at one of which we saw a blue heron and a praying mantis.
Then, instead of heading more-or-less straight up the hill to the Lodge, we took an apparently little-used road down to the inlet between Hunter Run Cove and Sayers Lake. There we saw what was once old Rt. 220(?) disappearing below the water and re-appearing on the other side of the narrow throat connecting Cove with Lake.
We also were accosted by Sadie, an Alsatian mix on a lead with her humans (whose names I forget) who engaged us in a monologue for quite a bit longer than we’d expected to be viewing the watery end of this road.
We at last extricated ourselves and headed back uphill, and the next right turn was uphill some more, all the way to the top of the ridge we can see from our campsite, where the Nature Inn stands. A lovely place inside and out and the views for the guests are truly lovely.
Upon passing several of what looked like interesting trail heads, we briefly contemplated doing some “cross training” (walking as well as riding our bikes) to see where the trails went, especially one marked Skyline Trail with another sign that pointed us to our camping spot (which, incidentally, is called “Modern Campground,” I suppose as opposed to the “Primitive Campground” on the opposite side of the lake).
But we refrained and took another paved road (which was a left hand turn, by the way) that took us off the ridge and down to another boat launch area from which we were unable to escape, except by reversing our path back up toward the Inn, skipping that right-hand turn back up the Inn’s driveway, and again retracing our earlier steps back to the picnic and day-use area opposite the Marina.
Before we headed out of this part of the park, we took one more uphill, due to the fact that a sign labeled “Overlook Sledding Area” piqued our interest. There we found a FedEx guy parked for his lunch in a shady area next to one of the public restrooms, and through the weeds and along a “no vehicles allowed” walking path, saw the Inn from the opposite direction, straight along the top of the ridge. The views were nice from this high spot as well.
Taking a rest stop ourselves, we left the sledding area (might look more promising covered in snow, but who can say?) carried on to Rt. 150, and the narrow road blessedly had a decent shoulder relatively clean of debris, keeping us away from the traffic (a little bit, anyway). We turned left again onto Rt. 26 headed toward another bridge with a view back to the Marina (pic below) and rode on toward the teensy burgh of Howard.
Had to endure no shoulder along some of 26 to get to the road to the primitive campground, and found an unkempt road full of patches and pots and gravel and humps; and found the majority of the primitive sites to be totally unsuitable for anything except tents (although the walk-in tent sites were quite lovely), despite the area being billed for both tents and RVs. There was, in fact, one RV there, but it looked quite lop-sided and uneven in its site.
The best primitive sites were along the rail road; while we were there, no trains passed, but it was obviously a working RR, and I’d hate to camp there and be awakened in the small hours by a huffing train passing by.
Back along Rt. 150 was a scenic pull-out, which we took and caught a decent photo.
And we saw an osprey perched in a snag near the road over a swampy/shallow water area. It didn’t like our presence so near, and flew away before I could get a photo. Other wildlife and critters we saw (in addition to the bald eagle we saw on the first day) were many, many Monarch butterflies, two red-tailed hawks, woodpeckers, several great blue herons besides the one I was (marginally) able to photograph, and many songbirds. Not any pesky insects, however, another plus for “shoulder season” camping.
By the time we made it back, it was 3:00 and our cyclometers indicated we had 28 miles under our belts. We had not taken anything along except water, and we had a date with the extended Russell family to meet up in Mill Branch, PA, at the Clinton Country Club, to have dinner together at Haywood’s On the Green bar and grill. I gotta say, I was quite ready for a meal, since we skipped lunch in favor of our long ride.
Along with walking the lakeside trail on the southeast side of the Lake on the list for Next Time we visit, is to go farther along Rt. 150, either by car or bike, and visit the Schenck and Sandhill cemeteries, farther to the east of the Rt. 26 bridge. Also, to see if it’s possible to bicycle along the dam road; and to hike just a few of the miles of trails within the park.
We made it back before the rain (which came down for a while as we were trying to do a little pack-and-stow, and also to shower) and well before our collective departure for dinner at about 5P. Through texts, we discovered that the fix of JB & Martha’s RV took longer than expected, and they would miss the dinner. But all of the remaining group of us, plus three of Jack’s cousins and their spouses gathered to enjoy some beverages and a meal together. It was quite a fun evening. One or two stories of the young cousins misbehaving at the homes of the generation now gone were told with laughs and fondness.
The following day was our departure to Douthat State Park in VA, and so we hit the hay and arose early to get a jump on a very long day’s drive. Happily, the drive was uneventful, except for several stops for construction projects throughout MD, WV, and VA – at one of which, Jack saw a bear cross the road in his rearview, but I missed it, it went by so fast. The only items of note from the windshield viewfinder were the Seneca Cliffs in West Virginia.
Had a late set-up in site #14 in the Whispering Pines section of the Douthat State Park, and enjoyed a short confab with Kerry, Gloria, Diane, Ken and Barley Boy (JB and Martha finally finished up the RV repairs and were spending the night in Winchester, VA, having another sublime experience camping in a second WalMart parking lot as they sorted the dashboard warning light issue – we discovered marginal cell service at Douthat, allowing texts about RV repair updates, and [obviously] an upload of this post, albeit a very slow upload, indeed). Our “quick” dinner was mostly leftovers, but included fresh-baked rolls (risen during the drive) with our pasta and dinner remains from Haywood’s On the Green.