Leonard Harrison State Park, PA

On Monday, July 13, we arrived at Leonard Harrison State Park in Pennsylvania. Jack has some family near here and on previous visits, we’ve ridden the section of the Pine Creek Rail Trail from its southern terminus in Jersey Shore to the parking area near Waterville, about14 miles one-way. Our goal for this visit was to cover the remainder of the total 64 miles of the Pine Creek Trail.

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Our site, #24 was electric only, and the loop had a beautiful bathhouse serving a total of about 28 sites. The camp was quiet and tidy but we never saw a host, no office personnel, no on-site sales of ice or firewood, and it was a self-check-in arrangement. Once or twice, we saw a ranger matching license plates with registration info.

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En route, we’d shopped at a very clean and tidy Weis grocery store in Wellsboro, the town nearest the park, and recommend it if you ever stay here. Another feature near the park is what they call Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon—part of the gorge through which Pine Creek (more like a river) threads its way south.

Once we set up, and not knowing exactly how far a jaunt the actual overlook of the Gorge was (it is, in fact, well within hiking distance up the road) we drove to the parking area and wandered around the overlook area (most conveniences closed, but the trails were still open and rather busy).

It is/was quite stunning. The trails and structures were all made during the 1930s as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps work, including this “incinerator” which we guessed might have been used back in the 30s for waste management during construction and while the CCC personnel were living and working in the area.

 

While it’s nice to discover that the businessman named Leonard Harrison donated this land to the state in 1922, it is difficult to learn that he only did that after years and years of exploiting the harvestable resources of the area (in his case, timber) and then leaving the land naked and eroded, the Pine Creek silted up, and the business “value” of the property near nil.

In fact, the entire history of Pine Creek is one of exploitation, greed, and recovery after abuse. It is a sad history, but one we must face, because much of the “new world” was settled specifically for businesses and business families to reap its exportable resources—exploitation is the watchword for America’s (and Canada’s) 19th and early 20th centuries.

Here’s a quick bit of history about Pennsylvania’s “Grand Canyon” and other natural treasures of the Americas:

The region’s massive old-growth pines, hemlocks, and hardwoods were harvested and floated or railroaded to distant shipbuilders and other construction companies to keep up with the demands of the growing nation. Natural resources were mined, sawn, hunted, fished, quarried, and otherwise extracted to fuel the country’s new growth, without any thought to future generations—most believed the resources could always easily replenish themselves.

Land purchases by state and federal government agencies and laws passed locally and federally sought to heal and protect the ecosystems nearly destroyed by prior abuses.

    • Pre-1650: Before European settlement of the Americas, the forests grew and changed with the natural rhythms of the earth. The first Americans arrived in eastern North America about 12,000 years ago and lived in relative harmony with nature.
    • 1750: Attracted by the prospect of a better life in the “new world,” European settlers arrived in increasing numbers and began to exploit the continent’s vast resources.
    • 1880: The Industrial Revolution hit full stride. The US expansion reached all the way to the Pacific. The wood, coal, and other natural (extractive) resources found in the wilds of Pennsylvania helped build a new nation.
    • 1910: Except for a few respite acres, the forests of Pennsylvania were completely stripped of trees. The streams were [polluted with mine acid and silt, and the wildlife had been market hunted to near extinction. It was the worst of times for our natural resources.
    • 1920s-1930s: The Chestnut Blight felled the mightiest of the eastern forest members.
    • 1930: Visionary Pennsylvanians led the way to begin to repair the damage to the ecosystems. Conservation organizations had been established, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) replanted millions of trees to regrow the forests.
    • 1950: The abundant habitat, created as our new forests began to grow, caused deer numbers to reach an all-time high. In the prosperous post-war era, PA’s state park system grew to over 100 parks, and citizens had more free time, many of whom spent that time in the outdoors.
    • 2008 (when this readerboard was created): PA’s state forests and parks today number 2.1+ million acres. These systems remain as a gift from our predecessors, who entrusted this legacy to us to conserve and protect for future generations.

But back to the Grand Canyon. We took a lovely hike along Overlook Trail to Otter View (where no otters were viewed) and took many photos from the various heights, knowing that in the next days, we’d be down in that gorge, following the course of the waterway that carved it over many millennia.

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Jack had read (and we had hoped) that the trail from the park down into the gorge might be navigable by bikes. It was called Turkey Path, and an update Jack had noted before we’d arrived reported that there had been some erosion and that parts of the trail were closed. But we found the trailhead blocked, and having walked the Overlook trail, there would have been no possible way for us to cycle down any of the hiking trails along the steep gorge “rims.”

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Additional notable aspects of this camping stop were the cool daytime temperatures and the downright chilly nighttime temps—we awoke to several mornings in the mid-50s. Excellent for campfires and wee drams by the fire.

On Tues., July 14, we rode Pine Creek Trail from its northern terminus (near Stokesdale, from the Butler Road access parking area) to the historic area still known as Tiadaghton Village, which was about 16.5 miles one-way, for a tad more than a 32-mile round trip. 

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When we finished our ride, we stopped to get sandwiches at a trailside farmer’s market and deli, and ate in the car. They served enormous 6-inch subs (excellent bread) piled high with whatever deli meat you asked for. Jack got an “Italian” and I was excited to see they offered one of my favorite sandwich meats: Lebanon bologna. I think that sandwich gave me my year’s allotment of Lebanon bologna.

After our ride, we drove into Mansfield to find propane for the grill, a beer store, and a library so I could upload the Waterhouse CG blog post. It was a small, quiet library with robust wifi, and I sat in the downstairs “children’s section” all alone and did my thing pretty easily.

Because of that lunch, we decided to postpone our intended pork loin dinner in favor of something lighter, finishing off the day with a wee dram beside the Solo stove fire—in fact, we stayed up unusually late for us—and as we walked back from the bathhouse, I randomly looked up at the beautiful night sky and saw the ISS passing high and fast, and for a very long time, through the darkness. Even though Jack has an ISS spotter app, there is zero cell service and we didn’t know it was heading by that night. It’s almost better to see it by chance than to know it’s coming (although we regularly watch for it if the app tells us it will be coming past before our bedtime).

Bike stats: 32.87 miles; 2:30 ride time;32 minutes stopped time;13.22 average speed.

Wed., July 15 we rode the trail from Slate Run Access (about MP35) back to Tiadaghton Village, stopped for a Kind bar in the picnic area, and used the comfort station. We didn’t see many decent roads to get us to access/parking areas to start near Tiadaghton, so we decided the easiest way to get the trail covered was to go from our Day 2 endpoint to Tiadaghton and back. This time, the home (return) run was downhill, but we still did not manage to match our average speed from the day before (see stats above and below).

As we rode along, crossing an old rail trestle near the village of Blackwell, we saw a large dark bird sitting in a snag near the bridge, assuming it was a vulture. When it took off, however, the yellow of its cere and some of its beak, and yellow legs, not to mention the feathers all over its head (thus not a vulture) and its motley brown/white wing feathers, indicated that it was an immature or sub-adult golden eagle.

Since that sighting, we’ve discovered there are tons and tons of golden eagle sightings in that area, and Little Pine State Park has at least one nesting pair of goldens. On the web, the PA game commission has noted many golden sightings along Pine Creek’s gorge.

So that was cool. I never saw it again, once it took off, and (of course) didn’t get a photo because the trestle sides were too high for me to see over.  **sigh**

At the end of the ride, and across the bridge from our Slate Run parking area was the Mason Hotel and Restaurant. We saw umbrellas on their deck off the creek and went over for a sandwich. Although it was a very pricey meal, we had excellent fish sandwiches on very good kaiser rolls and beautiful French fries. Again, it was so much that I had to take part of my sandwich home and ended up reheating the fish and replacing the bread to enjoy quite a good fish sandwich again, a few days later.

It was a long drive over narrow backroads to get back to camp, and after showers (and I lubed my chain covered in dust) we put together the intended dinner from the day before: pork loin, grilled fresh sweet corn, and boiled baby potatoes. Yum.

Bike stats: 38 miles; 3 hours ride time; 40 minutes stopped time; 12.77 average speed.

Day three of our Pine Creek Rail Trail effort was Thursday, July 16. Notable on this day was seeing a Cooper’s hawk calmly sitting atop a pine snag watching traffic, and several hairy woodpeckers pounding on pine trees along the way.

We also saw 6-7 deer on or beside the trail, and one crossing the creek.

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For this segment, we started near Waterville and rode to our prior day’s endpoint (Slate Run) and returned downhill to finish. One strange place we passed through was a village named “Cammal.” When we went by the readerboard about the place, a picture of a camel caught my eye.

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The highlight of the day happened on the return—actually, it was more a severe fright at the time, although definitely a rare sighting. Backstory: all along the entirety of the Pine Creek Trail are reader boards about timber rattlesnakes, and how they deserve to live in their native habitat, etc. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Jack passed the multiple boards with the same info and pix off to letting hikers know about the possibility of encountering a rattler along the hiking trails. We honestly didn’t think a timber rattler might be found on the busy, wide-open Pine Creek Rail Trail.

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Well, I was ahead of Jack on the return to the car (we hoped to match our first-day 13 average MPH speed and were cranking it on the downhill return) and saw what I thought was a large branch across 2/3rds of the (very wide) trail. It even had yellow and what I thought might be green on it, so I was pretty sure it was just a long branch. 

When I got closer, however, I saw the rattles on one end, large yellow diamonds in the middle, and the tiny, pinhead (in comparison with its middle) on the other end. I quickly noted that the widest part of the trail through which to steer my bike without hitting it was at the head end. Uh-oh.

I shouted to Jack that it was a snake and that it was a rattler, after I swiftly passed the head end without incident, and yelled at him to watch his ankles. This thing was huge—probably 4 feet stretched out, and about 2-3 inches in diameter at its thickest part. Evidently, after I passed, it had drawn up some, because Jack didn’t guesstimate it was as long as I’d estimated. And of course, I was so “rattled” and also did NOT want to disturb a venomous predator that huge, I did not go back and get a photo. **sigh again**

But it was scary and beautiful, with its bright yellow diamonds and impressive girth. It must have eaten something rather large recently. Or—I don’t know anything about rattlers—maybe they’re all that thick in the middle.

ANYWAY, those are the highlights of our stay at Leonard Harrison State Park in PA. Very nice camping, excellent cycling, and great for seeing beautiful sights and critters. We are so glad the state of PA has reclaimed, healed, and preserved this treasure for enthusiasts like me. Although, it is good to take note that it’s not easy to get from any “Point A” to any “Point B” along the length of the Pine Creek Rail Trail, as the roads are tiny and confusing and there’s this enormous deep gorge in the middle of everything.

Bike stats: 30 miles; 2:25 ride time; 35 minutes stopped time; 12.45 average speed.

Next up: Lake Erie State Park, New York

4 thoughts on “Leonard Harrison State Park, PA”

  1. Thank you for sharing this great adventure Lee. Pine Creek Trail, Wellsboro/PA Grand Canyon, golden eagles, rattlesnakes, and Lebanon bologna – all in the most beautiful area of Pennsylvania!

  2. Lee The only time we get goldens in Pa is in the winter and then few. Bald eagles nest in the gorge so you probably saw a young one

  3. I’m really enjoying your travel narratives Lee, as well as photos. It’s awesome to hear that PA’s forests are regenerating and reclaiming themselves after such exploitation. The world needs less humans and more trees and animals (IMHO). 😉

    P.S. I had to look up what “a wee dram” is, and gasped at my own interpretation of camaraderie (comraderie in my Hawk Talk submission, egad).

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