Bald Eagle State Park, PA

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.

Too bad about the power line, but in the distance, one can see the boats of the Marina.

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.

To the middle/right of the pic is the bridge where I stood to take the previous pic.

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. 

Hungry as I was, who could eat all that? It’s Haywood’s meatloaf special: a buttered piece of toast in rich brown gravy, topped with 2 2-inch slabs of delicious meatloaf, topped with a generous scoop of mashed potatoes topped with more gravy; corn, and a side of grilled mushrooms and onions. No wonder there were significant leftovers, right?

Little Pine SP, mini-Russell Reunion & Ohiopyle SP

October 9 – 12
We arrived at Little Pine State Park (PA) on Oct. 9, making our way back southward toward VA. This is a nice campground, although it is cheek-by-jowl already on a Friday. Many families with children young and old, and Hallowe’en is in full bloom. Our across-the-street neighbors have rigged up 5 or more of these inflatable, lighted characters (Frankenstein, a haunted house, Smaug or some other dragon with wings, a ghost, spiders, etc.).

Trick is that these gangly, moving objects sit right in front of a pathway/steep stairway up to the closest bathhouse to our site, right next to the camp host’s site (#82). On top of which, there are acorns all over the steps up, and two bathhouses are simply too few for a place with this many folks. They were always crowded with kids and parents, etc.

The host came by and handed me a flier of all the stuff that would be going on for the local Fall Festival, beginning Sunday at noon. That explained all the families, because they had all sorts of pretty neat activities, including a falconer who would be doing a hawk talk during the fest.

Our schedule would not allow us to take part, however. But during the rest of the day and the next, the campground became packed to bursting with campers of all types — including the hammock-camping flint-knapping presenter/teachers (who came to see Roomba as we were breaking camp on Sunday AM). Interesting pair, which seemed to be a father and son team.

Anyway, we had some delicious chicken stew/soup that Gloria had brought for dinner, and her cold was getting worse, so we called it an early night.

Saturday we were up and into the car to go see Jack’s Russell Family regional home. We had arranged already to meet up with his cousin Russ’s wife, Tracy (Russ was traveling in Mississippi visiting friends and fellow car enthusiasts) for Saturday dinner, and Jack has two additional cousins living in the area with whom we wanted to touch base — but we were out of cell service at Little Pine.

We showed the K & G the Russell homeplace, and various haunts and distressed towns he remembers as — if not thriving, at least getting by — from his childhood. The more recent loss of jobs and economic stressors is quite evident in the area, but there are still some lovely neighborhoods with beautifully-kept gardens and lawns, and the leaves are changing colors, so it was a lovely drive.

We saw a little pizza place and Glo had mentioned that she’d love to get a NY-style pie, so we stopped in and had what the cook called a “Garbage Pizza” meaning it had a bit of everything thrown on. It was yummy and we made all of it disappear.

Back into the car, we frequently intersected with the Pine Creek Trail, a Rails to Trails conversion that Jack has actually ridden in the past. Glo and I were itching to get out and walk on the trail, but we were overruled by the pilot of the vehicle, so we headed to a cemetery instead. Glo and Jack do the genealogy thing, and that stop also gave some opportunity for cell phone calls. I called my mom back in Roanoke to check in, and Jack was able to get into touch with the additional two cousins (and their husbands), and with Tracy to set up a dinner spot and time. Then we drove by and made the reservations for an early dinner at a great spot called the Venture Inn, right on the Pine Creek Trail.

Rumor has it (from the cousins) that the place used to be a rather scary dive/tavern, but was taken over fairly recently and really improved in atmosphere and food (and beverages). We had a really fun evening with Barb & Tony, Ginny & Bill, Tracy, and Glo and Kerry. Somehow, I managed to cut Barb (camera right) and Bill (camera left) out of the photo of us all at the table.

image

Anyway, the food was great, from everyone’s reports. I had a 12 oz. slice of prime rib and it was really delicious.

Even though we began early, we stayed late, and the conversation was lively, catching up on all the family news and doings. We drove back to Little Pine and headed to bed in the 9:30 range.

We didn’t have to race to our next reservation as it was only about 3-4 hours drive away (Ohiopyle State Park, PA). But we didn’t need to dump any gray water, but talking to the flint-knappers set us back a bit.

There wasn’t much to see en route, although it was a very pretty drive, up into and through and down from the mountains. Unfortunately, the photo ops from the car were very slim.

image

image

After a lunch and break at Applebees near Johnstown, PA (the site of the great flood of that name that happened in the 1930s) we carried on and there were moments along the very narrow route when we were afraid we might hit a low-overhang bridge that Kerry could not traverse in his RV (that happened to us en route to Little Pine, and K&G had to stop and go “the front way” into Little Pine SP).

When we arrived in Ohiopyle, the town was thronged with visitors — walkers, hikers, shoppers, bicyclists, looky-lous, and leaf peepers. We were afraid that the campground would be similarly packed, but it’s far enough from the town that it was relatively quiet.

But unfortunately, when Gloria helped cancel our friends’ reservation, the service also cancelled HER reservation. So we had to choose whether to keep our reserved space and be miles away from Kerry & Glo, or switch to a pair of campsites near one another. Since our plan was to continue to alternate the provision of dinner, we felt we would have to be near each other, so we picked a pair of sites at the end of a cul-de-sac, and pulled in.

Leveling at all these sites is quite the challenge. The sites are all nicely separated from each other, and there are lots of drives and ways and “streets” down which the sites are aligned. But all among those from which we were able to choose were badly out of level. Kerry & Glo just couldn’t fully level their RV in the site near us; and we had to use additional 2 x 4 boards under the levelers for Roomba. Our site is #137, and K&G are in #135, off the road called Ginko.

The little chipmunks are constantly yelling at us as we’re in “their” territory. But the sunshine through the golden and red leaves is simply lovely.

I cooked a shepherd’s pie for us on the stovetop oven, but we were unable to find firewood for a blaze until Jack returned from a trip beyond Ohiopyle to find a seller. So we decided to postpone the fire circle until tomorrow night.

image

Today is a holiday for most, so we’re going to take a drive in a little while, and Glo and I are definitely going to hike along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), which Jack and I have ridden our bicycles on in the past. I hope there will be some good photo ops as we tour the neighborhood.