On the Trail: Old Loggers Path a crown jewel at risk

May 4, 2013 

Three days backpacking the Old Loggers Path in Lycoming County covers a lot more than 27 miles of trail.

It is an immersion into the past, present and future of Penn’s Woods.

Masten, a sawmill town from 1905-1930, a Civilian Conservation Corps Camp from 1933-1941, and now a ghost town, is the trailhead for the Old Loggers Path. Stone foundations and fireplaces, and plantation conifers towering in a row is all that’s left of the town.

The trail begins in the past and follows ghosts of the past, at times on logging railroad grades, haul roads and skid trails.

The trail also follows the ridges, the hollows and the streams that define the enduring landscape of Penn’s Woods. There are numerous stream crossings. Two fords are necessary. The terrain drops steeply down slope from the trail as you make your way up and down hollows. Along the

ridge, the trail moves to the edge of rocks with a vertical drop just past your elbow.

Yellow violets dot the path throughout the twenty-seven miles. Red trillium were here and there, as was an occasional hepatica. We walked through patches of spring beauty. And whole hillsides were blanketed with dutchman’s breeches. The trail cuts through patches of mottled trout lily leaves, dark burgundy on green. Ramp leaves spread thickly over low lying areas. We were early for many of the flowers, but the foliage was the promise of what would come.

We camped early on our first day so we could enjoy the splendor of Rock Run, and the water fall at the mouth of Hawk Run. The more visited section of Rock Run is much further downstream, and accessible by road. We were enjoying the upper reaches. Still plenty of rock chutes, small falls, and eight-foot-high rock walls undercut by the stream. At the top of the wall bulbous bases of hemlocks flowed over the edge — this is a wonderland.

Rock Run and Pleasant Stream, along with their tributaries, carve up the terrain. Even on the ridge tops there are springs, and wetlands. The trails are regularly crossed by running water. On many of the steeper old logging road grades there are erosional gashes several feet deep. This is a very wet area, lots of clean, clear, cool, flowing water.

A hint at the future of this area was in the multi-colored flagging we encountered again and again throughout our three day trek. Orange flagging from CGG Veritas, a seismic testing company.

Red flags, blue flags, and white flags - gas lines, water lines, clear cut right of ways? Red tags hung from trees. Surveyor stakes with coordinates. This was a glimpse of one possible future.

At Sharp Top Vista — a well known spectacular view nineteen miles into the hike — the view is over private, State Game, and State Forest lands, with tributaries flowing into Loyalsock and Lycoming creeks. The view also includes two Marcellus drilling rigs, one towering over farmland, the other above the trees, and a huge white gash in the forest, an impoundment meant the Marcellus region. Seven percent of the well cement casings fail in the first year, 60 percent within thirty years, and all of them at some point in future. The aquifer will look like swiss cheese. Water will work its way through the entire area, as it does today and always has. Water carrying whatever drilling exposes it to.

Before Sharp Top, there was another look into the future: Duke Energy’s Laurel Hill wind turbines. We could see eighteen of the thirty, four hundred thirty-five foot high, structures lining the ridge across from us.

This forest was clearcut in Pennsylvania’s timbering heyday. Topsoil was lost from the mountainsides. Stream channels were altered. While the forest has come back, and we find it beautiful, the current forest is a ghost of what it formerly was. The current rush to industrialize our forests will once again transform the character of these forests. We contemplated this as we stared out at wind turbines, drilling rigs, and the water impoundment.

The trail continued along the edge of huge rock outcroppings, and then followed a steep switchbacked ascent to Sprout Point Vista, a vista that again included the mix of public and private lands. After this view we encountered an area that had been recently logged. More beautiful wetlands, some thick mountain laurel, and then a long descent following a tributary of Pleasant Stream.

As we came closer to Masten we realized we would not be camping for a third night. Campsites are widely scattered and are spaced for two nights of backpacking. Sites are usually by streams.

Our camps were near Rock Run and Pleasant Stream.

Now is a good time to enjoy the Old Loggers Path, to explore it and then to consider helping to protect it. The Old Loggers Path remains the crown jewel of water, rocks, and places of solitude, that so many appreciate it as, but all this is at risk.

Gary Thornbloom is the Chair of Sierra Club Moshannon Group, and can be reached at bearknob@verizon.net.

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