Editor’s note: This story is part of the Road Trips special section.
Bears and rattlesnakes aren’t enough to stop people from visiting Sproul State Forest, said district forester Doug D’Amore. About 655,000 people stop by annually, according to the latest recreation study conducted by Penn State in 2012.
The forest, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, is the largest in the state forest system.
D’Amore said Sproul encompasses about 370,140 acres in Cameron, Centre, Clearfield, Clinton, Lycoming and Potter counties, including 62,313 acres in Boggs, Burnside, Curtin, Liberty and Snow Shoe townships in Centre County.
The top attractions bringing people out to Sproul State Forest in Centre County, according to D’Amore, are hiking trails; ATV and snowmobile paths; and fishing on Beech Creek and in tributaries like Burns, Field and Smith runs that flow into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River.
The forest is divided into north and south regions intersected by the river, D’Amore said.
On the south side through Centre County is the Chuck Keiper Trail, a 52-mile hiking trail shaped similarly to a figure eight with an east loop and a west loop dissected by state Route 144.
“A lot of people hike it,” D’Amore said. “It has scenic overlooks and (water) falls and an old splash dam.”
What he called “pretty rugged topography” would take a backpacker five to eight days to complete, he estimated.
The trail is primarily used from the time snow melts from February or March to about Christmastime or the New Year, when the snow begins to fall again, D’Amore said.
Named for a former district wildlife consecration officer, the trail is maintained by volunteers from the Keystone Trails Association, in cooperation with the DCNR.
And once a year, a guided trail tour is conducted by the KTA called “Prowl the Sproul.” This year, the event will be held July 28-30.
The forest is also home to Bloody Skillet ATV Trail in Curtin Township, just north of Orviston. It also includes a 6-mile connector trail that accesses the Snow Shoe Rails to Trails at the Clarence side of the trail area.
D’Amore said the trail is open from the Friday before Memorial Day though the last weekend of September. It then reopens after muzzleloader hunting season ends, about Jan. 15, and stays open through April 1.
In addition to being a venue for recreation, D’Amore said Sproul State Forest also helps drive the local economy.
“We have a significant amount of lumber sale and gas development that we oversee on the land,” D’Amore said.
Timber sales attribute to about 1,500 acres of trees that are cut down annually.
“We do have a regeneration fund, but we rely heavily on natural regeneration,” D’Armore said. “Our biggest battle is with deer that eat the young seedlings, but we monitor the area frequently.”
But the industry use on the land doesn’t take too much space from keeping people from enjoying forest activities, he said.
“Hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, canoeing — it’s got it all.”