The magic in our mountains

PA wilds
Courtesy Dave Coleman


By Dave Bonta

Pennsylvania Wilds: the very name is magic, drawing in outdoor enthusiasts from across the northeast. This, at least, is the hope of the far-sighted new tourism promotional campaign spear-headed by the DCNR (see sidebar).

It's about time. For over a hundred years, wilderness in the northeast has been virtually a monopoly of New York's Adirondack Park, protected in 1894 by a special amendment to the state constitution mandating that it be "forever kept as wild forest lands." Today, tourism provides much of the economic drive for that region. Pennsylvania officials and business people are betting that, if properly promoted, the "big woods" of our northern tier counties can do just as well or even better, given its proximity to major population centers on the east coast.

Most land in the northern tier counties is still recovering from widespread clear-cutting, floods and fires of a hundred years ago. Biodiversity in the humus layer, including such key indicators of environmental health as wildflowers and salamanders, can take well over a century to recovery from clear-cutting. Ongoing impacts from acid rain, air pollution, unsustainable development and over-browsing by deer continue to devastate Penn's Woods. That's one reason DCNR's leadership in promoting Pennsylvania Wilds is so welcome: without aggressive action from state and local officials, our last wild places will die the death of a thousand cuts.

If we want to have any wild attractions for people to visit a hundred years from now, Pennsylvania Wilds must become more than just a slogan. Wildness means goshawks and bobcats; old-growth forests and clean, free-flowing rivers; dark skies at night and thousands of acres of silence. North-Central Pennsylvania's 1.5 million acres of contiguous state forest offer an ideal laboratory to begin implementing widely accepted models for bio-reserve design: large, wild areas surrounded by lightly managed buffer areas that are connected with habitat corridors. Other areas with significant amounts of public lands ownership, such as the Poconos, the Seven Mountains and the Laurel Highlands, should also be included in an expanding network of wild hubs and spokes. To attract eco-tourists on a grand scale, we need a grand vision. Pennsylvania Wilds has great potential to become just that.

Dave Bonta is an writer, artist, and prolific blogger and served as co-chair of the Chapter's public lands committee.

Published August 2005