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Moshannon Group News
Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Clubserving Bedford, Blair, Cameron, Centre, Clearfield, Elk, Huntingdon, Jefferson, Juniata, McKean, and Mifflin counties
|Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet|
by Dave Coleman
I enjoy taking the family out at least once an autumn to absorb the fall foliage. A Sunday drive is nice; a Sunday hike is nicer. One afternoon in October, after taking care of some yard-work chores, we decided that it was too nice a day not to take a hike. We packed a day-pack, a little water, a camera, and the dog into the car. It wasn’t until we were under way that I decided where we were going. I wanted someplace that would be a relatively remote hike, but we didn’t want to drive too far to get there.
From the State College area, Rothrock State Forest is just minutes away. I had learned earlier that summer that there were some recent state forest road closures in the forest district. Thinking that this would allow a short loop utilizing the closed road with other intersecting trails, we headed there. Entering via Bear Meadows Road, we drove into the state forest looking for a closed gate to begin our hike. I was surprised to find many folks who apparently had the same idea as us — to spend the afternoon in the forest.
Despite the chill, I observed more people in this area than I had on some days in the summer when I had last visited. We passed several bikers, hikers, and parked cars. The first closed road — North Bear Meadows Road — had half a dozen cars parked near the gate. Too many, I felt. Certainly, there would be a vacated trailhead further on. We passed the entrance to the Bear Meadows Natural Area. The parking lot was near full. We continued down Bear Meadows Road another couple of miles — going down the mountain to the first of several switchbacks. At that switchback, at the intersection of Wampler Road, we found what I had set out to find — a closed gate — with no cars.
After taking a quick look at the Rothrock state forest public use map, I identified a loop of a few miles we could accomplish if we so desired. It was nice having the option of turning around at any time — if one of us got tired or if we were not sure of our position. We parked the car as to not block the gate and proceeded on foot west on Wampler Road. I had driven Wampler Road a few years ago but only remembered a nice overlook on the left. A little less than a quarter mile from the gate we arrived at the overlook. At this point, the road is on the edge of the south side of Gettis Ridge and allows a fairly unobstructed view of the Standing Stone Creek valley. Looking towards the left (south-east) one can just make out the intersection of small creek basins that is the location of the Alan Seeger Natural Area.
We proceeded up Wampler Road with the intention of getting to the
intersection of Gettis Ridge Road where we would be about a third of a
nearly four mile loop. Hearing slightly veiled grumbles from my spouse and youngest son, I was getting a little concerned that we would be retracing our steps rather than completing a loop.
However, after only about a half-mile from the gate, we encountered a trail not shown on the public use map (it is, however, shown on the Purple Lizard map) marked “Gettis Trail”. It veered back to the right into what would have been the center of the intended loop. I convinced my party that there was no way we could get lost — the trail had to end up on either the Mid State Trail or back on Bear Meadows Road. Gettis Trail took on the same slow ascension that Wampler Road had, but was more enclosed. Here you are a little closer in to the mixed oak and maple forest. The trail became lined with rhododendron and other shrubs.
We had picked the right day for the hike — still fully foliaged orange and brown oaks and brightly colored red and yellow maples were peaking — at least at this elevation. Now we were walking from the edge, into the Thickhead Wild Area. After another half a mile or so, we did indeed come upon the Mid-State Trail. We stopped following the blue blazes of the Gettis Trail, and turned right on the Mid-State Trail and followed the orange blazes.
At this point we were basically on top of the spine of Thickhead Mountain — albeit at the south-west end of it. The Mid State trail at this point, as much of that trail, was fairly rocky — sturdy footwear is recommended. After a few hundred yards, to the left (north) we were treated to a nice view of the valley of The Bear Meadows Natural Area. There were just enough leaves off of the trees to make this view possible. Later in the winter, it will be a fairly clear view for much of this section of trail. At this point, we were at the highest point of the circuit having ascended approximately 800 feet. The wind was stronger here, but we were still somewhat protected by the tree foliage. Surprisingly, my young son found a toad on the side of the trail.
After yet another half mile, the trail descended to a saddle point of Thickhead Mountain where Bear Meadows Road passes over. I felt that the trail portion of this course was over too soon. Arriving at the road, the starting point is only a half mile to the right — all down hill. If your companions are tired, they can elect you to go fetch the car while they relax at the campsite — fire ring at the trail head. Arriving at the closed gate of Wampler Road, I discovered three other vehicles had pulled in after us.
This was a nice, short hike in the middle of the best part of Rothrock
State Forest — the Thickhead Wild Area. Having views of two natural areas, as well as Thickhead Mountain is a bonus for what can be better categorized as a nature walk. If the Bureau of Forestry had not closed Wampler Road, we most likely would not have stumbled upon Gettis Trail, because it is hard to notice as you drive by. Closing the road allows hikers, bikers, dog walkers, and later in the year — skiers to enjoy a corridor that otherwise would not have been nearly as enjoyable with vehicle traffic. The road or trail is not very pleasurable if, after walking an hour, you get passed by a vehicle that traversed the same distance in a few minutes.
Our experience that afternoon demonstrated to us that the forest roads are much more popular — with passive, human powered recreation when they are closed. Closing the road did not limit public access; on the contrary, it enhanced it. Of course, you have to get out of the car to get on the trail.
If You Go: Take 322 East out of State College. At the end of the Mount Nittany Expressway proceed a little over a mile and turn right on Bear Meadows Road (watch for the Tussey Mountain Ski Area sign). Go past the ski area. There will be a sign that says “End 35 speed limit”. Slow down to 20 mph or less to avoid sliding off the gravel road ahead or hitting walkers and bikers. Proceed approximately 6 miles past the ski area to Wampler Road. When you park, do not block the gate in case BOF staff has to access the closed road. The Rothrock State Forest public use map or the Purple Lizard maps are both useful for navigating the roads and trails of the area. Additions, or alternatives, to the above described hike are the more traveled Bear Meadows (longer) and Alan Seeger (shorter) natural areas.