Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — July 2002

Hiking the Wild Portion of the Chuck Keiper Trail

by Dave Coleman

My friend Ken and I deposited our bikes at the western terminus of our intended hike. We then drove further north on Route 144 to where we would park the car and begin the trek. Although I had explored this part of Sproul District Forest many times — by short walks, car, canoe and skiis — I had never truly hiked any great length of the Chuck Keiper Trail. This was an opportunity to hike eight miles of it.

Named after a conservationist and sportsman who was the district game protector for 22 years, the Chuck Keiper Trail has two loops through the Sproul District Forest with a combined length of 50 miles. Our course that day was to hike eight miles of the western loop from Jews Run Road “counterclockwise” through the Burns Run Wild Area, across the Fisher Fire Road, down into the Yost Run watershed and finally back up the main stem of Yost Run back to Route 144.

Starting from Jews Run Road we were right in the middle of the northern extent of the remnants of the big Two Rock Run Fire of 1990. The fire consumed over 10,000 acres of state forest in three days. At the time, the district forester feared that the fire would consume both wild areas — Burns Run and Fish Dam Wild Areas. However, much to the relief of the forester, the fire extinguished itself as it burned to the borders of the wild areas.

Hiking down the Chuck Keiper Trail that day, it was fairly easy to envision why the fire ended at the borders of the wild areas; as the trail wound down from the more actively timbered forest land into the more undisturbed mature hardwood forest, the ground was better shaded, the soil felt softer and more moist under our boots, the foliage was greener and more diverse. The Fish Dam and Burns Run wild areas have not been timbered to a significant extent for almost 100 years, lending credence to the principle that timber harvesting (even “salvage” logging) actually increases the vulnerability of the forest to wildfire.

Once in the wild area, the trail wound through a diverse forest of second growth hardwood species. Mainly around the edges of the wild areas and interspersed within appear small groves of large white pine trees that are too, most likely, second growth. As the trail followed a branch of Burns Run down into the escarpment, we encountered patches of what we called “Sting Weed,” a weed that has countless small barbs on its stalks. Wearing shorts on that hot July day, these plants slowed us down tremendously. We found ourselves going around the larger patches and using walking sticks to clear the way through the smaller patches.

Burns Run itself is an Exceptional Value stream which empties into the West Branch of the Susquehanna. But the Chuck Keiper Trail does not follow Burns Run to the mouth. It follows the main stem of the creek only a little over a mile before following another tributary back out of the watershed.

It was already late afternoon and we were barely a third the way through the hike. As we took the trail up the tributary, Ken asked for the name of the stream. Referring to the map, I reported “Owl Run”. Sure enough, we took no more than ten more steps and observed through the trees, as far as one could see in the dense darkening forest of the wild area, a Great Horned Owl perched on a branch of a large oak. Even though the picture would likely not have come out well, by the time I removed my backpack to grab the camera, the owl spread its three-to-four foot wingspan and gracefully flew further up the tributary. We caught one more glimpse of the owl after another 100 yards, flying away from the trail. A Great Horned Owl is not necessarily rare in this part of Pennsylvania, but it is not usual to see one this time of day — even in the dimness of the wild area.

Reaching the top of the plateau, the trail crosses Fisher Fire Road, a state forest access road, and winds around the top of the plateau for a little over a mile before descending once again — this time into the Yost Run watershed. After another half a mile the tributary of Yost Run (Second Fork) drops down from the trail as it cuts it way down the escarpment. After another half a mile, the trail joins the creek at the point of confluence with the main stem of Yost Run. Now we had to climb back up, and Ken asked me what the vertical rise would be. When I counted the contours on the map, I was as surprised as he was that we had at least a thousand foot vertical climb ahead of us. But the ascent was relatively painless. The air was cooled by the north facing creek gorge and we were preoccupied by the numerous small chutes, small falls of the creek and the alluring nature of the mature forest and the many stream crossings. Still, we did not dawdle as we were still behind schedule (we blamed the sting weed) and we needed to make time.

Yost Run was at least as nice as Burns Run — both the stream and the surrounding forest. The Sproul District Forester has proposed “old growth” designation for over 12,000 acres in this region covering not only the two wild areas but also the steeper parts of the watersheds of several adjacent creeks (all draining into the West Branch of the Susquehanna River) including Yost Run. This will be a welcome addition to protected Natural and Wild areas in the region, as it will lead to quality habitat protection, and at the same time enhance the recreational experiences of hiking in the state forest and canoeing on the West Branch.

After another couple of miles, we arrived at the most notable feature of Yost Run, the “big” waterfall. It is about 12 feet high and provided not only a photo opportunity but a quick invigorating soaking for two hot hikers.

We were still cooled off after climbing several hundred more feet up out of the gorge.

We arrived at our stashed bikes just a few minutes before sunset. We did not have much energy left, but the slightly different muscles used for peddling rather than walking propelled us easily along Route 144 on the four miles back to Jews Run Road. We were treated with a spectacular view of the sunset from the top of the plateau along the way.

One does not have to arrange bike shuttle to carry out a great hike in this region. Numerous loops can be made by using state forest roads, old logging roads, or less-traveled side trails to connect points along the Chuck Keiper Trail. While in the area, check out the many scenic overlooks off of Route 144, the best being those overlooking the Fish Dam Wild Area.

If You Go: Drive to the borough of Snow Shoe and take Route 144 north. At the village of Moshannon, Route 144 turns right at the blinking light and proceeds another two miles to a stop sign. Go through the stop sign on Route 144 another 12 miles to where the Chuck Keiper Trail crosses the road. Proceed another four miles to Jews Run Road. One should drive slowly within the speed limit on Route 144 through the State Forest not only to appreciate the scenic views, but also to spare the likely seen wild turkey, grouse, a variety of mammals including, of course, deer, a trampling.

A Sproul State Forest Public Use Map is indispensable for exploring this area. It can be obtained from any district forest office, or by writing the Sproul District Forest Office at HCR 62, Box 90, Renovo, PA 17764. Also, from the forest office, obtain a Chuck Keiper Trail Map which offers useful topographic detail.

Download PDF of this article