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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 Gary Thornbloom
Each map offers its unique invitation to exploration. Ganderstep Knob, Grindstone Gap, Birch Lick Run, Rock Cabin Run, and Foxy Hollow: these are some of the names on the Bear Knob topographical map. Wallace Run is the stream that ties them all together. It is fortunate that approximately 9,000 acres of State Game Lands 103 encompasses this area, and guarantees public access.
Each season offers its unique invitation to being outside. If the snow is too deep to conveniently hike, then snowshoes can provide the means to move over the snow. A road that makes for easy snowshoeing heads out of the State Game Lands 103 parking lot at the Bush Hollow access point where it drops down into Grindstone Gap. The road descends 200 feet over the next mile and a quarter. Ganderstep Knob rises above you along with other unnamed knobs as you drop into Wallace Run.
At the beginning of the descent turkey, rabbit, and deer tracks meander into and out of a field that the Game Commission plants for wildlife. Several small fenced areas enclose research plots. Small paw prints show where fox had frequented the deer carcass I passed on the way down. At the bottom of the hollow gas bubbles up from the bottom of a spring. This was the site of wildcat gas drilling in the 1940’s. Wildlife tracks were thick around this spring.
A short distance downstream, stone steps ascend the mountainside. The steps were built in the 1930s by unemployed men in their 40s and 50s, from the cities, and members of what was locally known as the “bum camp.” These men worked on roads, trails and streams in a program similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps. But why stone steps that seem to go nowhere?
Other sections of Wallace Run contain traces of dinky logging rails, remains of hunting camps, bridge stonework, and other traces of the human past. Broken as well as unfinished grindstones can be found in the area; I was told that grindstones were cut out here and hauled to Milesburg. Today large trees, a free stream, and abundant sign of wildlife define this place.
Continuing downstream, coyote tracks followed Wallace Run weaving between stream bank and open water a foot or more deep in a canyon of ice. Small ice caves receded under the ice surface where the water level had dropped and the current had undercut the ice. Such small wonders are common around water in winter.
Birch Lick Run is the first hollow downstream and on the day I explored it I could see evidence of a lot of deer activity. Areas where deer had bedded down in the snow were part way up the sides of the hollow. Well worn troughs in the snow led to porcupine dens in rock outcroppings further up the sides of the hollow.
Upstream from the bottom of Grindstone Gap I followed raccoon tracks that ended at a deer carcass bobbing in the stream and stretched part way onto the ice. Old and new tracks indicated that the carcass was undoubtedly being revisited.
Not all of the sign was written in the snow. The dark scars of bear claw imprints stood out in the silver bark of a venerable old beech tree. The winged seeds of tulip trees were scattered across the snow with an occasional entire cluster lying like a wooden flower on the snow.
Natural and human history are written everywhere in Wallace Run. On a windless day the silence of these hollows is broken only by the sound of water flowing over rocks. With a cover of snow the landscape is stark and simplified in its starkness. The winter landscape is there to be read by anyone taking the time to get out and into it. Wallace Run is an easily accessible area that has many hollows waiting for you to explore. If the snow is deep, snowshoes will aid your access; if the snow is not so deep then hiking boots will get you there.
The USGS topographic map for the Bear Knob Quadrangle includes the area discussed in this article. An online map of State Game Land 103 can be found at the Pennsylvania Game Commission website.
If You Go: Travel north on Route 220 out of Unionville 1.2 miles past the Route 504 intersection in Unionville, or south on Route 220 2.5 miles past the intersection of Route144 north and Route 220. Turn north onto Bush Hollow Road (SR 4004). There is a sign for the Brookside Wesleyan Church at the intersection of SR 220 and Bush Hollow Road. Travel 3.9 miles on Bush Hollow Road and turn left onto an unmarked and ungated dirt road near the top of a hill and after a sharp turn. In snowy conditions this dirt road is better negotiated in a four wheel drive vehicle. At the end of the dirt road — 0.2 of a mile — is a State Game Lands parking area.
Gary Thornbloom is the Outings Chair for the Moshannon Group of the Sierra Club and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org