Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — October 2003

Exploring the M.K. Goddard Wild Area

by Ben Cramer

Pennsylvania has more than a dozen officially designated “Wild Areas” within the State Forest system. These areas are almost always deep within protected forests and have been set aside for the natural development of old growth and sustainable ecosystems, with a minimum of logging and development allowed.

The state recently proposed several new Wild Areas, including the M.K. Goddard site in Sproul State Forest, about ninety minutes from State College. Maurice K. Goddard was an influential secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources during the 1970s. This wild area is a few miles east of the village of Sinnemahoning and straddles the line between Clinton and Cameron counties. This wild area is slightly removed from route 120 and Sinnemahoning Creek and is mostly contained within the uphill portion of the escarpment above the river, extending to the top of the plateau and including some flatlands at the top.

The M.K. Goddard Wild Area is surprisingly remote, especially for its proximity to the major thoroughfare of the “Bucktail Trail” (route 120). The wild area can be seen on the Sproul State Forest public use map; and also on the map for the Donut Hole Trail, the major long-distance hiking trail that passes near the proposed area. Having hiked the entire Donut Hole Trail, I have found its map to be quite inaccurate in many places — an issue that leads to some challenges in exploration.

Starting from Montour Road near the western edge of the wild area, a double-track road leads toward Montour Run. This is an old logging road that is visible on both maps as a “trail.” The badly decayed remains of a truck or industrial vehicle are soon encountered, estimated to have been lying undisturbed for fifty to sixty years. The logging road remains parallel to Montour Run but quickly slabs up the hillside above it, allowing a moderately strenuous but convenient way to ascend up the plateau.

The logging road becomes increasingly overgrown, often by jungles of a tall cabbagelike plant with very large leaves. This is an example of an invasive species, Japanese Knotweed, taking advantage of the “edge” habitat created by sunlight unnaturally hitting the logging road. Another highlight was a mostly intact deer skeleton indicating that the animal had decomposed in place — a great sign of the wild nature of the region.

About halfway up the plateau, the logging road peters out, and another “trail” shown on the maps that supposedly continues up a side hollow is impossible to find. This proves that such maps are often simply copied from their predecessors, with little awareness that the old forest “roads” may no longer even exist as these areas revert to their wild origins.

A climb straight up toward the high edge of the plateau leads to a group of rock outcroppings at least 800 feet above Montour Run. The run occupies a surprisingly sharp and closed-in canyon with one very narrow outlet towards the Sinnemahoning. This hollow is surely the gem of the M.K. Goddard.

The next challenge is a bushwhack through the open forest on top of the plateau in a straight line to the northeast, in search of Rock Run Road. The plateau top is mostly middle-growth forest interspersed with pleasant open meadows and occasional jungles of very dense mountain laurel. At the topmost edge of the plateau the landscape leads downhill again, which according to the maps is impossible without encountering the road. A large open area with an impressive sea of ferns conceals large numbers of fallen logs that offer banged shins and skinned knees. Rock Run Road is finally found much further northeast than expected.

Veering off Rock Run Road, heavily overgrown Mill Run Road allows an easy ramble back down to route 120. Several springs pop up right out of this road to form Mill Run. About halfway back down the plateau and within sight of the road, Mill Run offers a remarkable display of small waterfalls at the confluence of a side stream. This is another highlight of the M.K. Goddard.

The new Wild Area designation for this rugged and varied landscape is surely accurate. This region shows evidence of past exploitation of the land, as well as the healing and regeneration that can take place in even a short time when we allow nature to resume its course.

If You Go: To reach the proposed M.K. Goddard Wild Area from State College, take US route 220 north and Interstate 80 west to exit 147 and the village of Snow Shoe. Follow PA route 144 north about 35 miles to the borough of Renovo. Then take PA route 120 west about 20 miles toward the Clinton/Cameron county line. The wild area is most easily accessed from Montour Road, which is the last road to intersect route 120 in Clinton County, just east of the county line. Other Wild Areas near State College include Thickhead Mountain just south of town along the Centre/Huntingdon county line, and White Mountain near Snyder-Middleswarth State Park in western Union and Snyder counties.

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Ben Cramer is a freelance writer, outdoor enthusiast, and graduate student living in State College. He is also a local group committee member for Sierra Club.