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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 Ben Cramer
In the imposing mountains outside the town of Lamar lies a large expanse of State Game Lands offering a surprisingly relaxing and easy-going hiking experience, though the hike’s length can be imposing. This area is known officially as State Game Lands 295, or popularly as Cherry Run Game Lands, after the small stream that runs through the area out of the hills and into Fishing Creek. The Cherry Run Game Lands are crisscrossed with old logging roads that have now devolved (or evolved) into very easy hiking trails, providing a surprisingly relaxing hike in an area with quite rugged topography.
The circuit hike described here is about 10 miles long with gentle climbing and easily followed footway. Starting from a small hunter’s parking lot along Narrows Road south of Lamar, it is necessary to first walk along the road between two stream hollows, skirting the west side of Bear Mountain, which you will completely walk around during the hike. The road walking proceeds from Cherry Run, along which you will return, to the parallel Bear Run about half a mile up the road.
Turn left (east) off Narrows Road to the first of several old logging tracks you will see during this hike. This easy trail along Bear Run is now less of a dirt road than a very pleasant tunnel through large hemlock trees and giant rhododendron bushes. The liveliness of this area is apparent in the nearly continuous spider webs spanning the trail that I encountered during my hike. I brought many of them down with my face, which is quite uncomfortable, and turned around to see the frantic spiders in the nearby trees surely beginning the work of rebuilding their webs. The Bear Run trail ascends very gently over a distance of about four miles, crossing the stream several times. The vegetation gradually changes from the water-loving trees and shrubs seen earlier to a drier ecosystem of oak and beech.
At the height of land, you will be surprised to find that you have climbed more than 900 feet into the mountains. This indicates that old logging roads, which were built to provide truck access, can be quite useful to the hiker after they are abandoned to foot travel (although that is hardly a good reason for building more such roads). At the top of the climb is an extensive meadow being operated by the State Game Commission as a wildlife feed lot. Here you are very likely to see deer, wild turkeys, and in my case, porcupines.
After the meadow you continue on another logging road. Once you start walking back downhill the track reverts to an active road, where logging is currently taking place. During my visit, trucks were hauling out recently felled logs, while the branches and crowns of the trees had been discarded on the ground. This refuse is known as “slash” and leaving it strewn about is a fairly common logging practice. This slash may appear to present a fire hazard (which is certainly the case during dry years), as dried branches and leaves are left lying around. The idea behind the practice is to allow the slash to return biological nutrients into the ground and to provide cover for both wildlife and young tree seedlings. In any case, the ethics of logging in State Game Lands at all is a source of regular dispute.
Still going east for the time being, follow this logging road downhill and around a gradual curve to the north toward Cherry Run. The main bulk of Bear Mountain, which now appears to be just a low hill after your climb, has been to your left throughout the hike. At the bottom of a steep section, the active logging road turns sharply right. Here you instead turn left on another abandoned road that returns you to pleasant hiking. This road leads back west, gently downhill along Cherry Run.
Less than half a mile after the turn, you will be treated to one of the most bizarre sights to be found along a hiking trail in Pennsylvania. Just off the right side of the trail and hidden in a small clearing is an old junked car, appearing to be a Cadillac from the late 1950s. This classic vehicle has sunk quite far into the earth, while the roof has caved in and the interior has provided a home to enterprising critters. This car was probably abandoned way back when the Cherry Run trail was last accessible to vehicles during the old industrial days, and has been merging with the Earth for a good 40 years.
Back on the trail, the hike continues gently downhill with babbling Cherry Run to the right. This section of the trail offers several miles of hiking which are either uneventful or relaxing, depending on your point of view. During this section of the hike you observe in reverse the changes of forest type seen earlier, eventually finding yourself once again among hemlocks and rhododendron. Near the bottom of the hollow and almost within sight of Narrows Road, the Cherry Run trail is cut off by a private hunting camp. Watch for a very visible arrow that someone has made out of scrap metal and painted red, guiding you to turn right off the main trail. The side trail crosses two bridges over Cherry Run, then turns left through an area that is becoming a minor wetland as several small branches of the run have flowed over a flat, low-lying area. As you hop over many wet spots and streamlets, the side trail suddenly emerges in the parking lot where you began this relaxing hike.
Note: Do not hike in this or any other State Game Land during the big game hunting seasons in November and December, except on Sundays during which hunting is not permitted in Pennsylvania. The State Game Lands also allow small game hunting during much of the rest of the year, which does not present a serious hazard to hikers, though it is advisable to wear at least one piece of “safety orange” clothing for visibility.
If You Go: The Cherry Run Game Lands are accessed from the town of Lamar, about 25 miles northeast of State College in Clinton County, just inside the Centre County line. From the southern end of the town at the Lamar-Porter Township Recreation Park, take Washington Avenue (which later becomes Narrows Road) toward Tylersville. Take this road 3.7 miles and watch for a small parking lot hidden in the trees to the left of the road, just before a small bridge over Cherry Run. There are also some parking spaces used by fishermen along the road a little further ahead. This hike is also featured in the book 50 Hikes in Central Pennsylvania by Tom Thwaites.
Ben Cramer is a freelance writer, outdoor enthusiast, and graduate student living in State College. He is also a committee member and outings chairman for the Sierra Club.