North Central Area
Quehanna Wild Area, Wykoff Run Natural Area
Travel west from Renovo 23.8 miles to a bridge left (south) across Sinnemahoning Creek. This is Wykoff Run Road, which winds up along a lovely small stream and through the steep-sided ravine of Wykoff Run up to the plateau in the most unpopulated area of the entire state. The Quehanna Wild Area is a 48,000-acre almost circular patch of small second-growth mixed hard wood forest. Wykoff Run Natural Area is a 1,215 acre patch within the Wild Area, at the headwaters of Wykoff Run, the stream which heads northeastward back down to Sinnemahoning Creek. One of the notable features of the natural area is a large stand of paper birch, giving the impression of a much more northerly forest. A reliable place to find snow for cross-country skiing is the Quehanna Cross-Country Ski Trail which goes through the heart of the natural area. There are large open meadows too, which support exceptional wildflowers in spring and summer.
From Sinnemahoning, travel east on PA Rt 120 for approximately 0.6 miles. Turn right (south) on Wykoff Run Road and travel for approximately 9 miles to the Quehanna Highway. The Wykoff Run Natural Area is immediately to your northwest at this intersection. The Quehanna Wild Area is a semi-circle surrounding you on the north, west and east, but not the south.
Johnson Run Natural Area
This area, perhaps above all others on this tour, gives you a real feeling for how rugged the job was for the first settlers to traverse the unbroken forests of the Allegheny Plateau. Far from flat, the plateau is laced with steep ravines following small streams. Along each of these streams were thousands of years of accumulated biological material, much of it decaying and returning to the soil. Among this decaying organic matter were huge mature trees. The boulders which lined the stream were covered with thick blankets of moss. Insects filled the air during the warmer months, preyed on by native fish in the tumbling waters of the river courses. There were no trails through this tangled mass of growth, dead and dying, what appeared to be an endless cycle until European man came along to interrupt by opening up the forest.
That, in a nutshell, is what you find in Johnson Run: a no-holds-barred glimpse into the past. Walk into it, jumping from rock to rock in the stream. Consider what you as an individual, perhaps with a spouse and a cow, carrying most of your possessions on your backs, would have felt like as you faced a spot such as this for your future home. Your first thought would probably have been to find a flatter spot! And then, what to do about all these huge trees… and how to get a crop in for survival?
The only access by way of a trail is from the Bucktail Hiking Trail. Call the Elk State Forest district office for a brochure. If you want to access the area without a trail, follow PA Rt 120 west and then north from Sinnemahoning for about 4 miles. The Natural Area can be reached by following the state forest boundary line, which is marked in white paint and silver tags, to the north of the highway. Parking is very limited. The boundaries of the Natural Area are not marked.
Lower Jerry Run Natural Area
Lower Jerry Run is a small stream draining into Sinnemahoning Creek. The area not only contains a remnant stand of old growth white pine and hemlock , but it is also a reptile and amphibian protection area. The entire area is relatively inaccessible, but the old growth is found on a northeast-facing slope at the upper (south) end of the watershed, in the forks of Lower Jerry Run. This is a challenging and remote area visited only on foot. You can go all day without seeing another vehicle on the narrow dirt roads or another person in the forest. Solitude is almost guaranteed. Be warned and go prepared with topographic maps and compass. If worse comes to worst and you get thoroughly lost, go downhill. Eventually you will reach the valley of the Sinnemahoning Creek.
From Sinnemahoning travel east on PA Rt 120 for approximately 0.6 miles. Turn right (south) on Wykoff Run Road and in just a short distance turn left onto Jerry Run Road (narrow, rough areas). Follow this about 7 miles to a T at Three Runs Road. Turn left (northeast) and go approxiamtely 1 mile to Jerry Ridge Trail. This is an old woods road on the left. From this point you may want to walk if your vehicle has low clearance. About 0.25 miles down the road turn right into the parking lot and follow the orange blazed trail into the Natural Area.
Bucktail State Park Natural Area
This is not really an old-growth forest, but together with the Pine Creek Gorge, it represents an unusual opportunity to get a feel for the way those forests looked when they were unmodified by human activities. Stretching for 70 miles along Sinnemahoning Creek and the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, the mixed oak and northern hardwood forests along the steep high slopes of the valley are especially beautiful in the winter time, when ice and snow cover the rivers themselves.
Radiating off to either side are side roads that lead to some of the most inaccessible parts of this Auto Tour (Lower Jerry Run (B3), Johnson Run (B2), and the proposed "new" old-growth area above Keating (B6, Sproul State Forest Proposal)). At the east end of the area, 20 miles west of Lock Haven on PA Rt. 120, turn north at a sign for Hyner Run State Park and Hyner Run Vista. This is one of the best viewpoints along the Allegheny Front, dividing the folded ridge-and-valley province from the Allegheny Plateau, with a 1,300 foot drop. Hang gliders often launch from the area.
The area runs roughly parallel to PA Rt 120 along the West Branch of the Susquehanna and Sinnemahoning Creek for approximately 75 miles from Emporium to Lock Haven.
Cranberry Swamp Natural Area
This is a fine example of a mountain bog. In 1915 some large trees were removed from this site, but its hydrology remains virtually the same as before. The point of including it in an old-growth tour is that this place illustrates what happens if you leave a place such as this alone forever: it would take eons to develop into what we think of as "climax" forest, simply because of the geography and hydrology. "Typical" old-growth develops in areas of good soil, with adequate drainage and good exposure to sunlight, not in areas that have shallow soil or constant high water tables. It is interesting nevertheless in its own right for its plant associations and the abundant wildlife that is attracted by them, more abundant, you will notice, than by a dense old-growth forest.
It lies at the headwaters of Cranberry Run, about 144 acres of wetland with typical wetland plants, surrounded by oak forest, with scattered red maple, black cherry and birches. The surface of the bog is covered with cattails, sedges, rushes and grasses. The moisture makes for prolific wildlife, both large mammals (bears and coyotes) and a wide variety of birds. The amount of surface water at any time varies with the recent rainfall, since the site sits at the head of its small watershed.
From PA Rt 144 south from Renovo, at the top of a long uphill, turn left on Pete's Run Road. The second gated dirt road to the right is opposite a Watering Trough Trail sign. Take this road in on foot for about 1.5 miles to the swamp.
Proposed Natural/Old-growth Area, Sproul State Forest
This large area of mature second-growth forest has been proposed for management as old-growth. It comprises a 12,000+ - acre southwest-northeast oriented strip perpendicular to the Bucktail State Park Natural Area, centered about the tiny hamlet of Keating. The area includes the Fish Dam and Burns Run Wild areas. The terrain is quite steep, but is cut by several trails. Of special interest here is the effect of large tornadoes creating major areas of wind throw, literally hundreds of acres in extent.
The usual process of development of "climax" forest involves competition between trees and other plants that are able to grow to maturity in the shade of other trees, and other trees which do not have that capability, the shade-tolerant and shade-intolerant species. If mature trees never fell down, the only trees in the forest would be shade-tolerant. But that is not so, and that is because from time to time openings appear, allowing shade-intolerant species to "take off," to be "released," so to speak, and grow quickly to the height that they can compete for sunlight among the canopy of leaves formed by the other trees . This large zone of tornado damage illustrates another way that old-growth forests can develop shade-intolerant components: by opening up much larger sun-drenched zones. It appears from the huge patch in the Tionesta Areas and from the many that developed across other areas of the state in a rash of tornadoes, that this mechanism may be much more important to the overall forest than we knew.
Best access is by canoe from the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, putting in at Karthaus, heading for Renovo. But vistas are available by car. Use PA Rt 144 between Snowshoe and Renovo as a baseline. There are vistas at the ends of Fields Run, Yost Ridge, and Jews Run Roads. There are two excellent vistas on PA Rt 144 looking into Denniston Fork of the Fish Dam Wild Area. There are also vistas along the Keating-Karthaus Road (dirt road, not plowed or maintained in winter).
For hikers, access is by the Chuck Keiper Trail. From State Camp on PA Rt 144 walk west into Fish Dam Run, then to Burns Run, then to Yost Run before climbing from Yost back to PA Rt 144 near Eddy Ridge Road. There are unmarked trails in Burns Run and Yost Run which end at the river. The foot trail in Fish Dam Run is difficult from the Chuck Keiper Trail north to Dennsiton Fork because of tornado damage.
Forrest H. Duttlinger Natural Area
The area was set aside primarily to protect a remnant of old growth timber. It is not truly a virgin timber stand, in that scattered white pine was cut around 1900 as evidenced by the large stumps that still remain. Conjecture is that after the white pine was cut, a boundary dispute developed in the vicinity of the Beech Bottom Hollow and the logging companies withdrew from the area before it was settled.
The foot trail parallels Beech Bottom Run up about 1,100 feet of elevation gain, following an old log slide almost a mile long. Second growth hardwoods flank the trail until near the top, where the old growth stand is located. When you pass through the old growth you emerge onto the plateau with younger forest on all sides. The largest tree in the old growth stand is a hemlock 43" in diameter breast height and 112 feet in height.
This tree is located on the south side of the Beech Bottom Trail. Numerous other hemlocks range from 32 to 40 inches DBH. In addition there are white pine, red oak, beech, hard maple and gum that are old growth. Black cherry, basswood, white ash, red maple, black birch, white and chestnut oaks also occur in the old growth stand, but probably became established after the original white pine was cut.
The area can be reached by way of a dirt road which intersects PA Rt 144 about 4.5 miles south of the village of Cross Forks. There are actually two entrances to this road, but only the northerly one is open; the other one crosses a small bridge which is marked "closed." The dirt road proceeds north one-half mile through private land paralleling the Hammersley Fork Run, before entering State Forest land. The road fords the stream but is closed to vehicles; a two-cable foot bridge crosses the stream. Follow the road on the west side of the stream about one mile north to a small sign for Beech Bottom Run Trail, the main access to the Natural Area. The old growth area is at the top of the trail.