Jennings Environmental Education Center
Jennings Environmental Education Center is one of several state parks specifically dedicated to providing environmental education and interpretation to the community. A variety of programs that increase knowledge and awareness of the beauty and importance of our natural resources are available for children, teachers and the general public. By taking some time to explore Jennings through its trail network or community programs, visitors can enjoy the outdoors while learning the skills needed to be good stewards of Pennsylvania’s outstanding natural resources.
Jennings provides a unique combination of prairie and forest, which offers a wide array of resource and education opportunities. One of the park’s main features, the 20-acre prairie ecosystem, is home to distinctive prairie plants and the endangered massasauga rattlesnake. The most noteworthy and spectacular prairie flower is the blazing star. Jennings was the first reserve established in Pennsylvania to protect an individual plant species and remains the only public and protected prairie in the Commonwealth.
Seasons and Hours: The center is open every day of the year, sunrise to sunset. Day use areas close at dusk. The center office is open specific hours. Contact the center office for facility seasons and hours.
Picnicking: Two picnic areas provide tables and restrooms. The Woodland Picnic Area is behind the center office at the beginning of the Woodland Trails System. The Prairie Picnic Pavilion Area overlooks the relict prairie. Its pavilion seats 50 people and may be reserved up to 11 months in advance for a fee. If unreserved, the picnic pavilion is free on a first-come, first-served basis.
Hiking: 5 miles of trails
Black Cherry Trail: 0.5 mile, easiest hiking
Deer Trail: 0.35 mile, easiest hiking
Glacier Ridge Trail: 0.31 mile, easiest hiking
Hepatica Trail: 0.26 mile, easiest hiking
Massasauga Trail: 0.47 mile, easiest hiking
Oakwoods Trail: 1.20 miles, easiest hiking
Old Elm Trail: 0.25 mile, easiest hiking
Old Field Trail: 0.18 mile, easiest hiking
Old Mill Trail: 0.14 mile, easiest hiking
Ridge Trail: 0.68 mile, more difficult hiking
Wetlands Kiosk Trail: 0.04 mile, easiest hiking
Woodwhisper Trail: 0.16 mile, easiest hiking
North Country National Scenic Trail This national scenic trail passes through Jennings and utilizes a number of the woodland trails, including Glacier Ridge, Ridge and Black Cherry. This blue-blazed trail system links North Dakota to New York, traveling through seven states for a distance of over 3,200 miles. More information on the North Country National Scenic Trail is available at the center office. www.nps.gov/noco.
The eastern prairie is a rare ecosystem that is home to the endangered massasauga rattlesnake. Although this small and reclusive snake is very timid, it is venomous and visitors should be careful when walking through its home. Staying on the mowed paths and keeping alert can reduce the chances of an unexpected encounter
Blazing Star Trail: 0.22 mile, easiest hiking
Prairie Loop Trail: 0.28 mile, easiest hiking
Explore the Winter Report for the current snow and ice depths.
Cross-country Skiing: All trails north of PA 528 (prairie side) are recommended for cross-country skiing.
Snowshoeing: Snowshoeing is popular at Jennings. Snowshoes are available to borrow Monday through Saturday when there is adequate snow cover.
Access for People with Disabilities
If you need an accommodation to participate in park activities due to a disability, please contact the park you plan to visit.
“Prairie” is a French word for meadow, which was used by early explorers to describe any open, grassy area. The forests experienced by early explorers were extremely dark and immense, making open areas rare and valuable. Open areas provided an opportunity for pioneers to see the sun, rest and feed their animals. Today, we define prairies as distinct communities of plants and animals.
One particular flower that is abundant in the Jennings prairie is the magnificent blazing star. Normally associated with Midwestern prairies, its occurrence in Pennsylvania is unique because it is outside of its normal range. These bright purple flowers clustering on 4 - to 6-foot stalks create a spectacular show during peak bloom time in late July and early August. The late bloom time is common for prairie plants, which prefer the hot, dry weather of midsummer.
Wildflowers and grasses support a vast array of butterflies and moths, as well as other insects that serve as food for amphibians, birds and small mammals. The amphibians and small mammals, in turn, are food for a special prairie resident, the massasauga rattlesnake (above). The Jennings prairie is one of the few places in the state where this snake is found. Due to the loss of its wet meadow habitat, the massasauga is endangered in Pennsylvania and is strictly protected. Like all rattlesnakes, the massasauga is venomous and may bite if surprised or threatened. Please stay on the trails for your own safety and the snake’s protection.
The Jennings Woodlands
Over three-quarters of the park is covered by forest. These woodlands include stream valleys, upland forests, and wetlands, which provide diverse habitats for wildlife. Stories from the past can be revealed by closely examining these forest communities. The stream valley along Big Run was once filled with majestic American elms. Sadly, most of these trees have succumbed to Dutch elm disease, a fungus introduced to North America in the 1930s.
Other common bottomland trees stand where the elms once grew. Yellow birch and basswood are among the trees that prefer the rich, moist soils and cooler temperatures found in Big Run valley. In spring, this valley is carpeted with delicate woodland wildflowers. Trillium, hepatica, spring beauties and other flowers race to bloom before the tree canopy closes and blocks sunlight from the forest floor.
A gentle climb out of the valley leads to the drier, hardwood forest consisting primarily of oak, maple, hickory and cherry. Early colonists realized the economic value of these hardwoods. By 1820, Butler County’s timber was nearly gone. The size of the trees at Jennings today indicates the relatively young age of the forest.
Today, the forest is valued for more than economic reasons. By providing food, shelter and cover, the Jennings woodlands are home to an abundance of wildlife, where visitors can enjoy solitude and experience the natural environment.
Natural Resources Management and Research
Managing and protecting the natural resources of the park are two of Jennings’ foremost goals. The prairie, surrounding woodlands, streams and wetlands have distinct management requirements. The uniqueness and diversity of these resources requires a holistic approach to management.
A dramatic technique that benefits the prairie is the use of fire, which occurs naturally in many prairie ecosystems. At Jennings, a controlled burn is used to slow the growth of woody plants and rejuvenate the native grasses and wildflowers.
The American columbo is an endangered plant species in Pennsylvania. Jennings has one of the few significant populations in the state. The life cycle of the columbo is unusual and not well understood. This mysterious plant blooms once in its lifetime and then dies. Continuing research by staff is necessary to prevent the American columbo’s disappearance from Pennsylvania.
Past Problems, Future Solutions
Drainage from abandoned coal mines has a tremendous impact on Pennsylvania’s water quality. Coal seams exposed to air and water produce sulfuric acid and an orange precipitate known as yellow boy. This abandoned mine drainage (AMD) flows into streams, causing pollution so severe that plant and animal life may not survive.
At Jennings, mine drainage flows into Big Run from a nearby abandoned mine. In cooperation with other agencies and private organizations, Jennings has explored several innovative, passive technologies to combat this pollution.
These technologies were initially modeled after wetlands, which act as natural filtering systems. The passive systems now in place provide a unique site for continued research, experimental management and environmental education. Numerous interpretive exhibits throughout the Jennings Abandoned Mine Drainage Treatment, Research and Demonstration Area provide information about the formation and treatment of AMD.
The Faces of Change
A million years ago, Jennings looked dramatically different than it does today. Glaciers, water and climate have all played a part in changing the face of the landscape.
Immense glaciers scoured the earth, removing soil and exposing bedrock. Fine sand, silt and clay particles from glacial meltwater settled in prehistoric lakes, forming new soil. Changing climate conditions resulted in a warm, dry period, which allowed prairie plants to extend from the Midwest into Pennsylvania. Gradually the climate became cooler and wetter, more closely resembling our climate today. Eventually, through succession, forests replaced all but a few prairie sites in Pennsylvania.
The Jennings prairie remains due to a thick layer of impermeable clay that prevents most tree species from becoming established. Plants and animals that do live on the prairie must tolerate shallow soils, fluctuating periods of drought and saturation, and fire. Even under these harsh conditions, this ecosystem teems with life.
Legacy of the Land
The Paleo-Indian People were the first humans in the area. Arriving about 15,000 years ago, these nomadic hunters followed the retreating face of the glacier in search of wooly mammoths and giant ground sloths. The constant pursuit of these giant animals is believed to have helped force the animals to extinction. Little is known of the early cultures that inhabited the area after the Paleo-Indian People.
Trade and travel were an important part of American Indian culture. The Venango Trail lies beneath PA 528, a major road dividing the park. The trail connected Pittsburgh to Franklin and was traveled by a number of historic figures like Tecumseh, George Washington and Lafayette.
The 1800s brought an influx of settlers who altered the landscape and depleted the resources through lumbering, agriculture and hunting. Once the resources above the ground were exhausted, a new generation looked below the surface. Coal mining became a booming industry during this era. While mining provided a needed source of energy, techniques of that day left significant scars on the land.
At Jennings today, it is hard to see the scars from previous uses of the land. As educators, the Jennings staff strives to help people understand that we continue to be a product of our environment and need to make informed decisions concerning the immediate and long-term effects of our actions. The decisions we make today about how to use the land will leave our legacy for future generations.
Otto Emery Jennings
The center is named in honor of one of Pennsylvania’s most renowned botanists, Dr. Otto Emery Jennings. It is said that Dr. Jennings explored western Pennsylvania with the “energy of a pioneer” and acquainted many with the botanical treasures he encountered.
Dr. Jennings first discovered the prairie in 1905. Thanks to a generous donation from the Butler Garden Club, he initiated the purchase and protection of the area by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, a private conservation group. The Conservancy was instrumental in establishing environmental education at Jennings.
By teaching others to appreciate Pennsylvania’s unique natural areas, Dr. Jennings helped to ensure that this and other special areas would be preserved for future generations. Almost a century later, we continue to teach others in this tradition.
This one room, township school was built in 1880, on the site of a former log school. After 83 years of classes, the school closed in 1963. Foltz school was one of the last five public, one room schools to close in Pennsylvania. The building is currently being restored.
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We love when young people ask us how to get involved!
DiscoverE has programs for young people ages 4 to 17, provided by Pennsylvania State Park educators. By combining recreation and education, we hope to motivate children to learn more and return often, leading to a lifetime of outdoor enjoyment and conservation leadership.
In Watershed Education, teachers and students assess water quality of a local stream on a quarterly basis and develop strategies to solve local water quality problems.
ECO Camp - Exploring Careers Outdoors - is a week-long residential camp for a cross-section of high school youth from across Pennsylvania, sponsored by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). Participate in action-packed, hands on activities and recreational adventures in Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests that expose youth to conservation, recreation and careers in natural resources. Learn how people make a living working in the outdoors.
Explore education for more information on these and other programs.
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Jennings Environmental Education Center
Information on nearby attractions is available from the Butler Tourist Promotion Agency. www.visitbutlercounty.com
The geology, natural resources and cultural history that shaped Jennings can also be seen in nearby attractions.
Moraine State Park adjoins Jennings and features Lake Arthur, a 3,225-acre man-made lake that is a representation of a glacial lake that once covered most of the surrounding area, including Jennings. Moraine offers boating, hiking, biking, picnicking, swimming and cabins for overnight visits..
McConnells Mill State Park is in Lawrence County near the intersection of PA 19 and US 422. The park encompasses the spectacular 930-acre Slippery Rock Creek Gorge, a National Natural Landmark that was carved by glacial ice and water.
Miller Esker is a 6-mile long, sinuous ridge of sand and gravel that was deposited when water flowed through a confined tunnel at the base of the last continental glacier, 23,000 years ago. Also called the West Liberty Esker and West Liberty Hogback, the Miller Esker can be found along West Liberty Road, about 5 miles from Jennings. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy owns and preserves a section of the esker and maintains a small parking lot.
Wolf Creek Narrows Natural Area is 2 miles outside of the town of Slippery Rock where West Water Street crosses Wolf Creek. The 115-acre property is managed by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and known for its spectacular spring wild flowers. A 1.5-mile trail follows a high quality stream as it meanders through 50-foot cliffs formed by the runoff of a melting glacier.
Old Stone House is a historic inn and museum of rural life, which borders Jennings on the east side of PA 8. The Old Stone House is operated by Slippery Rock University and is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday noon to 5 p.m., May through October, and at other times for special events.
Maps and Downloadables
Below are many of the maps and publications for this park. You can read them or download them and might need special software (all free) to view the publications.
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Alternate versions of the text of the brochures are in rich text and text formats. Click on the files to view them. To download (.rtf) files:
Interactive GIS Map
The Interactive GIS Map uses Geographic Information Systems to create a map that does not need to be downloaded and features driving directions, searchable park amenities and customizable maps. Please note that the background maps are maintained by a variety of public sources and driving directions usually go to the nearest large road.
The center is 12 miles north of Butler, on PA 528. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and some weekends. Call ahead for the weekend schedule. The grounds are open from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week, for hiking and other nature-related activities.
GPS DD: Lat. 41.00925 Long. -80.00359
Driving Directions: The Interactive GIS Map has turn-by-turn driving directions to the park office from the Park Information Window. Please note that the background maps are maintained by a variety of public sources and driving directions usually go to the nearest large road.
Jennings Environmental Education Center