Pitch Pine Loop

I found the trailhead for the Pitch Pine Loop on the north side of Rt. 44, the old turnpike famous for its long length through the wilderness of northern Pennsylvania in the early nineteenth century. Today, this ridge and valley road extending from Jersey Shore to DSCN7774 Coudersport has, in all likelihood, fewer human residents along its sides than any other highway in the state. Mostly what you see are hunting/fishing camps and trucks that roll through with their fracking waste.

The 2.5 mile skiing/hiking trail is found along the high plateau with overlooks on the Miller Run Natural Area. The natural area includes a wild trout stream that is difficult to access, thereby making it tantalizing to an angler such as myself.

Starting from the parking lot, 2.6 miles northwest of Haneyville, I passed a hunting camp at a northward angle and proceeded through the crusted snow that challenged my booted stamina until the rising temperatures softened the resistance.

The pitch pine trees I remember from my New York boyhood were scrubby little conifers DSCN7753of the hilltops, but the trees for which this trail is named are anything but malnourished evergreens. The pitch pines, growing in poor, sandy soils, are regal in appearance when compared to their company of scrub oaks and mountain laurel. They can grow to heights of 50 feet or more, with plated bark from which diminuative branches can yield a profusion of tufted needles.

Pitch pine has clusters of three long needles. In colonial days the tree was used to make tar and turpentine. Its rot-resistant wood was used for water wheels that cranked production of the earliest mills. Today, this evergreen dominates the first half of the Pitch Pine Loop that culminates with an overlook of the 4,000-acre Miller Run Natural Area. Eastward, beyond the deep roadless area, one can see the far side of the Pine Creek Valley.DSCN7743

That’s the image I held in mind while peering down at Miller Run. What a valley. No road or access at the mouth on Pine Creek. No path, other than a long, steep drop on the northern side, a rough route to angling that I hope to employ some day in the company of another intrepid trouter, or two.

My trail guide, published in 1991, indicated that about 100 meters from the end of the loop I would find a remnant stand of tamarack, a last group of trees planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1941, before the planters embarked for World War II. My trail guide needs an update.DSCN7744

I remembered reading a hiker’s comment in the log book when I started out: “It sure doesn’t look the same as before. Drilling? But still nice.” I hadn’t thought more of the comment until now, expecting to find the tamarack/larch stand near the end.

I came out of the woods on an unexpected gravel road, snow-covered except for a vehicle track leading to a giant well pad from a fracking operation. No more tamarack shrine to the Civilian Corps. Just an empty five-acre pad, a flat concrete monument to fossil fuels on a warming planet.DSCN7757

Conflicting arrows and trail blazes at the roadside near the drill site had me scratching my head and moving up and down the clearing. What a fracked-up situation! My trail guide had never mentioned an intersecting road.

I thought I heard a vehicle from distant Rt. 44, but I couldn’t be sure of where the hell I was. At the point where “turned around” hikers sometimes lose their head and start to run, I even entertained the possibility of having to backtrack the 2-plus miles and getting to the car the long way.

fracking pad

fracking pad

Luckily I regained a bit of reason and decided to approach the drill site. There it was. Another blaze mark and an arrow pointing to the woods across the opened area. I reentered the trees and quickly saw the main road and my vehicle. I found the car with a sour expression on its front end, as if to say, “You know, I’ve been parked here all this time, looking at the woods and that stupid drill pad up in the clearing. Didn’t you see it when you started out?”DSCN7764

I can’t stand a smart-ass car when it acts that way, although I have to be careful and massage its ego, thanking the vehicle for hauling me to such far-flung places as Pitch Pine Loop.

Nevertheless, I parked the car again, a short distance away, at Pat Reeder’s Tavern. We could all get objective once more. I could have a beer and a bite to eat. I could tell the bartender about a good walk in the Pennsylvania hills. She could tell me about this comfortable establishment on the “wilderness road.”

The tavern is nearly a century old.DSCN7769DSCN7754


About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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12 Responses to Pitch Pine Loop

  1. Brent says:

    Nevada may have its Loneliest Road (which we drove), but Route 44 is one of the great wilderness drives I’ve ever been on. The vistas across miles of forested mountains are worth it alone. Too bad the fracking pads gum it all up now.

    • Yes, I’ve always liked the road for reasons that you note. And it’s painful to me now, seeing how the state has valued money and industrialism here, while failing to see that tourism and recreational activities could also benefit the region in ways that are better for people and wildlife in the long run. Thanks Brent.

  2. What a beautiful area Walt. What the frack is going on there?

    • It is, Howard. Thank you. And fracking’s going on (as in CO and elsewhere). Started big time in 2008. Right now it’s at a lull, as gas prices are down, but man, it’s made an impact on the land.

  3. plaidcamper says:

    Almost beautiful…pitch pines, valley views, a (manageable) ski/hike loop, and the promise of tamaracks and a tantalizing trout stream for an intrepid angler. Dollar energy for fossil fools – still, it’s not all bad, a pretty decent trip out, and maybe the inn and a bite to eat took away the concrete industrial taste? Back to glass half full and take the long view…
    Another thoughtful piece – thanks, Walt!

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    Yeah, twisty, turny 44 is a wonderful drive for the solitude alone, not to mention the access to trouty places that it provides. Cherry Springs, the metropolis of Oleona, on down to Waterville, a lovely ride for those who don’t need much in the way of amenities but favor long views and green places.

  5. It is a fine old drive, Bob, and metro Oleona makes a nice entry point to trout country upstream. Another possibility for us when you bring your fly rod out east!

  6. loydtruss says:

    I find myself sometimes wishing I could travel back in time to see what a particular place really looked like in the 17 and 1800’s. I know you were wishing the same thing here as you hiked through areas that one time had towering pines and hardwoods.
    Just curious has the pine beetle infested any of the timber there? Acid rain has taken a huge toll on the forest in the Great Smoky Mountains, really a shame. That last image in your post is worth framing. Thanks for sharing

    • Bill,
      Indeed, we wish, at times, to travel back in time to see how things really were. And in places like this, with wild forests and trout streams, we can get as close as we’ll ever be, thanks to the powers of nature and our own imaginations.
      The pine beetle hasn’t taken any major toll on the evergreens, as yet, but the trees have plenty of ailments from other areas– acid rain, pine rust, hemlock adelgid, beech and elm tree invasives, etc. Yeah the list goes on and on, unfortunately.
      Thanks for your questions and interest, Bill.

  7. Ross says:

    Route 44, I love that driVe, goes thru & overlooks a lot of great country I’ve backpacked in years past. I still try to get down there once a year. Thanks for the post & pictures, stirred some great memories. Its a shame what they’re doing to those great woods.

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