Star power at Cherry Springs State Park
Look at a satellite image of the United States at night you'll see two dark areas in the mid-Atlantic region. At the heart of one of them is Cherry Springs State Park.
In the early 1990s, a handful of amateur astronomers discovered the exceptional viewing conditions of Cherry Springs' skies and the word began to spread. Star-gazers who had previously traveled many miles to view planets and nebulae without atmospheric disturbance discovered they had some of the best dark skies right in their own back yard.
The Pa. Bureau of State Parks in May 2000 designated Cherry Springs as a 'Dark Sky Park.' Managers now consider dark skies to be as valuable a resource as air, water, and wildlife.
Most of the country is affected by 'light pollution' -- lighting that escapes upwards into the atmosphere where it reflects off moisture and blocks a view of the night sky.
Cherry Springs has no sky glow. While residents of darker communities may see 3,000 stars, the skies above Cherry Springs can sometimes display upwards of 10,000 stars.
An astronomers' club from State College, the Central Pennsylvania Observers, holds 'star parties' at Cherry Springs to introduce the public to stargazing. Cherry Springs was also the pilot location for the Stars-n-Parks program, sponsored by the National Public Observatory (NPO) to foster public awareness of light pollution and the preservation of the night skies.
For information on Cherry Springs State Park: www.dcnr.state.pa.us
For information on the Cherry Springs Dark Sky Fund/Association: www.csspdarkskyfund.org
A popular man-made lake at Lyman Run State Park reopened in 2008 after an eight-year absence. The 40-acre lake was drained in 2000 after structural deficiencies were detected in the dam.
A new dam completed in 2008 allowed for the restoration of a cold-water lake that has been popular with trout anglers, boaters and swimmers. Other renovations were also completed at the 595-acre park, including modern restrooms and shower facilities in two of its campgrounds.
For information on Lyman Run State Park: www.dcnr.state.pa.us
A rare piece of artwork has occupied the wall of the Coudersport Post Office lobby for more than 60 years. It depicts three hardy woodsmen who have looked down over tens of thousands of customers since the work debuted in 1939.
On Saturday afternoon, Feb. 16, the trio took their place as a tribute to Potter County's lumbering heritage. It was part of a U.S. Treasury Department plan to decorate select federal buildings across the country with murals and sculptures.
Ernest Lohrman, a professor of art and history at Meriden College in Connecticut, was commissioned to create the Coudersport piece, depicting woodsmen who attacked the virgin timber as passenger pigeons, plentiful in the late 1800s but now extinct, flitted in the nearby woods. The artwork was produced with a plaster cast.
Ruins of a dam that gave way in 1911, causing a devastating flood in the southern Potter County borough of Austin, are the backdrop for a public park that is a symbol of volunteerism and community spirit. Donations and volunteers have resulted in the development of the Austin Dam Memorial Park, located along Rt. 872, about two miles north of Austin.
The dam was built by the Bayless Pulp and Paper Company to solve the water shortage the plant encountered when Freeman Run ran low in the summer and fall. On Sept. 30, 1911, the dam failed and a wall of water swept down the valley and through the town of Austin. An estimated 78 people perished.
The tall concrete columns that stretch across the valley stand as a silent reminder of the tragedy. Visitors can drive to the base of the dam ruins on an access road one-half mile north on Rt. 872.
Each July, Austin Dam Memorial Park hosts The Dam Show, an eclectic music festival featuring natural recording artists. During the evening portion of the show, the dam ruins are bathed in a dynamic, colorful light show.
Austin's rich and colorful heritage is on display at the E. O. Austin Historical Museum, located on the town square. Many artifacts are on display in a building that was constructed as an exact replica of the town founder, E. O. Austin's, home.
More information on the museum is available at www.austinhistoricalsociety.com
For information on the Austin Dam Memorial Association: www.austindam.net
For information on The Dam Show: www.damshow.com
History books are filled with tales of utopian dreams that turned sour. One of the more famous of these stories can be traced to southern Potter County, in the vicinity of today's Ole Bull State Park. It was there that Norwegian Ole Bull -- the most famous violinist of his time -- sought to develop a settlement where immigrants could enjoy the blessings of liberty and prosperity of the New World.
Today, some 150 years later, there is little trace of the colorful Bull or his colonists. But the land they tried to tame in the 1850s is another kind of Mecca enjoyed by thousands of campers, hikers, picnickers and nature lovers every year.
The 132-acre Ole Bull State Park affords visitors the opportunity to walk on the very land where Bull once plotted his villages. Located along Pa. Rt. 144, it's in the heart of an area still often referred to as the 'Black Forest,' because of its once-dense tree cover, mountainous terrain and wilderness habitat.
It features camping and picnic grounds, swimming, hiking, trout fishing, cabin rental and some hunting opportunities. Additional details are available at the park office, (814) 435-5000.
History buffs seeking to find visual reminders of Bull and his followers won't go away disappointed. A short hike up a mountain trail takes the visitor to the vista where Bull's home - a modest two-story log structure - was built in 1852. Some of the foundation stones remain in place as a memorial to the colony's founder.
The cabin site affords a breathtaking view of the vast Kettle Creek valley that the Norwegians attempted in vain to settle. The mountains were too steep and the climate too cold for farming. The colony was poorly managed, under-capitalized and doomed to failure. Within two years, all but a handful of the Norwegians had abandoned the region.
All evidence suggests that there were 300 or fewer colonists and the land purchased by Bull consisted of 11,144 acres. When Bull purchased the property, three prime parcels in the fertile valley were excluded from the sale. The seller did refund to him the original purchase price of about $10,000. At the same time, the construction of cabins, the schoolhouse, a grist mill, hotel, general store and other improvements were made primarily on property that Bull never owned, so he and some of the colonists lost a small fortune.
For information on Ole Bull State Park: www.dcnr.state.pa.us
A half-century after Pennsylvania established its first and only state-owned ski area, Ski Denton lives on as part of Denton Hill State Park. Under private management, the resort still caters to skiers and snowboarders, but it has expanded operations to appeal to mountain bicycle enthusiasts. Ski Denton is also the site of two major archery festivals each year.
Its summit is some 2,440 feet above sea level. Construction of the resort began in 1958. It was state-operated until 1979, when Ski Denton became a concession run by a private contractor. It's located across Rt. 6 from another attraction, the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum.
For more information on Ski Denton: www.skidenton.com
A state museum in the heart of Potter County documents the history and equipment of the state's forest industries. The Pennsylvania Lumber Museum is located along Rt. 6, between Galeton and Coudersport.
In addition to a visitor center, the museum features a replica logging camp including mess hall and bunkhouse, blacksmith shop, filer's shack, horse barn, locomotive and engine house, along with a steam-powered sawmill and log holding pond. An authentic 1912 Shay locomotive towers over the grounds on a stationary track and a rare 1910 Model 10 Barnhart log loader adds to the realism.
Activities at the Lumber Museum include tours, educational workshops and classes. During the Bark Peelers' Convention each July, the work skills and leisure activities of Pennsylvania's turn-of-the-century lumberjacks are re-created through contests and demonstrations.
For hours of operation, call the museum at 814-435-2652.
For more information on the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum: www.lumbermuseum.org
Sinnemahoning, located in both Potter and Cameron counties, offers picturesque views and an abundance of wildlife, including nesting bald eagles, elk, and many birds and butterflies. The 1,910-acre park is home to the lake that has formed behind the George B. Stevenson Dam, built for flood protection in 1955. The 142-acre reservoir offers opportunity for fishing and boating.
Several trails take hikers through a mixed hardwood forest, spruce plantation, grassy openings, vernal ponds, streamside bottoms and a wildlife viewing area. The 35-site campground has a modern washhouse with hot water, flush toilets and showers, and playground equipment. There are three picnic areas.
For additional information on Sinnemahoning State Park: www.dcnr.state.pa.us
Sizerville State Park is nearly surrounded by forest and is near the largest blocks of state forest land in the state. The 23-site campground in Potter and Cameron counties has flush toilets and showers. Eighteen campsites have electricity. The park also features hiking trails, a play area and outdoor amphitheater.
Six picnic pavilions and over 200 picnic tables are available. Sizerville State Park also has a 105-foot-long concrete pool, with an adjacent wading pool, open from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day.
Sizerville State Park opened for public use in 1924 with the first facilities built in 1927. The name "Sizerville" comes from a logging boomtown of the same name that flourished around the turn of the century. Sizerville itself was named for the Sizer family who were, according to local legend, the first settlers in the area. Beautiful white pines and hemlocks grace Sizerville and bring to the visitor's eye and mind a quiet, relaxed atmosphere. The pines were planted in the 1930s as a conservation effort by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Several thousand acres in and around the park were planted to replace the massive tracts of old growth timber logged at the turn of the century. The East Branch of Cowley Run, located in the park, has historical significance in game management in Pennsylvania. In 1917, a pair of beavers was presented to the Pennsylvania Game Commission by the State of Wisconsin because beavers had become extirpated in Pennsylvania. This first pair was released on East Branch Cowley Run, and beavers are still found in the area. Elk once lived throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Now through the efforts of the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Bureau of Forestry, reintroduction of this majestic animal to the Commonwealth has succeeded. Pennsylvania's only elk herd lives in the mountainous, mostly wooded area of Elk, Clinton and Cameron counties.
For additional on Sizerville State Park: www.dcnr.state.pa.us