Skip to main content

Susquehanna Life

Our Natural World: A Walk in Penn’s Woods

By Erica L. Shames

In 1630, Pennsylvania’s forests covered 90 percent of its land mass—over 40,000 square miles. William Penn’s 1681 Charter of Rights called for colonists to leave one acre of forest for every five acres cleared.

The industrial revolution, in the 1800s, was driven by the expansion of mining, railroads, petroleum, iron and steel production and manufacturing. By the beginning of the 1900s Pennsylvania’s forest cover had dwindled to 32 percent. Conservationists like Joseph Rothrock and Gifford Pinchot realized the importance of losing one of the nation’s greatest natural resources, and conservation efforts got underway in earnest in the early 1900s.

Forest recovery was a slow process, with trees planted by hand in the now barren lands that were once beautiful forests. Restoration efforts gained momentum and funding during the 1900s, and, today, close to 60 percent of the state is once again covered in trees.

What can we see?

Pennsylvania’s most common forest types are mixed oaks and Northern hardwoods. In fact, Pennsylvania is one of the top producers worldwide of hardwood lumber, with revenues from the state’s wood products industry reaching $11.5 billion a year.

The top 10 tree species found in the 16.58 million acres of forest are: red maple; black birch; black cherry; beech; sugar maple; hemlock; white ash; red oak; chestnut oak; and black gum. But some species are under attack. Non-native insects and tree diseases increasingly impact Pennsylvania’s forests. Gypsy moth, emerald ash borer, hemlock woolly adelgid, chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease, sudden oak death—the list keeps growing. The latest culprit is the spotted lanternfly, which is impacting the entire state, particularly southeast counties.

What’s happening now?

Pennsylvania’s forests are shrinking, a trend predicted to continue into the future. A 2012 study showed that by 2030, an estimated 6 percent, or 761,000 acres, of all privately-owned forests in the state will succumb to residential development. That’s 1,200 square miles.

The first Sunday in October has become a day to recognize the importance and value of Pennsylvania’s forests. This year, the Walk in Penn’s Woods occurs Oct. 7.

Organized by the Center for Private Forests at Penn State and Partners, walks will be held in rural, urban and suburban woods, state and national forests and parks, municipal watersheds, conserved areas, private lands and industry. Open houses and guided woods walks will showcase the multiple values and diverse uses of Pennsylvania’s forest resources.

Pennsylvania forests provide a valuable regenerating timber resource, and provide inestimable value as a water resource, pollution filter, carbon store, wildlife habitat and biodiversity reserve, urban refuge and source of recreational and aesthetic enjoyment.  

What we can do

In 2017, 64 walks occurred in 46 counties, with over 1,000 people participating.  The goal this year is 100 walks, with at least one walk in every county, attracting thousands of participants from across the state. It’s easy to take part in one of the many diverse wanderings taking place. Below are just a few of the scheduled 2018 walks! Sign up to lead a walk, or just find a comprehensive list of existing walks, at

Adams County

Michaux State Forest, Birch Run Road, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.: A 2.5-mile (1 to 2-hour) hike on the Beaver Trail, featuring the scenic Long Pine Run Reservoir.

Berks County

Nolde Forest Tree Identification, 2 to 3 p.m.: Tree Identification in the changing forest; DCNR Forester will be along to provide highlights.

Centre County

Ott Woods, 12 p.m. (1.5-hours): Strenuous walk uphill to ridge top Golden Wing Warbler habitat treatment. Discussion of the forest types along the walk as well as a crop tree release treatment area and nest box installations. Walkers should expect rough terrain and steep half-hour walk to the ridge top.

Musser Gap, Rothrock State Forest, Musser Gap Trail Parking Area, Open House, 1 to 4 p.m.: Educational stations set up along a popular (weekend) woods walking trail at Musser Gap, entry area to the Rothrock State Forest. A greeter at the trailhead parking lot will handout information directing participants to the approximately 15 stations on the trail ahead. This 2-mile (each way) walk is self-guided between the stations, focused on forest management, natural and cultural history, with at least one “station leader” at each stop.  

Clinton County

Eagleton Road, Start time TBD, (4+ hours): A level, comfortable hike through oak woods off Eagleton Road. Hike is a little over 8 miles and is mostly flat, with two sets of incline/declines. Good for a mid-level, leisurely hike.

Long Fork Loop, Sproul State Forest, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (3 hours), moderate 4.7-mile hike: Start at Hyner Run State Park parking area. Hike near a CCC camp, along an old logging road, by a recent regeneration cut, past an old shallow well and a view from a vista overlooking the Hyner Run Valley with other forest highlights along the way.

Cumberland County

Twining Tree Farm, Start time TBD (1 hour0: See forestry at all stages of growth along an established nature trail.

Dauphin County

Capital Region Water at The Dehart Dam Reservoir & Watershed, 1 to 3 p.m.: This guided 1.5-mile walk will explore Capital Region Water’s DeHart Dam and Reservoir in scenic Clarks Valley, highlighting the journey of drinking water from raindrop to the tap, and the role we share in stewarding these water resources. A Manada Conservancy field expert will identify birds, wildlife, flowers and invasive species. Forest and tree health will be discussed along the way. Wear well-fitting sturdy shoes or boots. Terrain may be uneven and there are moderate inclines. Meet in the gravel parking lot at the DeHart Dam entrance. Registration is required and is limited to 50 participants: or (717) 566-4122.

Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art: Explore over 12.5 miles of beautiful woodlands on Berry’s Mountain and the Ned Smith Center Grounds.

Lebanon County

Clarence Schock Memorial Park at Governor Dick, 2 to 4 p.m.: Learn to identify trees on a two-mile hike in mature forest to our observation tower where we can see five counties and lots of trees.

Luzerne County

Steve Tubs State Forest Recreation: This short hike will highlight the Seven Tubs, a beautiful stream with bedrock gouged by glacial erosion forming potholes and small waterfalls.

Nescopeck State Park, 1 to 3 p.m.: Enjoy the beautiful colors of fall while hiking the Woodland Way and Redrock Trails. This 2.5 mile hike features woodlands, wetlands and the beautiful Nescopeck Creek. (Hike is not suitable for strollers.)

Montour County

Montour Preserve, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.: Walk on Goose Woods Trail to view changes on the trail from the 1800s to the present, including logging, farming, regrowth, pioneer trees, maple sugaring and invasive species.

Perry County

Takach Property Loop, 1 to 2:30 p.m.: Walk the Takach property on an average-paced 2-mile loop hike. Learn how to establish a hunter management program on your property. Look for animal signs and invasive species.

Schuylkill County

Tuscarora State Park, 1 to 4 p.m.: An easy and casual walk through the forest around Tuscarora Lake to enlighten participants about the charm of the forest landscape. Folks of all ages are invited to get a first-hand look at a working forest. Highlights include: identifying trees and shrubs; learning about forest benefits to us and wildlife; and experiencing the solace and peacefulness in the forest.

More information about these or any other Walk in Penn’s Woods hikes is available from Allyson Muth at (814) 865-3208 or

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Susquehanna Life's free newsletter to stay informed