By Sarah Corcoran, Deputy Director, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter
Every year, on the first Sunday in October, hundreds of Pennsylvanians take to the forest for “A Walk in Penn’s Woods” day. According to the PA Forestry Association, “This day is a statewide coordinated event encouraging people across Pennsylvania to learn how their local woods work, see forests in new ways, and appreciate and love the forests so that we can all care well for them.” Four Sierra Club outings were held that weekend to get folx outside for what turned out to be a brisk but beautiful day.
On one of those outings, seven intrepid explorers set out on Sunday morning to explore a six-mile section of the Loyalsock Trail north of Williamsport located in the Loyalsock State Forest. The group included members of the North Central Group, Keystone Trails Association, Save the Loyalsock and the Reliable Decarbonization Alliance – all groups in the Save Pennsylvania’s Forests Coalition. While the group was ready for a difficult climb to some beautiful vistas, the main reason this particular section was chosen was because it was part of a gas lease agreement between DCNR and Pennsylvania General Energy (PGE).
Many people may not realize that fracking is allowed on state forest property. A moratorium was put in place by former Governor Wolf through executive action in 2015 which put a hold on new oil and gas leases on state park and forest land. However, significant tracts of state forest land remain subject to development due to severed subsurface rights or leasing prior to 2011. DCNR estimates up to 10,000 new wells may be drilled on state forest lands in the next decade. New wells are never created in a vacuum; there are roads, pipelines, staging areas, water retention ponds and sand storage areas that are built alongside them, all of which impact our forests. We had heard a report that new development was happening along the Bryan Hay and Loyalsock Trails off of Little Bear Creek Road and wanted to check it out first hand. PGE is building a pipeline to connect to a well pad they have drilled in the Loyalsock and are running it directly along the well traveled Loyalsock Trail.
The beginning of our hike was a steep two mile climb up the seldom used Graff Woolover trail. This trail follows a creek bed and there were several stream crossings to navigate. The scenery was beautiful with lots of small waterfalls, pools and rhododendrons but I wouldn’t recommend this trail without hiking poles and plenty of breaks. Once we hit the top of the trail where it connects to the Bryan Hay trail there was a stark change.
Left image courtesy of Rick Coulter
We had to hike along a logging road for the entire stretch of the Bryan Hay trail, the rain from earlier in the week making some sections hard to traverse and the ruts from the construction vehicles were knee high in places. Soon, we met up with the Loyalsock trail and were able to enjoy just shy of a mile of peace while walking through lush greenery.
That didn’t last for long though, soon we came across another forest cut, and after that a wide road that was built directly over the trail. The Loyalsock turned right on this roadway but we decided to explore and went to the left for about a quarter of a mile to check out the vehicle staging area and retention ponds that had been created as part of the pipeline buildout.
After getting back on the road/trail we followed hundreds of feet of pipe that had yet to be put in the ground until cutting back into the woods for the remainder of our hike.
The last three miles of our hike were absolutely spectacular. We followed the Allegheny Ridge for a portion and were able to experience beautiful vistas of the surrounding area before descending steeply back down into the valley. The contrast between the unmarred sections of the trail and the construction were intense and disheartening.
To learn more about fracking on state forest lands visit the Shale Gas Monitoring page of the DCNR website. To learn about upcoming outings in your area, check out the Sierra Club Pennsylvania event calendar and to become more involved with our local outings program reach out to me at email@example.com.
This blog was included as part of the November 2023 Sylvanian newsletter. Please click here to check out more articles from this edition!