Allegheny Defense Project ...working for the protection of the natural heritage of the Alleghenies...

Hellbender Journal Summer/Fall 2001

Hiking and Logging: A Bad Combination

By Bob Stanger

I have been hiking the Tanbark Trail in the Allegheny National Forest between U.S. Route 62 and Pennsylvania Route 337 for a good many years now, occasionally continuing on the trail to Hearts Content. The trail up from the river affords a good workout of 45 minutes or so before leveling off and crossing Slater Run, where it makes a sharp left as it continues on to Sandstone Spring on 337.

My wife used to accompany me on these hikes, and many years ago we even used to carry our young sons, Billy and Jamie, on our backs as we clambered up and down the trail. In those days we had a camper trailer on the Allegheny River at nearby Cloverleaf Campground, which has since closed some years ago.

My wife's knees are much too worn now for the steep Tanbark Trail, and my son Jamie is too involved with his job at Youngstown State University, golf and other sports to spend much time hiking in the ANF or canoeing on the river.

But Bill, a mentally handicapped fellow of 29, is still often with me both on the Tanbark Trail and on the river. He lives in a group home in Youngstown, and seems to enjoy his stays at our modest cabin on the river (certainly a more pleasant place than his group home) , our hikes in the ANF, and canoe excursions on the beautiful Allegheny. On our walks, Bill often ranges so far ahead of me (I am now 70) that it might not appear to others we meet along the trail that we are hiking companions. When he was younger, I used to have to wait for Bill on the trail. Now itŐs the opposite.

Over the years, I have noticed that the contrast in the ANF along the Tanbark certainly makes a strong argument against logging if one is concerned primarily with the quality of a recreational environment, whether it be for hiking, hunting or whatever. The river slope hasn't been logged at least since the "great clearcut" 100 or so years ago. The beeches, black cherry, maples and oaks interspersed amidst huge rocks are tall and stately. There is much birdsong, and in the morning, shafts of sunlight beaming down through the mist from the high canopy create a cathedral effect.

One recent morning a large hawk "attacked" Bill and me, swooping low in the forest several times and admitting shrill cries as it missed us by just feet. The hawk apparently had a young one in the area.

Some years ago, this river slope area (known as the Allegheny Front) was considered for wilderness status. Then Rep. William Clinger, whose seat is now held by John Peterson, objected, saying that the Allegheny Front "contained some of the best timber on the ANF." This Allegheny Front area covers 7,393 acres.

When hikers reach the top of the river slope, they enter terrain which has been logged, I would say, within at least the last 40 years. The trees now standing amid a sea of fern are spindly, and many have fallen down, in part the result of a gypsy moth infestation a few years ago. The only birds one is likely to hear are crows. This is just another "woods" rather than a mature forest, like the tall tree area just a short distance below on the river slope.

Another place where Bill and I occasionally hike is in state Game Land 86, a 14,000-acre area which lies across the river from the Allegheny Front. Many hunting camps line the river along the road from Tidioute to Althom which borders the game land, and signs bid hunters "Welcome," advising them to "hunt safely."

The trouble is that much of the area in Game Land 86 has also been timbered, (some of it fairly recently) and is now covered with thick scrub growth. It seems to me that the Game Commission is not being very hospitable in "welcoming" sportsmen to an area so much of which is covered with thick, impenetrable scrub growth. The steep river slope area itself is fairly open, but hillside hunting must be pretty arduous. Nearby Game Land 29, which lies within the ANF near Chapman State Park, has also been extensively timbered, and in fact a cut has been proceeding there this past summer.

Recently Bill and I hiked in Game Land 86 between Thompson and Conklin runs, following game land roads. Above Conklin Run there is a large area which was timbered about 30 years ago which is now covered by an immense maple thicket, certainly impenetrable to this day by even the most intrepid hunter.

The day of our walk as we neared the end of the game land road, we saw a pickup truck parked at the edge of the maple thicket. In a stretch of nearby forest which overlooks the river, Route 62, the former Cloverleaf Campground, and the ANF beyond, two fellows were busy marking trees with red paint for future cutting. I could scarcely believe it, but their truck bore a bumper sticker reading "Hunters and fishermen make the best environmentalists." I just said "Hi" to them as Bill and I continued on down the steep slope to Conklin Run.

I deliberately didn't chat with the pair as I was afraid I would have made some very critical remarks about what they were doing. A couple of weeks later as Bill and I were hiking up another road in the same game land, a Game Commission truck passed us, followed by the same two tree markers in their truck. My wife, who was waiting for us in our car at the gate to the game land, spoke to the men as they opened and shut the access gate. They told her they had been marking more trees some distance down that road, which they said was to be used to haul out the timber. To facilitate the hauling, the road has been covered over with yellow dirt and gravel taken from two huge borrow pits located down in the game land.

State Gamelands Number 283. Photo by Rachel Martin

In denuding its lands of timber, the Commission is acting at cross purposes with itself, since the oaks, black cherry, beech and other trees harvested provide food and habitat for game, including the bear, deer and turkeys which are the quarry of sportsmen.

The grassy swaths for hunters that the Commission cuts through the timbered land are in themselves an acknowledgment that the land has been left impassable. One cannot help but wonder about the relative safety of hunting along such open swaths. In attempting to rationalize the Game Commission's questionable timbering policy, I can't help but wonder if the Commission hasn't entered into some sort of Faustian pact with timber consumers.

Personally, I am quite well acquainted with Erie's International Paper (my sister worked there when the plant was called Hammermill), and the huge piles of timber in the mill's log storage complex tower over the graves of generations of Stangers in adjacent Lakeside Cemetery. The graves include those of my father, Chris, an ardent life-long hunter and fisherman who would certainly deplore the loss of game habitat those same logs represent.

Because of a past conversation with a timber hauler in Game Land 86, I do know timber from there has in the past helped meet the paper mill's seemingly insatiable appetite for logs. How much of the present planned cut is intended for IP? A Game Commission official once told me that the Commission has its own foresters, and that the timbering really does benefit hunters by providing more browse for deer and "refuge areas for bear."

His remarks still ring in my ears as a real "PR" effort.

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