Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — September 2002

Exploring Bald Eagle Ridge

by Dave Coleman

Sometimes you just want to get out in the woods. Sometimes you just want to go outside somewhere and decide how long of an excursion it will be — to play it “by ear.” Bald Eagle Ridge — conveniently situated to the Centre Region – offers just such a expediency. My favorite publicly accessed portion of the ridge is on State Game Lands No. 278 accessed just six miles south of Port Matilda.

Just about every type of habitat as well as terrain can be encountered here. Several types of wetland habitat can be found from the base of the ridge and up on the mountain side. These can be inspected without much physical exertion. The ridge itself allows an elevation climb for the more energetic through a relatively intact maturing forest.

At the old, and most popular, entrance to these state game lands lays a pond of several dozen acres that supports many amphibian and fish species as well as many wetlands plants. On every visit, I am able to observe countless red-spotted newts. This common salamander species can be caught and handled easily, but should not be taken, as they will not live too long in captivity and it is illegal to take these creatures from the game lands. This pond is also home to a few species of fish as well as a stopping spot for many water-fowl. Great Blue Herons frequent the vicinity.

Carefully crossing on the built up earth and stacked branches, one can cross the pond at the makeshift/Beaver dam. During the spring, there could be a significant flow through this dam as it is the headwaters of South Bald Eagle Creek (not to be confused with North Bald Eagle Creek that flows through Milesburg).

A short hike I have taken many on involves exploring many different types of wetland features — from spring outlets and pools on the lower portions of the ridge side to the seep channels, which run down from almost the top of the mountain.

First, walk south (turn right after crossing the Beaver Dam) a hundred yards to observe one of literally hundreds of springs that drain the ridge aquifer. Usually (unless in severe drought conditions) these flow year-round. The ones here, at the base of the ridge, flow directly into South Bald Eagle Creek. Ones further up the ridge may flow back into the ground before their final emergence into the valley floor.

Further south, just a few hundred yards is an example of many spring pools that dot the ridge side. A spring seep makes its final appearance to the surface in a pool approximately 12 feet across. A small stream channel carries the discharge down the remainder of the slope to South Bald Eagle Creek. This pool, I have been told, has contained trout (like the noteworthy Blue Springs Pools several miles north), but I have, after many visits, never observed any.

From this point — if you are ready for more of an exertion — you can start walking straight up the ridge side. Find one of the seep channels to follow up, pausing to pick up rocks in the seemingly dry channels and perhaps you may find one of many species of salamanders just under the surface. Sometimes you can hear the water flowing in the colluvium just inches or feet beneath the surface.

This part of the ridge is a fairly mature oak forest with varying under story. The state game lands in this vicinity are noted for ruffed grouse, wild turkey, and American woodcock as well as white-tail deer. It is also noted for up to 33 species of neotropical migratory birds and serves as a major flyway for migrating raptors. The ground is comprised mainly of talus stone and thin soil — sturdy hiking shoes or boots are recommended for the excursion up the ridge.

Follow the seep channel(s) up the ridge. At some point the channels will dissipate. Keep walking straight up and maybe a little to the right (south).

Eventually you will come upon an abandoned gas line right-of-way. Somewhat overgrown, but obvious, the clearing is 20 to 30 feet wide. Take this to the left (up the mountain and slightly north to where it finally comes upon an old dirt roadway. This traverses the ridge from Dix (where you parked your car) past this point, up over the ridge and down to Route 350 just above Spring Mount. Only in this area is this old roadway in state game lands. You would have to cross private property to take this road to either termination.

But you can go a few hundred yards up the roadway to get a good survey of the valley some 500 feet below. This is a good place to have lunch, or snack, and take in the view.

Getting back is relatively easy. Instead of retracing your steps, take this dirt road a quarter mile past where you first intersected it, find an easy passage down slope and walk down the ridge. Eventually you will come upon the seep channels and maybe come across a spring pool or two. At the toe of the ridge, if you find standing water, you are most likely too far north — turn left to the “beaver dam”. If you find running water, you have goon too far south — turn right to the dam crossing. Crossing upstream of this dam is possible, if you are good at jumping six feet or so, or don’t mind getting knee deep in muck.

If You Go: Drive to Port Matilda on Route 220/322. Stay on Route 220 South and go almost exactly six miles from the only traffic light in Port Matilda. Watch closely for the signs marking the Blair County line. You must be careful with traffic behind and the oncoming traffic also. You are to turn left on a gravel road at this point. If you miss it, turn around at Lion Country Supply which is just a stone’s throw further on the left.

Go two hundred yards across the railroad tracks, turn right and the State Game Lands access is just a 100 feet further. Since the railroad gated the old access to the “Beaver Pond”, the hike described above starts a little over a mile south. Go a short distance away from the railroad and turn right at the power line right-of-way. Walk a little over a mile to the pond described above.

Note: References to compass directions north and south are actually northeast and southwest respectively. North and south are used in the above directions and descriptions related to Route 220. For the purposes of this orientation, the ridge is assumed to run north-south.

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