Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — March 2005

Trail Maintenance and Skiing on the Allegheny Front Trail

by Dave Coleman

Driving up the Julian Pike onto the Allegheny Front, it was hard not to notice the broken trees. It was the first time I had driven this road since reading the Centre Daily Times photographer’s account of visiting Black Moshannon State Park after the ice storm last month. The photographer was stranded until the road crews removed the dozens of trees that had fallen over the roadway. This day, I was joining another crew that was performing the same type of cleanup a month later — on a hiking trail.

The Allegheny Front Trail (AFT) encircles Black Moshannon State Park with an approximate 40 mile circumference — all within state forest lands. The Moshannon Group of the Sierra Club held a service outing on the “Front Vista” portion of the AFT to clear the trail of the downed trees and branches. This was on one of the first sections developed of the AFT — along the rim of the front itself — from Underwood Road to Route 504.

I arrived at Underwood Road around nine. The outing was advertised to start at the indecent time of 7:30 a.m., but volunteers were urged to show up at any time to catch up and help. I was only an hour and a half late. The AFT crosses Underwood Road a little over a mile from the Julian Pike. This day the road was covered in snow, packed down by the snowmobiles, but my all-wheel drive made easy work of it. Several other cars were parked at the trailhead.

I skied a little over half a mile, up the AFT east of Underwood Road slightly uphill to the rim of the Allegheny Front itself. I passed dozens of places where the crew had recently cut, dragged and cleared fallen trees and branches from the trail. So much work evidenced that I thought I was sure to catch up with them shortly. And the clearing work made this is an easy ascent on skis. But at the rim, I had to de-ski and scramble down through a break in the big rocks that the trail passes.

This is where this section of the AFT deserves the name “Front Vista”. “Ralph’s Majestic View” really is majestic. Named after AFT co-founder and enthusiast Ralph Seeley, the view encompasses not only the foothills of the front and the Bald Eagle Valley, but also Bald Eagle Ridge and Tussey Mountain beyond. On Tussey Mountain one can see the Tussey Mountain Ski Area and on Bald Eagle Ridge you can see the new highway construction along the ridge to Skytop as well as the cut where the acid rock problem has arisen. Even though nature’s ice storm damage was quite evident on the Allegheny Front, it was dwarfed by man’s purposeful impact to the landscape. A little further along the trail is “Ralph’s Pretty Good View” which offers an even more unobstructed view of the I-99 construction on Bald Eagle Ridge.

I had made the correct choice to leave the skis on top; the trail along the rim was rocky with semi-steep ascents and descents the rest of the way. I passed a few serious work sites where fallen trees of up to a foot diameter were cut from the trail. It was obvious that a chain saw was used due to the pattern of thrown sawdust (as well as the size of timber cut); but realized I hadn’t heard a chain saw the entire time out. I thought maybe I would not catch up with them or maybe they had arranged a car shuttle at the other end. Although I wanted to speak to the others in preparation of this column, I wasn’t much concerned. I had never been on this section of the AFT before and was enjoying the scenery that this quickly warming bright winter day provided.

I continued along the trail occasionally pulling branches out of the softening snow that the crew had missed (or had found to be locked in the crusted snow earlier in the day) and using my machete to cut brush that would have been more of an issue this spring and summer. I arrived at a point a couple of miles from Underwood Road where the trail went down into a hollow. I decided that this would be a good point to turn around as I had other obligations later that day.

On cue, just then the crew ascended the trail lugging chain saws, pruning shears and hand saws. Ten volunteers in all had cleared almost three miles of trail in about 5 hours. The leader of the service outing, Ron Johnson remarked that it was not nearly as bad as it had appeared immediately after the ice storm; many of the trees that had bent completely over by the weight of ice and snow had re-straightened after it had melted. Still the work completed was impressive and I expressed my gratitude to those who are committed to maintaining these trails. All of the Allegheny Front Trail was built, and is maintained, by volunteers.

All users of public trails should lend a hand to keep them clear of obstructions as well as litter. A good trail user should devote at least a small part of the time on the trail improving it. Better yet, become a “trail maintainer”. Find out how for the AFT on the website (listed below).

After hiking back to the rock outcropping (the highest point of that section of trail) as the crew trudged the last half mile to their vehicles, I enjoyed a nice slide down the newly cleared trail.

Besides that first half mile of the Front Vista Section, other portions of the AFT are skiable. At the time of this writing, yet another snow fall is blessing Central Pennsylvania. The section from Underwood Road west to the Julian Pike (2 miles) is an excellent ski (if Underwood Road is too snow covered for your vehicle, start at the Smays Run trail adjacent to the pull off from Julian Pike). So too is the Moss Hanne Trail section (2 miles from Julian Pike to Shirks Road or 9 miles around the lake). Other skiing options would include the trails on west side of the park lake (good for beginners and novices) or the Rock Run Trail system (for more experienced skiers). These options have been presented in previous On The Trail Columns (January ’03 and February ’04 respectively).

Black Moshannon State Park and the surrounding state forest lands can be easily accessed from the Centre Region from Julian Pike from Route 220 at Julian or by Route 504 from Unionville. Underwood Road is immediately at the top of the climb up Julian Pike.


Maps of the AFT can be picked up at the Park office or on the AFT website.

Visit the AFT website for more information, pictures and maps: http://www.aft.altoona-pa.com/index.html

The Moshannon Group Webpage includes all past On The Trail Columns (see the Articles page for a complete list).

Dave Coleman lives in Patton Township and volunteers for the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club as well as the local Moshannon Group. Dave can be reached at dyatesc@aol.com