Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — May 2007

Spring Creek Canyon — The Hike That Could Be

by Gary Thornbloom

A parula warbler’s raspy call hung in the treetops above me as I began to hike along Spring Creek heading upstream from Fisherman’s Paradise and into Spring Creek Canyon toward Rock Road four and one half twisting miles in the distance. Fisherman’s Paradise supports a world renowned trout fishery and while it is well known to fishermen, the hike upstream remains little known to many local hikers. This is because although sections of the canyon are open to hikers, as well as to fisherman, other sections owned by Rockview State Correctional Institute have been closed to the public since 1925.

Hike along Spring Creek Canyon

If the Spring Creek Canyon is transfered from Rockview SCI to DCNR as a Natural Area, this is a hike the public could someday enjoy.

Rockview SCI is planning to transfer ownership of the canyon. With permission, I recently hiked the length of the canyon to see what was there. If the transfer is to DCNR, and the land is administered as a Natural Area, then this is a hike that you could someday take.

The towering limestone cliffs upstream from Fisherman’s Paradise are repeated again and again further upstream. Steep canyon walls and running water rarely fail to captivate people, and here the experience is readily accessible. The cliffs are beautiful with the stark bare rocks and rock layers that add to the a setting. They have also helped to protect the canyon and provided niches for rare and endangered plant and animal species that can be found there. The narrow valley and the sound of the stream effectively screen the noise of nearby highways.

Spring Creek runs clear and cold, and is fed, as its name indicates, by the many springs along its course. The trail is a walker’s delight. Each meander of the stream is an invitation to new discoveries. The riparian environment is perfect for turtles, and the numerous insects the wary trout depend upon. A wide variety of trees, bushes, ferns and wildflowers adds additional interest. The path, much of which follows Fish Commission access roads, makes for easy, pleasant walking. This, along with the gentle sound of the stream, is an ideal setting to lose yourself in a contemplative walk.

The fish hatchery, a research station, and Rockview buildings scattered along the stream make it impossible to think of this as wilderness. The invasive species of multi-flora rose, honeysuckle, Russian olive, and wild mustard are also reminders that the area has been impacted by human activities. The impacts are there, but so is the potential for reclaiming a beautiful small corner of Centre County.

As dramatic as the cliffs, in their own way, are the wildflowers. American ginger, bloodroot, squirrel corn, rue anemone, the emerging umbrellas of may apple, and both yellow and purple violets were some that I saw on my recent hike. Spring Creek Canyon conceals these many small and wonderful gems. The annual Mothers Day Wildflower Walk that ClearWater Conservancy has led for the past couple of decades is a chance for you to experience the numerous wildflowers in Spring Creek Canyon. ClearWater’s website provides an extensive list of flowers you are likely to see. This walk will access, with permission, a portion of the restricted section of the canyon and you will be accompanied by knowledgeable leaders who can introduce you to the flowers and plants of the canyon.

The rim of the canyon offers scenic vistas of the mature hardwood forest that cloaks many sections of the canyon walls. Proper stewardship of this land, administering it as a Natural Area, could include trails to the rim where a hiker would be rewarded with vistas of the canyon. Some of the mature forest lacks regeneration of trees that a healthy forest would have. Overbrowsing by deer has eliminated the nursery that should be present. Instead invasive mustard carpets the forest floor. Fields, both under cultivation and some reclaimed by brush, extend from Benner Pike to the rim of the canyon. The fields contain reservoirs of invasive plants. Farming the fields would include the threat of pesticide use. And the fields, by their irregular edge, result in a fragmented forest. All of these factors are threats to the long-term health of the canyon.

Reforestation of the land adjacent to the rim is the key to preserving and protecting the biological diversity of Spring Creek Canyon. While mature forest is located primarily in the canyon and on its slopes, reforestation of the fields along the rim would increase the viability of these forest lands for wildlife that should be found in a healthy forest. It would also provide a buffer that would benefit the canyon in numerous ways. Core forest habitat and dependent species would increase. Invasive species of plants and animals would not spread as easily into the canyon. A study done by the Western Pennsylvania
Conservancy recommends reforesting the fields as the best way to protect Spring Creek Canyon. The enjoyment of the canyon would also be enhanced by the additional buffer.

Mallards enjoying a stroll in Spring Creek Canyon

Mallards stroll along a little-used access road in Spring Creek Canyon · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

Reforestation would enhance the recreational experience of anyone visiting the area. On the day I was there a group of fishermen from Vermont wished local residents well in their efforts to protect Spring Creek Canyon.

Controlling and removing invasive plants, and reforesting the land adjacent to the canyon rim, would encourage native wildflowers and provide quality forest habitat. A walk through Spring Creek Canyon could then realize its potential as a hiker, birder, and wild flower lover’s paradise.

And the parula warbler that welcomed us to the canyon? — They and other wood warblers that should inhabit the canyon are unlikely to breed in the current fragmented forest, but with the increased core habitat that reforestation would make possible such area sensitive species could find a home. And this would be a very pleasant home, a home that nearby Centre region residents of all ages and abilities could enjoy visiting.

If You Go: Fisherman’s Paradise provides for the easiest access and look at Spring Creek Canyon. You can hike upstream for about 1.5 miles from here before you should turn back from the currently restricted area. Take Benner Pike 3.5 miles past the Nittany Mall toward Bellefonte; turn left on Paradise Road for ½ mile; and then turn left onto Spring Creek Road for another ½ mile. There is parking there, and you can follow a grassy road for about 1.5 miles until you encounter a No Trespassing sign. There are other access points, but this one will make it easiest for you to stay clear of the currently restricted Rockview SCI lands.

Visit the ClearWater Conservancy website www.clearwaterconservancy.org for information on the Mother’s Day Wildflower Walk.

Come hear retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, Ed Perry, give a talk entitled Protecting Spring Creek Canyon, at 7 p.m. on Monday May 7th [2007] at Schlow Community Library.

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Gary Thornbloom is the Chair of Sierra Club Moshannon Group and can be reached at bearknob@verizon.net.