Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — February 2010

A Century of Skiing: George B. Will Ski Trail

by Gary Thornbloom

George Will, an early Pennsylvania Forest Ranger, skied in the Black Forest back in 1914. When Department of Conservation and Natural Resources employees Bob Webber and John Eastlake, who laid out the Black Forest Trail, began working to promote cross-country skiing in the early 1970s, the first cross-country ski trail in Pennsylvania was appropriately named the George B. Will Ski Trail. Bob continues to maintain this trail.

The trailhead is along Route 44, 12.7 miles north of Route 664 in Tiadaghton State Forest along the Clinton and Lycoming county line, and includes a large parking area. Skiing counterclockwise you will soon be skiing through a beautiful stand of white pines — snow covered, they shout winter! Later the trail enters a Norway spruce planting, and you can also see a red pine planting, both likely planted by Civilian Conservation Corps workers in the 1930s. Other conifers you will ski through include thick stands of hemlocks.

The 5.6 mile trail is wide, often straight, and is flat — all an advantage to those learning to cross-country ski out in the woods. On a recent outing there were more wildlife tracks then tracks of people. The white blanket covering the woods is changed with time, from a blank canvas, to a detailed record of wildlife coming and going in the winter. Deer tracks were everywhere, new snow covered other tracks but the gait can offer clues — some were most likely coyote. Throughout the day we took turns guessing at what we were seeing, and after speculating that the narrow trough with tracks in a close line must be a bird, a grouse soon exploded from the thick conifer cover above us.

Skiing the Geroge B. Will Trail

Mature trees in this mixed hardwood forest greet skiiers along the George Will Trail · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

The mixed hardwood forest you ski through once the trail moves away from the road displays mature trees with obvious bark differences. White trunks are not always snow coated, grey birch are plentiful. With several species of oak and birch, as well as cherry and an occasional aspen, you can enjoy skiing as well as learning more about our woodlands. The trail bisects two open meadows, one dotted by birch and hemlock. With the wind blowing snow across the white expanse, mostly flat but broken occasionally by tussocks, and divided by a meandering stream that disappears under drifts — again, the landscape shouts, winter!

Just past the halfway point there is a vista overlooking Baldwin Branch. The bench makes this a nice place to stop for lunch. The view is of the drafts and drainages that have carved up the Allegheny Plateau and make it such an interesting area to explore. An outpouring of glacial melt that began over one million years ago shaped the landscape in front of you.

The trail soon enters a deer enclosure. Compare the amount of tree regeneration that is outside the fence with that which is inside. The beating that the forest takes from deer eating almost every tree seedling is obvious. Lack of regeneration, where no fence is in place to keep deer out, is evident along this trail as well as in many other areas throughout our State Forests.

With virtually all State Forest lands managed as multi-use the impacts of some uses are far more evident than that of other users. This trail is near trails that allow motorized use, and you will see areas that have been logged, both protected from deer and not protected. Drive a little further on Route 44 and you will see the impacts of more logging as well as gas extraction. Only Wild and Natural areas are protected from what some would characterize as ravaging our public lands.

Most of the George Will Ski Trail leads you into the natural wonders of our Pennsylvania forests, however the impacts of multi-use are also present along short sections. Take a moment toward the end of your outing here to add your comments in the Trail Register. We must not only revel in a day spent enjoying one of the many great opportunities trails throughout our woodlands offer, but we also need to take the time to think about protecting these magnificent forests, ridge tops, and valleys.

I like to think George Will would delight in the fact that people are still enjoying a wintry day skiing through the woodlands that he surely enjoyed skiing in almost a century ago.

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