Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — October 2010

Shingletown Gap

by Gary Thornbloom

Many of us already know what some people who move away from Central Pennsylvania discover once they are gone: we do not have to travel far to enjoy woods and waters.

Shingletown Gap is a short bike ride south of State College, and once at the trailhead parking lot, one mile off SR 45 on Mountain Road, you will find yourself at the beginning of many miles of trails that invite exploring Rothrock State Forest.

The blue-blazed Lower Trail leaves the parking lot and once past the reservoir parallels Roaring Run. You are soon walking beneath some very large trees. Just hanging out with the trees and stream could be your goal for an enjoyable day in the woods with mountain stream music.

The size of the trees and the presence of large fallen trees are some indication of very old, if not old growth forest. Many of the rhododendron along the stream are the size of small trees. The well-worn maze of paths and weathered stonework indicate past and current use of this gap.

Bald Knob at Shingltown Gap

Bald Knob · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

One hike is to follow the blue-blazed Lower Trail for a half mile into the gap. Then take the Bald Knob Ridge Trail to the north for a steep half-mile climb to the ridge. Continue along the narrow ridge. Views on your left will be across the valley to Boalsburg and then further west to State College, and on your right the views are out across the treetops of Rothrock State Forest. The views from up here will help you to acquire a sense of place, development that creeps throughout Happy Valley, and the public lands of Rothrock State Forest.

After one and one-half miles along the ridge the trail makes the final half mile climb to Bald Knob. Trails again wander off in several directions. When you reach a large open area covered with broken boulders, you are on Bald Knob. Rock seats face a campfire ring.

Charcoal hearth on Clemons Trail

Charcoal hearth along Clemons Trail · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

Bald Knob Ridge Trail continues off the east side of the knob toward Laurel Run Road, or you can follow Clemons Trail — no signs — south, and off the knob. A short distance down Clemons Trail and to the right in the woods is a charcoal hearth, a circle that remains after making charcoal. The iron furnaces that once burned throughout Central Pennsylvania in the 1800s were fueled by charcoal made from the surrounding forest. Colliers, professional charcoal makers, would cut and stack wood into mounds about 25 feet in diameter. The mounds were covered with soil and the pile would burn, tended by the collier, for a week or more. The art was in keeping the wood smoldering and not allowing it to burst into flames. It took the trees from one acre of forest land to make enough charcoal to fuel an iron furnace for one day. Huge expanses of forest were needed to fuel each furnace.

Clemons Trail dead ends at Lower Trail and you can follow Lower Trail back to the trailhead. Choosing Charcoal Flats Trail for part of your loop will take you through several additional charcoal hearths — most of the circles contain a campfire ring, and because they are flat and rock free make nice camp sites for backpackers. Lower Trail and Charcoal Flats Trail run parallel on opposite sides of Roaring Run and are connected by short paths that cross the narrow stream at several points.

The blazed and sometimes not-blazed trails, most with no signs, will be confusing without a map. Using the Rothrock Purple Lizard Trail Map, available at Appalachian Outdoors in downtown State College, is one way to not get lost. Another way is to go on a Ridge Valley Outing Club hike or a Sierra Club hike. The people who lead these hikes know where they are going, are knowledgable about the area you will be hiking in, and often are taking you to their favorite or special places.

However you choose to get on the trail, it will never be any easier than doing it right here in Central Pennsylvania — and Shingletown Gap is just down the road.

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