Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — August 2011

Hiking the John Wert Path

by Dr. Stan Kotala

Hiking the John Wert Path

Gerney Lee Carter and an ancient hemlock along the John Wert Path · Photo by Stan Kotala

The John Wert Path in Rothrock State Forest offers hikers a flat pathway along the forested riparian zone of Sinking Creek. Starting across from Bear Meadows Natural Area and within the Thickhead Wild Area, this three-mile path serves as a perfect walking trail that links the bog to Thickhead Mountain Road at Heckendorn Gap.

The trail begins across the road and south of the parking area at Bear Meadows. It is posted with a trailhead sign and marked with light blue blazes. The path runs along the south side of Sinking Creek as it flows from the bog towards Colyer Lake, winding through rhododendron thickets and giant hemlock stands. On this trail you feel as if you are deep in the wilderness. Tall tulip trees, white oaks, white pines and hemlocks shade Sinking Creek and the trail that runs alongside it.

The tea-colored water of Sinking Creek is due to tannins leached from the decaying plant matter of the bog in the stream’s headwaters. Every stream is a reflection of its watershed, and this stream obviously exhibits the concept of “watershed tea” as it is called by the folks at the Stroud Water Research Center.

Along the trail you will see a groundcover called goldthread (Coptis groenlandica), a northern plant which ranges from Labrador south to Maryland and in the Appalachian Mountains to North Carolina and Tennessee. This range extends west to Alaska and is found in small pockets across Canada. Goldthread is commonly associated with cool, moist habitats in or near peatlands and is often associated with coniferous canopies.

The dense thickets of rhododendron in the wetter areas and mountain laurel in the drier areas are home to Canada warblers, hooded warblers and black-throated blue warblers, all neotropical migrants that nest in central Pennsylvania. At dusk, you may hear barred owls calls from the large hemlocks along the stream.

Also along the trail, you will pass several shallow pools. These pools are essential breeding grounds for amphibians, such as the spotted salamander, the Jefferson salamander and the wood frog. Other amphibians, such as the red-spotted newt, can often be observed in the waters of these ponds. This newt’s bright orange terrestrial stage, known as the red eft, may be observed walking across the forest floor on damp days.

Towards the end of this path, you will encounter a wide gas pipeline corridor and, after that, the Shingle Path. The light-blue–blazed John Wert Path widens to a shale-covered roadway and continues past a gate and two hunting camps on your right, and soon reaches another gate and a sharp corner along Thickhead Mountain Road where the trail ends. If you intend to do a shuttle hike, a car could be left here. Otherwise, just turn back upstream to return to your vehicle at the Bear Meadows parking area.

If you go: From State College, take U.S. Route 322 East to Tussey Mountain Ski Area. Turn on Bear Meadows Road, continue for three miles, and park at the stone monument on the right. The John Wert Path is posted on the left after you cross the bridge.

If you want to drop a car at Thickhead Mountain Road, follow Treaster Kettle Road, which intersects Bear Meadows Road a few hundred yards before the parking area. Follow Treaster Kettle for 3.5 miles to Thickhead Mountain Road on the right. Continue on Thickhead Mountain Road for one mile and park by the gate on the very steep switchback turn. The John Wert Path begins at the gate.

Dr. Stan Kotala is the Outings Chair for the Moshannon Group Sierra Club.