Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — January 2012

Star Mill Trail: Gentle Cross-County Skiing

by Gary Thornbloom

Vista fromthe Star Mill Trail

Black Mosannon Lake in Winter · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

Star Mill Trail in Black Moshannon State Park is an enjoyable trail for an introduction to cross-country skiing on woodland trails. The location on the Allegheny Plateau in Centre County, 9 miles east of Philipsburg, has skiable snow way more often than Happy Valley.

The flat terrain and lack of rocks are part of the reason why the trail is excellent for those learning to ski. Most state parks cater to a broad range of users abilities, and usually have some trails that are suitable for beginners. State parks also have facilities, such as rest rooms, interpretive centers, and picnic pavilions. Maps, essential to exploring the woods safely, are also easily obtainable at the park office. All this makes for a pleasant introduction to enjoying the outdoors.

The Star Mill trailhead is at the parking area of boat mooring area #4. Clockwise, the 2.1 mile trail moves away from, but parallel to, Black Moshannon Lake, and then turns back along the lake to complete the loop. Some of the forest is climax beech and hemlock. Some large oak and cherry can also be found. You will also ski through stands of red pine that were planted during the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. And a closer look may reveal the location of the Star Mill, built in 1879.

The park brochure mentions an uncommon balsam fir stand that is along this trail. Hemlock and balsam both have short needles that lay flat along its branches. Perhaps the easiest way to differentiate between the two is that hemlock needles have a small stem connecting them to the branch and balsam fir does not.

Ground pine, a beautiful upright club moss resembling a small, six inch tree, carpets the forest floor in several spots. It often grows with other other species of club moss, but here all I saw was ground pine.

Where the trail is close to the lake there are nice views of the Shirks Run arm of Black Moshannon Lake. From other sections of the trail you can look down into the thick hemlock swamps that line North Run and Smays Run. This short trail gives you a feel for the Black Moshannon basin where numerous small streams surrounded by a variety of wetlands flow into the lake. The basin also gathers cold air. That can make Black Moshannon noticeably colder than much of the surrounding area, and can also help to preserve the snow cover.

The best views of the main body of the lake are as you return to the trailhead. Along this section of trail there is also a large beaver hut, and an area where numerous pointed stumps remain from beavers dropping small trees.

State parks regularly offer opportunities to learn more about the outdoors. The annual Fun In The Snow At Black Mo, January 21 from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., is an event that celebrates winter at Black Moshannon State Park. Among the numerous activities planned are beginners cross-country skiing and an evening ski on the lake. When the conditions are right an evening of skiing on the lake can be an amazing experience. Visit the Black Moshannon State Park website for details about upcoming events and, throughout the winter, for information on the current snow cover in the park.

If skiing the Star Mill Trail motivates you to further exploration you may, after checking the thickness of the ice with either the park office or with ice fisherman, ski across the lake and continue skiing on the network of trails that are there. Or you may save those trails — Hay Road, Seneca, and Indian — for another day. And with more confidence there is the 11 mile loop of the Moss Hanne Trail.

Black Moshannon State Park has long been my favorite park for every season, and there are always numerous opportunities for getting out and enjoying the winter. Numerous opportunities for getting on the trail — and on skis!

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