Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — July 2013

Stone Valley's Lake Trail Is Great, even without the Lake

by Dr. Stan Kotala

One of the best places to observe wildlife in various habitats is the Lake Trail in the 7,000-acre Stone Valley Recreation Area surrounding Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center. The Stone Valley Recreation Area contains 29 miles of trails, including the Lake Trail, a 3-mile footpath with gentle slopes and great views.

Begin your hike by parking at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center. If the center’s open, stop in to pick up a trail map. From the center, go to the wooden portal by the parking lot, where a map of the trails is on display. Cross the parking lot and follow the gravel pathway under the larch trees and then take a brief detour onto the Grapevine Trail, which will take you to a boardwalk from which you can look upstream into the swamp along Shaver’s Creek and downstream across the bed of the former Lake Perez.

Continue along the boardwalk and rejoin the orange-blazed Lake Trail in a hemlock forest, turning right and walking among these beautiful evergreen trees. This wetland forest has many unique species that depend on hydric soils for their survival. Look for cinnamon ferns and the large leaves of the skunk cabbage on both sides of the trail.

Emerging from the hemlock woods into the parking area for the Stone Valley Recreation Area, you will cross the parking lot and follow the orange blazes through the manicured public use area.

As you near the dam, on your left you will see a hillside covered with hemlocks and some deciduous trees. On your right notice the small deciduous trees called alders, which have tiny cones resembling those of pines. Alders like the water’s edge habitat and are important nitrogen-fixing plants.

Soon you’ll arrive at the dam which will give you a panoromic view of the lakebed, looking northward. In the distance are the blue outlines of Tussey Mountain and Rudy Ridge. Cross the dam and ascend the shale-covered road, following the orange Lake Trail markers. Pass through a woodland and emerge at the road leading to the Civil Engineering Lodge. Cross the asphalt road and enter the woods dominated by white and red pines. A narrow powerline clearing provides early successional habitat for birds such as the field sparrow and the yellow-breasted chat.

Ascending into the woods again, notice the mixed deciduous/coniferous forest around you. Look and listen for downy woodpeckers, black-capped chickadees, and white-breasted nuthatches that make up the mixed flocks that travel through this wood in search of food. As you reach the high point of this wooded hill, you’ll notice the sugar maples that dominate the crest.

Descending a shallow hollow that leads to a tiny stream, keep your eyes peeled for the orange blazes. Make sure you don’t miss the sharp right-hand turn made by the Lake Trail as it crosses the stream, over a small wooden bridge. As you ascend the small hill, watch out for exposed roots. Also take note of the understory dominated by the alien invasive privet, a landscaping shrub that is a serious threat to native plants. See how it has overtaken most of the habitat upslope of the trail. The privet however, gradually is being shaded out by the dense overstory.

You’ll pass a small clearing on your right. Look for eastern bluebirds, friendly members of the thrush family that “carry the sky on their backs.” They nest in tree cavities and in the small bird houses mounted on poles in the clearing. Continue on through the woods, looking and listening for wildlife. After you cross the stream via a culvert bridge follow the orange blazes to the right, and up the old carriage road.

Downslope on your right you’ll see the sugar shack, where, in early spring, sugar maple sap is boiled to make maple syrup. At the top of the hill is the Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center and the parking lot, your start and end points for this hike.

The Lake Trail offers a great way to see wildlife and enjoy one of Penn State’s crown jewels — the Stone Valley Recreation Area.

Dr. Stan Kotala is the Endangered Species and Wildlife Chair for the Moshannon Group of the Sierra Club.