Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — February 2014

Black Moshannon — Ski Slope Trail Challenge!

by Gary Thornbloom

Black Moshannon State Park is one of the many gems in our State Park system. You can find something worth exploring in each season. Cross-country skiing is a great way to explore during the winter months. Trails in the park range from easy to challenging. Most skiers will find the Ski Slope Trail challenging, as well as fun — if they can make the grade!

The Ski Slope Trail begins at the edge of the beach area parking lot. You will climb 350’ in almost 1.5 miles on long, gentle switchbacks rising up and, with some nice views, out of the Black Moshannon Creek basin to the highest point in the park. There are gentle, short downhill sections, but overall you are steadily climbing.

The trail is in at least second-growth forest, climbing through an area that was denuded in the early part of the past century. As with much of our Public Land in Pennsylvania, this was land that industry used up, no longer saw as useful, and the Commonwealth purchased it. The land was reforested, in some instances with the conservation goal of protecting our streams, which had been choked with the sediment and debris from logging.

Note the many dead trees. The Black Moshannon area, particularly the forest east of the park, was devastated by the gypsy moth, one of the numerous forest pests introduced by commerce. Look at the saplings regenerating the forest. Oak is what was lost. Chestnut lost before that. White pine and hemlock logged before that. What tree species are forming the new forest?

Nature is resilient. Nature will endure. However the closer you look the more you can see the impacts of human enterprise, and those impacts have not usually resulted in improving the forest. The measure suggested by Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac: A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. How has this forest fared?

There are also signs of wildlife along the trail. Wood chips from woodpeckers searching for insects in dead trees. Deer paths through the mountain laurel. Deer rubs from several months back. Saplings gnawed by porcupines. Can you differentiate the two? Also look for the spoor indicating that a porcupine has been occupying the den in the base of a dead tree.

The Ski Slope Trail emerges at the edge of the parking area for the ski slope that the state operated here in the 1960’s and 70’s. The former lodge is now Cabin 20 — so be sure to give the cabin renters their space, or maybe consider renting the cabin for your next winter getaway!

Before you continue on the trail, consider including a detour to try ski the beginner slope at the far end of the parking area. With many bends in the trail, it is more difficult than most beginner trails! It is wide, and with several inches of new snow it is a reasonable challenge for an intermediate skier. Just remember, once you reach the bottom, it is a long slog back up unless you opt to ski out Dry Run and then south on Benner Run Road to return to your vehicle.

The Ski Slope Trail continues away from the former lodge and it is downhill from there. Gentle switchbacks and a wide trail give a skier the space to control their speed by stepping out of the track and into untracked snow, but it can still be a fast run.

The trail crosses SR 504 and a snowmobile trail, and ends at the Group Camping Area, where a sign directs you toward Black Moshannon Lake. Each of these is a different option for returning to your vehicle. I opted for the lake.

Cross the Beaver Road, ski through a picnic area and you are on the lake. To complete this 3.25 mile loop, ski to the right to return to your vehicle, or if you are still warm and hydrated, ski south to continue explorations on the lake.

Combine the Ski Slope Trail with lake skiing, and you will have skied miles of varied terrain, with interesting glimpses into the human and natural history of the Black Moshannon area — and that, is what exploring and enjoying Public Lands is all about.

Gary Thornbloom is the Co-Chair of the Public Lands Committee, PA Chapter Sierra Club; he can be reached at bearknob@verizon.net