An Exploration of Black Moshannon State Park from the perspective of novice hiker and Penn State student Ryan Daugherty. In this time of great stress, we need to be able to break away and nature offers the perfect solution that many might miss out on.
Fall vistas, elegant water streams, and the sound of boots trudging through beaten paths are not commonly experienced by people holed up inside all day. Hiking can have a sort of barrier that many people might be too hesitant to cross. Contrary to popular belief, most hiking activities and trail exploration does not entail long journeys or uphill battles. Many just deal with enjoying nature that is secluded off from the rest of the world, and it certainly does not need to be an all day affair. Anyone can enjoy this hobby, whether alone or with others, and it is needed now of all times when students and teachers alike need more than just a screen to connect to the world around them.
To prove this, I took my good friend and roommate Ryan Daugherty from campus for a couple of hours to explore the wilderness of Black Moshannon State Park. Ryan Daugherty is a laid back and tenacious Penn State Junior studying Civil Engineering. Hailing from Murrysville, PA, he is accustomed to Pennsylvania Wilderness but finds it quite boring at
times. “I’ve grown up in Pennsylvania Wilderness all my life”, Ryan says, “but after a while, it all ends up looking the same”. Trail Hiking is not as familiar to him, sticking to others activities he did growing up like Karate for exercise (a 4th-degree blackbelt is not too shabby).
But during this time of year with his first exams coming up in a couple of days, the stress was starting to get to him. Add to that countless online classes and long hours studying indoors, and Ryan was so out of the loop that he was startled in surprise when I told him that we were already in Week 6. These few hours would serve to get him out of the house and out of his head for a while.
Our destination was Black Moshannon State Park, a lush and beautiful example of Pennsylvania wilderness located in Centre Country. From State College, Black Moshannon is only 30 minutes by car so distance was no problem getting there. I myself have been to Black Moshannon before and am versed in the usual trails. The government-run website gives all the updated information on the Park’s status, as well as access to a map of the grounds and any other details about the area. Aside from Hiking, Black Moshannon State Park hosts plenty of outdoor activities for people to explore. The State Park hosts a number of cabins and cottages near the main road that people
are able to reserve to stay overnight. There are areas around the sides of Black Moshannon Lake that are open for swimming, fishing, and boat rentals. People can be spotted around the fall season parked at the southern end of the lake to kayak and canoe. For a more casual visit, people can visit for lunch and enjoy the scenery at one of the many picnic table areas around the lake. But for a more difficult challenge, long backpacking trips can be explored on the long Allegheny Front Trail that runs through the park.
Black Moshannon’s trails have a long history in the park that makes each of them unique. The Hay Road Trail is said to have been an old path used by farmers who harvested the marsh grass (Black Moshannon State Park Recreational Guide.) The Seneca Trail is a beautiful trail named after the native American tribe that used to hunt and fish around the park grounds. The Moss Hannes Trail is one of the longest trails that stays in the range of the State Park that has an abundance of sights to see that we would not be able to fully explore on our trip. (Purple Lizard Maps offers a more in-depth look at the full trail).
The plan (pictured to the right) was to follow Hay Road Trail all the way down to the bog trail by Black Moshannon Lake, then to come back up on the Moss Hannes Trail and Seneca Trail. Our aim was around 4 miles and we hoped to be out there for an hour and a half. We packed a light bag of water, snacks, bug repellant, and our map so we didn’t have to stop along the way. And so, on September 26th we set off in our car to the beat of Jim Croce’s song “I Got A Name” and set out for Black Moshannon.
In the car, I asked Ryan what he is expecting from this trip. “I dunno, trees I guess” was the
resoundingly passive and brash answer I got out of him, as he let out a chuckle. “For real, I expect it to be a relaxing walk before having to study for the rest of the night”. We were both excited. Finally getting out of State College, we forgot how big the world was as we drove by large patches of crop fields and towering mountain valleys.
Our hike began at 2:30, the sky was overcast and at a brisk 55˚F out it was great weather for a hike. As we began down Hay Road Trail, we noticed the system of branches, leaves, and ferns on the ground and a blanket of oak trees as far as we could see that slowly turned to pine trees the farther we went up. Ryan spotted out these tree and flora distinctions to me and was interested in these small differences that would have been impossible for him to distinguish in his daily life.
As we walked, we were able to have conversations about a lot of subjects, only needing to go on our phones to access the map. Ryan told me about his time back in his hometown, his thoughts on the state of the world, how his fantasy league was holding up, and his favorite video games that he loved to play with friends like Call of Duty or Among Us. In turn, I was able to describe to him my love of trail hiking, how I am able to breathe outside of school work and stress and how I love to listen to the various noises around me like the rustling of leaves on my shoes or the faint whistling of the breeze.
When we got to our halfway mark at the Bog trail, we were treated to a wide open view of the Black Moshannon Bog Natural Area. The colors of the fall foliage alongside water plants and kayakers popped out and the clouds that parted above to reveal blue skies and sunshine were mesmerizing. Along the bog trail, we stopped every now and then to read the signs of information put up and to take pictures of the lake in its full glory. The water was close to us on the bog’s bridge and Ryan wanted to try to capture a cool mirror picture in the water, but the murky water of lilies below wouldn’t let him have the chance.
Our walk back from the Bog did not take as long, following the twisting turns of oak and pine that enthralled our attention along the path. On the way, we found a small path that led us to a
small lake inlet highlighted by rays of sunshine and the shimmering reflection of the water below. Ryan and I even ran into a caterpillar on the trail whose white and black spiked cloak intrigued our interest, picking up the little guy on a stick to take a closer look. Finally, we returned to the car an hour and a half later with 4 miles of hiking under our belts.
With the fall scenery to our backs and our tired feet now able to relax after a good workout, the car ride back gave a sweet, cathartic end to this day of exploration. I asked Ryan about his thoughts and favorite moments of the hike. “It was great! We picked the right time of day and we didn’t overstay our welcome” he says, reclined in the passenger seat. “I liked the scenery of the park and the sights of the Bog Trail, but I did think the trails got a little confusing. The beginning trail took a while to find because the sign for it got taken down” he said in dismay. “Would you do this again?” I asked. “Yeah”, he said without hesitation. “Let’s go again before Thanksgiving”.
In all, this was a relaxing little journey through Black Moshannon wilderness that Ryan and I equally enjoyed. In this current climate of stress, busy work, and deadlines, it was calming to take a step back and experience the nature that Pennsylvania Wilderness has to offer. Anyone with a pair of wheels and some free time can get together with friends and make a leisurely afternoon of trail hiking as we did, so get out there and see what nature has to offer!
Written by Andrew Ison
Edited by Lexie Hosterman