The Laurel Highlands

The Laurel Highlands are a special place in Pennsylvania. Part of the Allegheny Mountains, the Laurel Highlands stretch from the Conemaugh River south into Maryland. The Laurel Highlands are known for their diversity of plant and animal life, forested mountain ridges, pristine streams, recreational opportunities and scenic beauty.

The significant variety of landscapes in the Laurel Highlands produces a high level of forest community diversity. Lower slopes and coves support rich, mixed forests dominated by tuliptree, red oak, eastern hemlock, sugar maple, American beech, pawpaw and basswood. Sandstone and limestone rock formations imbedded within mature forests create micro-habitats relied upon by many plants and animals. Forests high on the plateau and mountain ridges encompass species, rich bogs and other non-riparian wetlands. Intact forests on mountain ridges are also important corridors for migratory birds.

Flowing through the forestlands of the Laurel Highlands are its streams and rivers. Many of the cool, shaded streams in the region are able to maintain their quality because of low levels of human disturbance. Many of these streams are popular recreational resources for anglers.

Along the banks of the Lower Youghiogheny River, including along the lower reaches of major tributaries such as Indian Creek, lies a unique complex of plant communities. Both river-bank and floodplain-dwelling plants exist among the bedrock outcrops, rock shelves, boulder fields, cobbles, and gravel bars characteristic of high gradient streams and rivers. Depending on the effects of natural disturbance factors such as flooding and ice scour, these plant communities and species may include sycamore floodplain forests, sycamore scrub, and patches of big bluestem and Indian grass. Given the correct natural disturbance regime, hydrologic conditions and connectivity among plant communities, several rare plant and insect species can also be found in this complex.

Limestone caves in the Laurel Highlands Region are associated with the 320-345 million-year-old Mauch Chunk bedrock formation. Caves occur locally in the limestone dominated Loyalhanna and Greenbrier members of the Mauch Chunk formation. Besides providing vital winter hibernation spots for rare bats, some caves include sub-terranean aquatic ecosystems that harbor species relatively new to science.

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