"Northern Woods"

Opportunities Abound in the Northern Woods

Tens of thousands of tourists visit Elk County every year, hoping to see a portion of what the county calls the largest wild elk herd in the northeastern United States. In the spring, tourists may see a half dozen elk as they lose their tawny brown winter coat and reveal a reddish brown summer coat. They graze on clover and other groundcover in State Game Lands 311, a portion of which the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy helped protect.

A herd of wild elk grazes in Elk County.
A herd of wild elk grazes in Elk County
Photo courtesy of Larry Keller

Considering that herd was wiped out in the 1800s and now numbers 500 to 600, it’s understandable why elk viewing draws people to northern Pennsylvania. But the Commonwealth’s Northern Woods – often called the Pennsylvania Wilds – offers much more natural beauty, conservation opportunities and potential for adventure. In addition to elk, it harbors black bear, wild turkey and hundreds of miles of trout-rich wilderness streams.

WPC has conserved nearly 100,000 acres in this region since the 1970s. Stretching from Warren County in the west to Lycoming County in the east, this area contains some of the largest expanses of forestland in the eastern United States. As part of the headwaters of the Allegheny and Susquehanna rivers, the forests protect sources of drinking water for millions of people.

In fact, this region is the home to Pennsylvania’s only national forest. WPC helped conserve the Allegheny National Forest’s Hickory Creek Wilderness area and the Allegheny River Islands Wilderness. In total, the Conservancy has helped protect 9,000 acres of land in the forest.

The Conservancy’s protection of the 12,670-acre Cherry Run area of Centre and Clinton counties was WPC’s largest project in its first 50 years. Now known as State Game Lands 295, its notable feature, Cherry Run, has been designated a Wilderness Trout Stream by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

As early as the mid-1970s, WPC led land acquisition projects that resulted in the protection of thousands of acres of hillsides and shoreline along the Clarion River, a nationally recognized Wild and Scenic River. Thanks to decades of cleanup, the Clarion has become a recreation destination and a key economic contributor to the region.

In early 2008, as part of the Conservancy’s 75th Anniversary Acquisitions, WPC protected 5,340 acres of scenic hardwood forest in Elk and Clearfield counties. The majority of this land was transferred to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry as a permanent addition to Moshannon State Forest. However, WPC retained 1,470 acres in order to manage the forest resources sustainably and carry out restoration projects. This portion is now called Bennett Branch Forest.

The following year, the Conservancy worked with another nonprofit to protect six properties totaling 2,400 acres in the viewshed of Route 255 and the Elk Scenic Drive.

Most recently, in June 2012, the Conservancy protected more than 500 acres of undeveloped land along the Clarion River in Elk County, a stretch lined with slopes of hardwood forests, rock outcrops and mountain laurel and rhododendron.

The Northern Woods is a place of great conservation opportunity. Land protection work there can mean protection of large, unfragmented, remote forests – special places with high conservation value. In the Northern Woods over the next decade, WPC aims to conserve more ecologically valuable land; protect working forestland; improve public access to state forests, parks and game lands; and protect 250 miles of streams by promoting better management of runoff and treating abandoned mine drainage.