The following originally appeared as a series of articles in the Mid State Trail Association's newsletter, The Brushwhacker, penned by yours truly. I've taken each of the articles and put them together to represent a more complete tale regarding the founding, developement and expansion of the Mid State Trail. So without any further adieu, I present to you (courtesy of the Mid State Trail Association) a history of Pennsylvania's wildest footpath, the Mid State Trail.
Back in the early 60’s, the 50 mile hike craze was spreading across the nation, even affecting the students of Penn State. Several hikes were organized, but as there were no real trail systems near State College, these hikes were mostly done on state forest roads. It was during this time that Dr. Boon Sumantri conceived the idea of a long trail running through the Seven Mountains.
In 1966, Dr. Sumantri proposed a ridge-top hiking trail, the Central Allegheny Trail. He founded the Central Allegheny Trail Hikers and had many meetings at his house to discuss his proposal. It was during 1966 that Dr. Thomas Thwaites attended one of these meetings and became a member of the Central Allegheny Trail Hikers.
The proposed trail, roughly sketched out on 15 minute topo maps hanging on Dr. Sumantri’s living room wall, started at the Colerain Picnic Area along Route PA 45. The other proposed trailhead was to be at a roadside rest on route US 15, just south of Williamsport. The plan, at least at the northern trailhead, was to connect the Central Allegheny Trail to the Loyalsock Trail.
In 1967, Sumantri began exploring a route for the trail by consulting with various state forest officials. The first hurdle encountered along the proposed trail route was Interstate 80. It was learned that a bridge would be built near Tea Spring at the western end of Sugar Valley that would cross over Interstate 80. This bridge is used today by the MST as it crosses over route I80.
Another hurdle encountered was the connection of the Central Allegheny Trail with the Loyalsock Trail. In order to reach the Loyalsock Trail, the trail would have to cross the Susquehanna River. This could be accomplished by using the route PA 405 bridge, and then following the Muncy Trail up towards the Loyalsock Trail. However, older maps showed the Muncy Trail crossing private land. This land was owned by PA Department of Corrections and was the location of the state prison for women. This put an end to any ideas of having the Central Allegheny Trail meet up with the Loyalsock Trail.
In August of 1967, Dr. Thwaites went to England on sabbatical leave. When he returned a year later he was disappointed to discover that no further progress had been made with the trail. Dr. Sumantri had developed a severe case of rheumatism that kept him from hiking. Other members of the CATHs had developed other interests. Dr. Thwaites returned to discover that not an inch (nor a millimeter) of the trail had been cleared or marked, and only a fraction of the trail route had been determined.
During the brief life of the Central Allegheny Trail Hikers, the Cabin and Trail Division of the Penn State Outing Club became involved. It was the Penn State Outing Club that continued exploring a route for the trail, and again Dr. Thwaites became involved with this latest group to develop the Central Allegheny Trail.
The Penn State Outing Club soon realized that the original route proposed by Dr. Sumantri was too much to tackle, so they focused on the route through the Rothrock State Forest. It was close to State College but presented formidable problems as most of the original trails in the area were perpendicular to the proposed Central Allegheny Trail.
The initial plan was to utilize the state forest roads for most of the trail through Rothrock. These roads would be linked by short sections of trail along with three new sections of trail that would have to be cleared.
In the summer of 1969, after what seemed an eternity of exploring for possible routes, it was time to start putting the Central Allegheny Trail on the ground. In anticipation of state approval, the Outing Club began to stockpile tools during the spring and summer.
The proposed trail route was approved during the summer of 1969. After consulting with the district forester, the only changes made to the plan was to use orange paint instead of white paint to blaze the trail, as white paint was being used to mark the forest boundaries. The orange blazes were to be diamond shape, similar to metal tag trail markers used by the Outing Club some fifteen years earlier. The day for the first real trail clear, and the birth of the Mid State Trail was rapidly approaching.
On a sunny Sunday, in September of 1969, Dr. Thomas Thwaites and fifteen members of the Penn State Outings Club ascended to Little Flat just south of State College. With trail blazing tools in hand, this first group of MST trail blazers began opening a trail from Kettle Trail towards the North Meadows Trail. Following the ridgeline, this first group of MST trail blazers opened up a meandering trail on Fourth Mountain, opening up the first natural scenic view of the MST looking down on Bear Meadows.
This was the humble beginnings of the Mid State Trail which now bisects the middle of Pennsylvania, stretching from Maryland to the border of the Empire state. Still called the Central Allegheny Trail, Dr. Thwaites and members of the Penn State Outings club continued to clear trail through out the fall of 1969. So excited at blazing this trail, they even attempted to cut trail after the snows came. Hiking up the Spruce Gap Trail, climbing over 900 feet in less than three quarters of a mile, the group arrived at the work site so tired that they turned around and went home.
Come spring, trail clearing continued, this time starting at the North Meadows Trail, heading back to their previous trail blazing. Scott Troutman, the unsung hero in these early days of the Mid State Trail, put extra effort in clearing the trail. While others cut laurel, moved blowdowns, and made short order of saplings, Scott brought up the rear. Using a short handled hedge trimmer and side swiping motion of his feet, a footway appeared, making that day's efforts look polished and taking on the visage of a trail that had been in existence and used for years.
In May of 1970 this initial section, from Little Flat to the North Meadows Trail was completed. Blazed with an orange paint that turned a bright red after a few weeks of weather, the trail was inspected by the district forester and given their stamp of approval.
With this section complete, it was now time for Dr. Thwaites and the Outings Club to tackle the next section of trail in Rothrock State Forest that needed to be cleared. This section was from the power line clearing above Pine Grove Mills to the Campbell Trail. With twentytwo volunteers turning out for this trail clear, this section of the trail was cleared in one day.
On weekends when the Penn State Outings Club was not blazing trail, they spent their time searching for lost logging locomotives. On one of these hunts they discovered that convict laborers from Huntingdon had cleared the old railroad grades in Detweiler Valley. Using Axehandle Trail and these newly discovered cleared trails, the very first MST relocation took the trail off of Detweiler Road and followed the much more scenic Detweiler Run.
Another relocation occurred in November of 1970, near the Tower Road that leads up to Little Flat. Old railroad grades from the Linden Hall Lumber Company were discovered on newly released 7 1/2 minute topographical maps. Using these railroad grades another bit of road walking was removed.
In the spring of 1971, the last bit of trail clearing in Rothrock State Forest was started. This was to be the hardest and longest of the three planned trail clearings in Rothrock S.F. One end of the clearing was at the roadside rest on route US 322 and the other was on the Muttersbaugh Trail. With persistent work, including some very difficult rock work on the south side of Bald Mountain, the clearing was finished in mid-December of 1971.
Now known as the Mid State Trail, the trail started at the Colerain Picnic Area on route PA 45, followed forest roads and newly cleared trail, and terminated at the Seven Mountains roadside rest along route US 322.
With a lot of determination, elbow grease, along with sweat and tears, Dr. Thwaites had taken the original idea of the Central Allegheny Trail by Dr. Sumantri and gave it life. Dr. Thwaites, the father of the Mid State Trail, and the dedicated members of the Penn State Outings Club had blazed a trail for hikers to enjoy, traversing the Rothrock State Forest just south of State College. After such an accomplishment, Dr.Thwaites could have hung up his brush cutters and enjoyed hiking the newly created MST. Thankfully he didn't, and the Mid State Trail continued to grow.
With the completion of the Mid State Trail, running from the Colerain Picnic Area along route PA 45 to the Seven Mountains roadside rest along route US 322, the first set of trail maps were produced. Scout Troutman, of the Penn State Outings Club, prepared the maps by tracing the route of the trail on 7 ½ minute USGS maps. There were a total of seven maps that covered the trail as it made its way through the Rothrock State Forest. The complete set of maps sold for 75 cents and they were a huge success.
The Penn State Outings Club began to hold hikes for the community, introducing them to the newly blazed Mid State Trail. Shortly after these hikes were started, the first trail guide was produced. In 1972 a total of 250 guides were printed and sold with the seven maps for $1.00. Soon another 250 trail guides needed to be printed to meet the demand.
In 1972 a push was also made to extend the Mid State Trail past route US 322 into the Bald Eagle State Forest. The trail would be somewhat easier to extend in the Bald Eagle State Forest as a number of trails, such as the Greens Valley, Little Poe and Dry Hollow Trails already heading in the direction that the MST wanted to go. With a little bit of scouting for cross connector trails, as well as blazing a new section of trail across Long Mountain, the Mid State Trail soon had a new terminus at Poe Paddy State Park. The 1973 edition of the trail guide covered this new section of trail and the maps now numbered ten in total. The map and guide set was now selling for $1.25.
As the Mid State Trail began to gain recognition among the local community as well as the hiking community, the Penn State Outings Club was faced with a dilemma. Because of limited man power and resources, a decision needed to be made regarding the mission of the PSOC. Should efforts be placed in rerouting the trail and getting it off of roads, or should efforts be placed in extending the trail to make the trail system bigger. There was also the idea of side-trails. These trails could link the MST trail system to more parks, picnic areas, natural areas, camping areas, swimming holes, services, views, springs and other points of interest near the trail as well as providing circuit hike opportunities.
It was decided that the PSOC would concentrate on rerouting the trail to remove as much road walking as possible. However, there was an opportunity to construct three side trails that would greatly enhance the access to the Mid State Trail. The first two side trails connected the MST to Penn Roosevelt and Poe Valley State Parks. These trails were blazed blue so as not to cause confusion with the orange blazes on the Mid State Trail proper.
The third side trail turned out to be a major undertaking. This side trail would connect the Greenwood Furnace State Park with the Mid State Trail. Little trail clearing would be required as existing trails could be used and it would add Alan Seeger Natural Area and the Greenwood Fire Tower to the trail system. Alan Seeger is thought to contain the oldest trees in the state and is the jewel in the Mid State crown.
Even though existing trails were mostly used for this side trail, routing problems soon developed. Should the trail go through the big trees at Alan Seeger or should it be relegated to the parking area? On the south flank of Broad Mountain, Rich Maggi and Larry Blumberg found a route on old charcoal roads that avoided the steep lower portion of the Collier Trail, but the old roads would have to be cleared. It was decided that the trail would wind through the Alan Seeger Natural Area and the time and effort would be put towards clearing the old charcoal roads of the Maggi cutoff. In 1974 the Greenwood Spur was complete and map number 11 was added to the set.
Rerouting of the Mid State Trail occurred during this time and the trail began to earn its moniker as the wildest footpath in Pennsylvania. In the next section of the history of the Mid State Trail, we’ll examine these reroutes and see where the trail blazing takes the MST next.
The year was 1973. The Mid State Trail now extended from the Colerain Picnic Area near Spruce Creek to Poe Paddy State Park, just south of Coburn, on the banks of Penns Creek. Since its inception in 1969, the trail had a number of reroutes along the way. These reroutes were attempts to move the trail into the woods, off forest roads, helping to emphasize the "wildness" of the trail.
Also during this time a number of side trails had been blazed. These side trails connected the Mid State Trail to state parks, making it more accessible. Short side trails connected the Mid State Trail to Poe Valley and Penn Roosevelt, with a much larger undertaking producing the Greenwood Spur. This side trail connect Greenwood State Park via Broad Mountain to the Mid State Trail, along the way introducing hikers to the large hemlocks of Alan Seeger.
It was during the fall of 1973 that the Bureau of Forestry contacted the Penn State Outings Club, the builders and maintainers of the MST at this point in time, expressing interest in seeing the trail extended beyond Poe Paddy State Park. The Bureau of Forestry asked the Outing Club to explore a route from Poe Paddy to R.B. Winter State Park.
In March of 1974, Tom Thwaites and four others set off for Ravensburg State Park to explore a route back to Poe Paddy. Somewhere during the course of the winter a few extra miles were added to the extension plan, now looking to connect Ravensburg as well as R.B. Winter State Park. Over the course of five days the trail was scouted along Betterton Trail on White Deer Ridge, over Interstate I80 on the Tea Spring bridge, across Naked Mountain and through the Hook Natural Area. Maps were poured over and plans began to take shape for continuing the MST east.
From Poe Paddy State Park, the Mid State Trail headed east, following the abandoned Conrail railroad grade. The tunnel under Paddy Mountain was closed when the railroad was abandoned, but it had just been reopened. This allowed the trail to go through Paddy Mountain instead of over it. The Mid State Trail became the first, and so far only, hiking trail in Pennsylvania to tunnel under a mountain rather than climb over it.
The trail followed the railroad grade to Cherry Run, where it turned north, passing through a gap in Paddy Mountain. It would continue up Lyman Run and over Thick Mountain on a trail that was cut with assistance from the Susquehanna University Outing Club. Descending off Thick Mountain, the MST proceeded through Sand Hollow and cut across Sand Mountain to Hairy Johns Picnic Area on PA45. This was completed and opened in 1976.
Beyond route PA 45, the Mid State Trail followed Hairy Johns Trail to the top of Winkelblech Mountain and then headed east on Sheesley and Kessler Trails. Trail clearing in this area was assisted by the Bucknell Outing Club. From Pine Ridge, the trail climbed Buck Ridge and then rejoined with Hairy Johns Trail atop Shriner Mountain. Connecting up with Brush Hollow Trail, the MST continued the rest of the way to R.B. Winter State Park. This part of the trail was opened in 1978.
The final section of the extension that was first scouted back in March of 1974 routes the Mid State Trail from R.B. Winter State Park to Ravensburg State Park. The MST would follow Bake Oven ridge east to Sand Mountain Fire Tower, then turning north and crossing Spruce Run Valley and Chestnut Flat. Climbing up and over Naked Mountain, the trail crossed White Deer Creek and Nittany Valley before confronting its first Interstate highway. Serendipitously there was a bridge here, avoiding a dangerous highway crossing or extended reroute.
North of interstate I80 the MST continued across the grain of the landscape. The trail climbed over Tea Knob, Last Ridge, and Brushy Ridge before descending to White Deer Hole. Westward and a climb over Big Mountain, the trail crossed Sand Spring Flat and then ended at Ravensburg State Park.
With the addition of this section, the Mid State Trail extended from Colerain to Ravensburg State Park. As the trail grew it began to feel growing pains. As a result a monumental event was about to happen to the MST. The year was 1982 and the event was the founding of a non-profit, all volunteer organization, tasked with maintaing the ever-expanding trail; the Mid State Trail Association.