My First Hike In The New Penrose Swamp Barrens State Forest

My First Hike In The New Penrose Swamp Barrens State Forest

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It has been about ten years since I first hiked in the area known as the Penrose Swamp Barrens. Located primarily in Carbon County in Northeastern Pennsylvania,  I would  hike to the Penrose Reservoir either by following the active railroad tracks up form the town of Weatherly in Carbon County   or following the tracks down from Hazle Township in Luzerne County.

The  Penrose Swamp Barrens were private and much of the land was posted.  I hiked in the  areas open to the public and loved exploring  those parts of this vast tract of wilderness.   I saw bears, otters, bitterns and a lot of other wildlife on my hikes. Last year the Wildlife Conservancy,  in cooperation with Open Space Institute – Appalachian Landscape Conservation Fund,  and through the  generosity of the Pasco Schiavo Estate and  Schiavo Charitable Trust were able to acquire this 2700 acre tract  of unspoiled woodlands.  The land was then turned over to the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry. It is now part of the  Weiser State Forest.  I was excited to hear  this wonderful news. I had  feared the area may have been developed,  like so many other areas here in Northeastern Pennsylvania. 

Last Sunday I  was finally  able to  explore  this new addition to our State Forest. There is now an access trail into the tract along the northwest side of the Buck Mountain road a few miles outside of the Borough of Weatherly. I parked near  the gate on the trail.  It was a partly cloudy, cold and blustery day when I arrived with temperatures in the mid 30’s.  As soon as I left my  Jeep and entered the mixed oak/hemlock forest I saw a few whitetail deer run into  the woods. 

This vast  pristine tract of land  is a mixed oak/hemlock forest with many areas of  wetlands. The access  trail and surrounding woodlands where saturated from the recent rains.  

The  access trail took me to a utility pole line.

I followed the rutted , muddy utility maintenance  road through a vast wetland. 

It was here I found  the unique and rare Harford or American climbing fern. This fern is the only one of it’s species found in North America. Most of this species of  ferns are found on the tropics.  They were on the endangered plant list in Pennsylvania until a local resident, Mike Gondell, discovered a vast area of them near the Penrose reservoir. There were so many of them there and throughout the Penrose Swamp Barrens that they are no longer considered an endangered species in Pennsylvania.  I saw them everywhere on my five mile hike. 

Mr Gondell fought for years to preserve the Penrose Swamp Barrens. and the  Hartford ferns and other unique plants. In addition to the ferns I saw a number of other wetland plants growing along  the road included large patches of cattails,

many withered ferns including this bracken fern. 

fluffy white tawny cottongrass and

scattered common winterberry shrubs. 

The winterberries not only provided some color to the now drab and leafless woodlands.

they also provided food for the wildlife including a small flock of song sparrows, 

and dark eyed juncos.  I also heard some crows, blue jays and black-capped chickadees on my hike but I wasn’t able to photograph them. I am sure this area has many song birds in the Spring ad Summer and I look forward to looking for them next year. 

I walked along the utility right of way for a mile, surrounded by mostly wetlands. 

I knew I would eventually  walk into the Black or Hazle Creek and I did. I hoped to find a way to cross but there wasn’t any. And it was to cold too wade though the almost hip deep  waters. Hopefully they will build a bridge over the creek. 

I decided to follow the creek . I knew it would lead me to an to the  active railroad right of way.  And I knew  the railroad tracks crossed the  Black Creek on a bridge at Hazle Creek Junction. So  I found a trail and 

walked on a path  soft needles  that fell rom the ancient hemlock trees above the trail. 

The trail  ended  near a fireplace and an old campground along. .  Although there was no trail  I continued  to follow the creek on under  the  towering old hemlocks.

It seems they were spared the  intensive logging  that took place in the region  in the 19th century. .  I am not an expert but I think they  could be hundreds  of year old. Native Americans may have walked beneath them. 

At first it was easy walking under the hemlocks.  There was little   vegetation growing  in the thick layer of needles beneath the trees. 

Here I found a  few reishi mushrooms 

and fall oyster mushrooms. 

I wandered under hemlocks along the creek. It was a  primordial feeling roaming under the ancient hemlocks. I thought of the Native Americans who may have roamed here too, traveling  from the Lehigh River to the Susquehanna River.

As I continued my hike I found evidence of more resent visitors to this forest,  this lean-to campsite 

and this  campsite. I think the frame was once covered with hemlock branches. . I am sure  they were built by hunters. 

My hike under the hemlocks became more difficult when I came upon some smaller streams flowing the wetlands  into the Black Creek. At first I was able to  make my way through them.  However  I came to  a wide stream  I was unable to cross and  prevented me from following the Black Creek. 

I followed it upstream and tried, unsuccessfully,  crossing it a few times.  Finally I made  an attempt and I misjudged the depth of the water.  I  fell in the cold stream almost up to my hip. I  was able to prevent my camera from being submerged but I was soaked.   The temperature was still in 30’s with a strong breeze so I was freezing. I knew I had to head back to my Jeep so I  made my way though a wetland.

After about a half mile I glad to find a familiar trail, the old Buck Mountain railroad right of way.

I  knew  it would take me  back to the pole line. I still had a mile or so to walk in my soaked clothing. 

The trail led me through another wetland and a small pond where I have seen nesting Canada geese in the Spring. 

I made it  back to the utility  pole line and followed it uphill to the access trail. 

I was  glad when I saw my  parked Jeep and climbed inside  to get warm.  I was disappointed I wasn’t able  to get to the Penrose Reservoir  but it  was still a great  4 1/2 mile hike. I look forward to  exploring this beautiful new state forest and hope to take many more hikes under these ancient hemlocks. I think it will be especially beautiful in the Spring. I am so  these barrens and wetlands were saved for future generations to enjoy too  Here is a link to a gallery on my blog website with more photos from my hike. Penrose Swamp Barrens November 13 2022. 

“Like music and art, love of nature is a common language that can transcend political or social boundaries” – Jimmy Carter

Show me a healthy community with a healthy economy and I will show you a community that has its green infrastructure in order and understands the relationship between the built and the unbuilt environment.  
~Will Rogers, Trust for Public Land

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