Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) State Forester Ellen Shultzabarger announced that DCNR is undertaking a project in the Michaux State Forest in Cumberland County to build a sustainable trail system that serves different types of users and protects water quality and vulnerable species and habitats.
“This project focuses on about 6,000 acres of the Michaux around Mountain Creek that already is very popular as a destination for outdoor recreation including hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding,” Shultzabarger said. “We are evaluating the current trail system in the watershed and intend to improve it so that it’s a great experience for users, is resilient to climate change and weather hazards such as flooding, and that it continues to be a home for a diversity of plants and wildlife.”
The Mountain Creek watershed area of Michaux State Forest is a high quality watershed, supporting natural reproduction of eastern brook trout, and sensitive habitat areas for numerous bird, reptile, and plant species.
The area is roughly bounded by Woodrow and Cold Spring roads on its west and east sides, respectively, and by Ridge Road and Pine Grove Road/Route 233 on its north and south sides. Already criss-crossed by trails, the area is a destination for mountain bikers.
“The next phase for the project later this year will be engaging with trail users and the public through a survey and online tools,” said Michaux Assistant District Manager Michelle Blevins. “We’d like to learn how they use the area, their ideas for improving the outdoor experience for all users, and for protecting the other values of the forest including clean water and habitat for plants and wildlife.”
The current trails in the Mountain Creek watershed have evolved over the past century out of old logging or charcoal hearth roads. An inventory of the area, including permitted and unpermitted trails and roads, has been completed by the Shippensburg University Center for Land Use and Sustainability.
Preliminary research on the watershed done by Harrisburg University has found that impacts from unplanned stream crossings and trails include erosion, reduced biodiversity, and the spread of invasive species. Clearing vegetation for trails impacts sensitive plant sanctuaries.
Improvements being considered include trailheads and parking; a signage plan that improves navigability and management; trail construction and rehabilitation by both managers and volunteers; and the elimination of unsustainable trails including minimizing impacts to streams and streamside areas.
Soon to get underway on the Michaux in a nearby part of the forest is a stacked loop beginner to moderate hiking/biking trail system and parking/trailhead area called the Hearth Tender Trail.
The project will consist of an access road and trailhead off Railroad Bed Road adjacent to Pine Grove Furnace State Park. It will include three different trail loops: a 3/4- and a 1.4-mile beginner mountain biking loop, and a 4.1-mile beginner/moderate loop which will provide alternate access to the popular Pole Steeple vista.
Key partners in project design and layout of the proposed Hearth Tender Trail have been the Mountain Bikers of Michaux, Susquehanna Area Mountain Biking Association, and the Friends of Michaux.