Spring is in the air in the Allegheny National Forest Region - a time when the birds return from the south and the native wildflowers peek their way to the surface.
Located in northwestern Pennsylvania, this region is ripe with opportunities to see your favorite feathered friends as returning songbirds fill the air with sweet
melodies. A variety of trails, both on land and water, provide unique opportunities to experience the thrill of springtime in the forest.
One of the best places to catch a glimpse of birds is on the General Kane Trail at the Kinzua Bridge State Park just outside of Mount Jewett. In addition to the red-breasted robin, the official harbinger of spring, walkers on this one-mile loop hiking trail can see ruffed grouse, turkey, blue jay, junco, starlings and the occasional bald eagle, golden eagle and goshawk, among many others.
While at the General Kane Trail, make sure to take in the view from the newly opened Kinzua Sky Walk built on the remains of the historic Kinzua Viaduct. Take a stroll out 600 feet into the vast Kinzua Gorge and look down through the glass platform as well as peer out into the magnificent valley that extends for miles. Picnic areas are available at the Kinzua Bridge State Park. The nearby Kinzua Bridge Scenic Byway is a designated shared use road for bicycling, so pack your bicycles. If you are bringing a group, phone to arrange for state park officials to present an educational program on the history of the bridge or a guided walk along the trail.
Travel scenic Pennsylvania Route 6 to nearby Smethport to experience the Goosechaser Trail, a place you may actually be able to chase a goose! Named for the Canada geese that may be seen there, the trail, just 3/4 of a mile, circles Hamlin Lake which is also the home for many wetland creatures, including water fowl.
With a name like Timberdoodle Flats Interpretive Trail, you know there will be some birding here along Route 59, just north of Pennsylvania Route 6 in the Allegheny National Forest.
The timberdoodle is the nickname for the American woodcock, just one of the many birds you can find along this trail, which is actually two trail loops totaling 1.5 miles. This is also the perfect place for casual hikers as well as those searching for a handicapped accessible trail or one good for small children in a stroller.
Further west on Route 59 is the Big Bend Birding Overlook, located just past the Kinzua Dam and Kinzua Point along the Allegheny Reservoir. This area includes a nature trail, picnic areas and a rest area that will give you access to some of the best bird viewing around.
Another area, in a different part of the region, is the Crook Farm Trail located just north of the City of Bradford. This three-mile hiking trail loop is located along the scenic banks of Tunungwant Creek. One might spy the occasional American bald eagle soaring overhead. B’s Canoe Service is a local outfitter that can take you and your friends for a canoe trip on the “Tuna,” providing a unique water vantage for birding. Phone 814-598-7348 to arrange for canoe rentals and guide service.
If flora and fauna is more your forte, mountain laurel, the official flower for Pennsylvania, is prolific in the Allegheny National Forest.
“Everything is coming out about a month early,” said April Moore of the Allegheny National Forest Bradford Ranger Station of the warm weather the area has been experiencing. This means that the mountain laurel, which normally comes out in June, may bloom in May.
Morrison Trail, located along Route 59, 17 miles west of Bradford, is a prime viewing area for mountain laurel. Another great place to see mountain laurel is the Rimrock Overlook and Trail, also on Route 59. This area features a massive rock formation overlook from which one can see amazing views of the Allegheny Reservoir.
The rhododendron flower can also be seen throughout the Allegheny National Forest Region, especially in the Jake’s Rocks area off of Route 59. This flower, which usually comes out in May, could bloom in April this year.
Springtime is also leek time in the Allegheny National Forest. The leek a native wild onion, also known as a ramp, has a strong odor and delicious flavor and is a favorite ingredient for local cuisine.
Make sure to mark May 5 on your calendar for the annual Stinkfest on East Main Street in Bradford. This one-day festival is dedicated to the leek - which is only available for picking, or digging, during the springtime. At the festival, you can enjoy a wide variety of leek dishes-soups, dips, breads, and sausage, along with games, entertainment and an outhouse race.