A Visit to Milltown State Park

Back in November we talked about Milltown State Park in Missoula, Montana, and how a state park is made. A short while ago, we paid a visit to Milltown to see how it is shaping up.

Good sky!

Seems fair to say that, though still not fully open, the park and its overlook certainly have merit.

During this visit on a resplendent June weekday, there were relatively few others at the park, and most of those were Montana Conservation Corps workers who were focused on a project off the paved overlook walkway. The overlook is the focal point of the park’s facilities, and it’s no small wonder why.

Good day for readin' outside.

The view of some of the mountains visible at the park foregrounded by interpretive materials and the railing that lines the Milltown State Park Overlook.

The park’s interpretive material details the history of the river confluence and the people who depended on its waters. It also elaborates on the building of the Milltown Dam in 1908, as well as the massive flood that buried heavy metals, arsenic, and other mining waste at the base of the dam, months after it was constructed. Some of the best information details the incredible effort it took to remove the dam and poisonous sediments, and restore the confluence to the Place of Big Bull Trout, as it is traditionally known to the Salish, who fished the confluence long before pioneers and businessmen settled and dammed it up.

A gorgeous, sunny day for river viewing.

The main overlook showcases the open, sweeping grandeur of the restored confluence of the Clark Fork River.

In addition to the overlook, there is a two-table picnic area and trails that amble into the wooded hills that frame the confluence. In all, the views from the overlook are expansive; the views from the trail are in touch with the quiet wooded parts of western Montana, shaded by large and often young conifers. The trail extends about two miles down, and deeper into the park toward the river.

Dirt path through pines!

The unpaved trail extends through the trees and down toward the river. It shoots cleanly off the paved pathway to the overlook.

Milltown State Park, though still building toward its total fruition, is a marvel of modern habitat and environmental rehabilitation. Through the hard work and perseverance of park staff, community members and organizations, volunteers, and local tribal leadership in the face of local, state and federal-level hurdles, the confluence has become a wonderful vista, well worth the jot from Interstate 90. Milltown is not just beautiful and improving all the time, but represents wholesomeness achievable to all of us, if we endeavor for the good of future generations, and the health of our natural resources.

Speaking of natural resources, there’s no time like the present to get out and enjoy them! Pocket Ranger® mobile apps make trip planning easy, and app features make exploring the parks you visit a delight.

Thermacell® is for Nature Lovers

Now that summer is in full swing, most of us want and try to be outside as much as possible. The best time to do that is in the morning and in the evening when the sun is least harsh and the heat most bearable. Even though that’s also the time mosquitoes are out in force.

Worst!

Swarms of mosquitoes gather to talk strategy near waterbodies and shallow pools across the country. [Image: pixabay.com]

Thankfully, we have our trusty Thermacell® appliances! We’ve been given back not just a 15’ x 15’ bubble of mosquito-resistant bliss, but the freedom to work in our yards or gardens, enjoy the onset of dusk from our back porches, perch in a tree stand, relax with a rod and reel, and pitch a tent without the constant buzzing and biting we might otherwise encounter.

“How?” you might ask. We’ve addressed that here. Thermacell® has made a name for itself providing the best in non-topical mosquito repellents. Through the effectiveness of simple design and allethrin, the devices make the air—the very way mosquitoes sense and alight on you—work to their benefit. The mosquitoes are driven off before they can make a meal of you and others within the device’s “mosquito protection zone.”

"Ah, this is the best!"

“Not being eaten alive by mosquitoes is my favorite!” “Ha ha, me too!!” [Image: www.wideopenspaces.com]

It’s often said that the best defense is a good offense, and there are researchers who are looking at eradicating (certain disease-carrying) mosquito species, while exploring the ethics and deeper consequences of manipulating ecology. But consider for a moment that the best defense against mosquito-borne discomfort and illness is just the best defense. Thermacell®’s “mosquito protection zone” is 98% effective in repelling those pesky flying, biting insects. Oh, and you don’t need an advanced degree in biology to fire it up!

Thermacell® Gets You Outside

If you’re a hunter, angler, camper, hiker or someone who generally likes spending time outdoors, Thermacell® appliances allow you to put your energies into the tasks and leisure activities you stepped outside to enjoy. And nature lovers can enjoy the sweet smell of their surroundings, rather than smelly DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus lotions or sprays, or ineffective citronella candles or torches. You can obtain one at many sporting goods stores, or directly from www.thermacell.com, where you’ll also find more information about the company’s products and refills, as well as user reviews!

Thermacell logo.

[Image: www.thermacell.com/]

Finally, if you’re looking for new places to use your Thermacell® appliance, head on over to your phone’s app store, download your state’s Pocket Ranger® mobile app, and start exploring!

Exploring American History along the National Road

Contributed by Sheena Baker of Somerset County Chamber of Commerce

Earlier this year, we decided to explore the birth of a nation by traveling along the National Road through the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania.

The National Road—modern day U.S. Route 40—was the first federally funded highway in the U.S. and set a precedent for a national highway system and future public works projects. Beginning in Cumberland, Maryland, the route passes through the Cumberland Narrows (which was once one of only a few navigable routes across the Appalachian Mountain Range) before continuing northwest into Pennsylvania, across the Allegheny Mountains, and into the Ohio River Valley. The route’s earliest forms were buffalo trails and Native American footpaths. In the mid-1700s, Maryland frontiersman Thomas Cresap and Delaware Chief Nemacolin led an expedition to widen the trail for freight and trade into the Ohio Territory. From 1754–1755, Lieutenant Colonel George Washington and Major General Edward Braddock widened Nemacolin’s Trail farther during their failed campaigns to drive the French from Fort Duquesne in what is now Pittsburgh.

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

In 1806, the Jefferson Administration approved plans to build a multi-state national highway from Cumberland westward to open settlement into the Ohio River Valley and the Midwest. Following the route set forth by Nemacolin, Washington, and Braddock, construction on the National Road began in 1811 and reached Wheeling, West Virginia (then Virginia) in 1818. From there, the highway continued across Ohio, Indiana, and nearly all of Illinois before funding for the project ran dry in the 1830s.

From the late 1810s to the 1850s, the more-than 600-mile National Road served as a gateway to the west as the main route from the east coast to the U.S. interior. Today, 90 miles of the highway—sometimes referred to as the National Pike or the Cumberland Road—pass through southwestern Pennsylvania, including more than 40 miles in Somerset and Fayette counties in the Laurel Highlands, which was the focus of our exploration on this particular weekend.

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

Traveling from east to west as settlers would have in the 19th century, our first stop was at the Petersburg Toll House along Old Route 40 in Addison, Somerset County. When the National Road became too expensive to maintain in the 1830s, the federal government turned maintenance over to each individual state. Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia turned the highway into a toll road and constructed tollhouses every 15 miles to collect money to pay for the upkeep of the heavily traveled route.

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

Constructed in 1835, the Petersburg Toll House was known as Gate Number One, the first tollhouse in Pennsylvania across the Mason-Dixon Line. Now one of only three remaining tollhouses along U.S. 40, the structure serves as a museum that is open by appointment and is owned by the Great Crossings Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.

After leaving Addison, we continued westward, crossing the Youghiogheny River Lake and passing centuries-old inns, houses, and other structures on our way to our next destination: Fort Necessity National Battlefield.

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

Inside the site’s impressive Interpretive and Education Center, we learned how precursors to the French and Indian War and the worldwide Seven Years War were fought in the Laurel Highlands. In the spring of 1754, a young 22-year-old Washington led a failed attempt to push the French from Fort Duquesne at the forks of the Ohio River in what is now Pittsburgh. Following a controversial skirmish at nearby Jumonville Glen, Washington suffered defeat at his “Fort of Necessity” and was forced to retreat. He returned the following year under the command of the somewhat inexperienced Braddock in another attempt to force the French from Fort Duquesne. Again the British were defeated, suffering more than 900 casualties, including Braddock whose grave is marked by a large monument along the highway one mile west of Fort Necessity. (Incidentally, the British finally forced the French from Fort Duquesne in 1758 under the leadership of General Edward Forbes, whose march westward helped shape the Laurel Highlands’ other historic highway: U.S. Route 30, aka the Lincoln Highway.)

In addition to offering a reconstructed version of Fort Necessity, interactive displays, and five miles of walking trails, Fort Necessity National Battlefield also details the history of the National Road. During our visit, we traveled back through time and learned about the highway’s construction, its decline during the industrial railroading age, and its rebirth as an automobile “motor touring” highway in the 20th century. The Mount Washington Tavern, a former stagecoach stop overlooking the reconstructed fort, is part of the Fort Necessity National Battlefield and serves as a museum depicting life along the National Road during its heyday.

Having known very little about the French and Indian War or the National Road before my visit to Fort Necessity, I left quite impressed and eager for more information on how both affected the history of the U.S. I would recommend anyone with an interest in history to visit the National Park Service site.

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

With a better understanding of what British troops and early settlers faced traversing southwestern Pennsylvania in the days before automobiles and other modern conveniences made travel so easy, we continued westward, keeping our eyes peeled for the white obelisk mile markers denoting the byway. Stone markers were initially placed at five-mile intervals on the south side of the National Road between Cumberland and Wheeling during the highway’s construction, but were later replaced by cast iron markers at one-mile intervals on the north side of the route in 1835.

At the top of Chestnut Ridge, we were treated to a stunning view of Uniontown and the surrounding countryside before descending into the valley below. Following Business Route 40, we navigated the streets of Uniontown, once a major center of business along the National Road.

Near the center of town, we stumbled upon the George C. Marshall Memorial Plaza, a tree-lined spot at the intersection of West Main and West Fayette Streets near Marshall’s boyhood home. Several statues and the Flags of Nations celebrate his life and narrative plaques tell Marshall’s story. The history and significance of the National Road, which passed through his hometown, was not lost on Marshall as a child and can be linked to his pursuit of a military career. Marshall rose to become a preeminent World War II General, U.S. Army Chief of Staff, Secretary of State, and Secretary of Defense, among his other notable achievements and positions. In 1953, he earned the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in developing the post-World War II European Recovery Program (better known as the Marshall Plan). According to History.com, Marshall is one of the most respected soldiers in U.S. history, second only to Washington, another famous George with ties to the region.

From Uniontown we continued our journey westward, stopping briefly to see the Searight Toll House. The structure is similar in design to the Petersburg Toll House and was also constructed in 1835. Searight Toll House is home to the “Off to Market” sculpture, one of five full-size, bronze outdoor sculptures constructed at specific locations for a National Road Sculpture Tour designed to augment visitors’ educational experiences in learning about the historic highway.

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

A few miles from the Searight Toll House, we reached our final destination: historic Brownsville on the banks of the Monongahela River. Like Uniontown and other hamlets along the National Road, Brownsville was once a major industrial hub as well as a center for steamboat construction and river freight hauling, eclipsing nearby Pittsburgh in size until the mid-1800s.

From Brownsville, the National Road continues onward through Washington County, into West Virginia, and beyond. Though the National Road officially ends in Vandalia, Illinois, today U.S. 40 stretches 2,285.74 miles across 12 states from New Jersey to Utah.

Bats, Caves, and White-Nose Syndrome

Weird! Cool! Bats!

Weird! Cool! Bats! [Image: www.nature.org/]

Bats are awesome. They are a crucial part of insect control, pollination, and seed dispersal within their environments. They’re adorable, they help mitigate mosquito populations, and they have suffered huge, tragic population losses over the last 10 years because of a fungus that is incredibly spreadable, Pseudogeomyces destructans (Pd).

Over six million bats have died because of white-nose syndrome (WNS), which is caused when Pd is present in a cave where bats are hibernating. The hibernating bats are understandably awoken by the discomfort of having a fungus growing on their faces, but being awake prematurely is terribly costly in terms of energy. The bat is supposed to be sleeping the winter away because its food sources are limited or nonexistent, and it will likely starve or die in pursuit of food in weather and temperatures they aren’t built to withstand.

Poor bat.

I don’t think any of us would get a good night’s rest with that kind of thing going on. [Image: www.whitenosesyndrome.org/]

All this to say: While WNS is spread mostly between bat neighbors, humans can contribute to the problem if explorers delve into a cave where Pd spores are present, and then without proper precautions, wear the same gear to an uninfected location. That is, even though human transmission is neither the primary mode of transmission between bat populations, nor very common, precautionary measures are a critical aspect of protecting a very important species, especially when we haven’t entirely figured out how to combat it.

Snack!

Dinner on the fly. [Image: www.scienceinseconds.com/]

If you’re an avid spelunker or cave explorer, especially on the east coast of the U.S. and Canada, you’ve probably already read up on the appropriate decontamination protocol for your subterranean equipment. But for those of you who are new to the activity, it’s best to think of white-nose syndrome as an invasive species. One should endeavor to avoid contact with an area where the fungus has been documented, and certainly contact with bats, regardless of the confirmed presence of the fungus or not.

Here at Pocket Ranger®, we support the noble spirit of subterranean exploration! It’s a great way to stay active in the year’s hottest months and is a fun and enriching way of experiencing an inverse of our lives above ground. But with the deadly proliferation of white-nose syndrome in American bat populations, there are responsibilities that cave explorers must recognize. Hopefully we all keep them in mind as we spelunk our way out of the oppressive summer heat.

Examining Somerset County’s Agricultural Heritage Through Architecture

Contributed by Sheena Baker of Somerset County Chamber of Commerce

If you’ve ever driven through Pennsylvania, you’ve no doubt noticed the Keystone State is home to a plethora of barns. Some are red, some are white; some are simple, one-level buildings while others are multi-storied structures. I’ve even seen purple barns and round barns in my travels.

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

To the untrained eye, one barn may seem like any other, but that’s not always the case, especially in Somerset County where these common everyday structures often showcase the region’s agricultural heritage. An estimated 2,000 barns in America’s County® today are Pennsylvania barns, an architecturally distinct type of barn that originated in Pennsylvania in the mid-1700s and became Somerset County’s most preferred barn construction design in the late 19th century.

A Pennsylvania barn consists of two levels—an upper level and a lower level—to allow space for animals, hay, and farming equipment. Pennsylvania barns also feature two distinct characteristics. The first is an unsupported forebay, which is a cantilevered overhang that extends over the lower level of the barn. The second feature is an embankment leading to the barn’s upper level, permitting easy access to that second story.

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Somerset County Chamber of Commerce Photos

Pennsylvania barns aren’t the only unique agricultural architecture found in Somerset County. A number of structures feature elaborate handcrafted barn decorations, including barn stars, shutterwork, brackets, columns, and cupolas that are exclusive to Somerset, Bedford, and Washington Counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, with the largest number appearing in Somerset County. These decorations have links to the Pennsylvania Dutch who brought a deep love of the land and barn-building with them to the New World. They also provide insight into the lives of early Somerset County farmers and the deep pride and passion they felt for their work.

Barn stars began appearing on Somerset County structures during the late 1800s with the last known star appearing in 1917. Not to be confused with painted Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs commonly seen in eastern Pennsylvania, barn stars were handcrafted from wood and applied directly to a barn’s siding. Some stars served a dual purpose as ventilators for the structure. An estimated 75–100 barn stars still remain on Somerset County barns today.

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Somerset County Chamber of Commerce Photos

You too can explore Somerset County’s rich agricultural heritage through the self-guided “Somerset County Pennsylvania Barn Stars and Decorations Driving Tour Map & Guide,” which is available from the Somerset County Chamber of Commerce. The brochure highlights 19 of these numerous historic barns and barn decorations spread across Somerset County and includes details on their intricate, unique features and handcrafted decorations. All of the barns included on the brochure are also Pennsylvania barns.

The next time you find yourself in the countryside or on a back road near a farm, keep an eye out for these architecturally unique structures and works of art. You might just see more than a common everyday barn.

National Get Outdoors Day

Want an excuse to have an outdoor adventure? Well, to be honest, you really don’t need an excuse—if anything, you probably need a reason not to get out there instead! Whether you’re looking for a reason or an excuse, though, it is now here in the form of National Get Outdoors Day.

Saturday, June 11 is this year’s National Get Outdoors Day, and you can partake in some amazing outdoor adventures at a local state or national park. Here are just some of specific events that you can enjoy with your loved ones!

People outdoors.

It’s time to explore the great outdoors! [Image: http://theadventureblog.blogspot.com/]

Upper Kern Cleanup, California

The Sequoia Recreation, which is a division of the California Land Management within the U.S. Forest Service, meets every year on the second weekend of June (this year, they’ll be meeting on June 11) to join together and clean the Upper Kern area. The Kern River is a valuable resource as a clean and safe waterway, and volunteers work relentlessly each year to ensure that its remains as such.

Learn more information here.

Get Outdoors Family Fishing Picnic, Pennsylvania

Bring your whole family out for a relaxing fishing trip on Sunday, June 12 at the Tussey Mountain Pond. They’ll provide the tackle for anyone who wants to join in on this idyllic Sunday afternoon. So bring your rods and see what you can hook!

Learn more information here.

Kid in a log.

Peek-a-boo! [Image: http://www.getoutdoorscolorado.org/]

Loop Lake Shelbyville Bike Ride, Illinois

If you’re searching for an end of spring bike-venture, then look no further than Loop Lake Shelbyville ride! There are three options for cyclists of all levels: a short 22-mile ride, a medium length 46-miles, and a longer 65-mile trek. So whether this is your first time around the lake, so to speak, or you’re a seasoned bike tourer, this is a great way to get outside and enjoy yourself!

Learn more information here.

Family biking.

Nothing like a family bike ride! [Image: https://totalwomenscycling.com/]

Get Outdoors Adventure Awaits Expo, Washington

Looking to try a new outdoor activity? Then look no further than the National Get Outdoors Day Outdoor Expo at Millersylvania State Park on June 11! It’s a fun day for the whole family, filled with prizes, demos, kid activities, and the chance to learn about (or even try!) a new outdoor activity. It’s the perfect place to be if you’re looking to fill your summer up with outdoor fun.

Learn more information here.

This is just a sample of all the many parks that will be holding events this weekend for National Get Outdoors Day. You can find more participating areas here. And before you go, don’t forget to make sure you download your state’s Pocket Ranger® mobile app so you can make the best of your adventure. Happy travels!

Some Facts About Mosquitoes

Conjecture: Mosquitoes are probably the most annoying insects on the planet. Fact: They are one of the most dangerous animals on the planet. They’re a source of discomfort, a vector for disease, and they seem to be everywhere we are when enjoying nature, or lately, even just reading the news. Here at Pocket Ranger®, we and our sponsor Thermacell® want to talk about this pest that has brought itself to the forefront of our thoughts as the weather improves and we are drawn outdoors. We’re here to discuss the facts while underlining the importance of mosquito bite prevention.

mosquitoes are the worst.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito enjoying a meal. It’s astonishing the lengths folks will take to photograph these hungry blighters. [Image: www.cdc.gov/]

The Obvious

  • Mosquitoes make up the family Culicidae, approximately 3,500 flying, biting insect species best known for drinking blood from mammals, reptiles, birds, and basically anything else with blood they can sink their proboscises into. They tend to be crepuscular feeders, taking their meals at dawn or dusk.
  • In most mosquito species, female mosquitoes drink blood for protein that is essential to produce eggs before or after mating. Some species are capable of drinking as much as three times their bodyweight.
  • Particularly before they begin mating, female mosquitoes, like their male counterparts, subsist on the sugar from fruit and flower nectar.
  • The mosquito is a food source for birds, bats, amphibians, reptiles, and other animals, despite being a fairly well adapted hunter itself.

Mosquitoes in the U. S. of A.

A map showing mosquito ranges

This map shows the potential ranges of the invasive mosquito species Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictis in the United States, but does not detail the mosquitoes’ populations or risk of disease transmission. Aedes aegypti is a known carrier of the Zika Virus. Aedes albopictis is not confirmed as a vector here, but could become a viable transmitter of Zika and other diseases. [Image: www.cdc.gov/]

Though West Nile Virus is now endemic in California, mosquito-borne illnesses like Chikungunya, Yellow Fever, Dengue, Malaria, and other dangerous infections are not common in the continental United States. From a historical standpoint, and as a sweeping general rule, the roughly 200 species of mosquitoes in the U.S. tend to be a nuisance to folks spending time outdoors rather than a transmitter of diseases. We’ve been very fortunate in that way.

However, these days, particularly while discussing mosquitoes, we can’t help but talk about the very present context of the Zika Virus and other mosquito-borne diseases. Aedes aegypti has been indicated as the primary agent of Zika, largely because it favors living in close proximity to its preferred food source: humans. Aedes aegypti enjoys a comfortable potential range that would extend throughout much of the southern and coastal portions of the U.S. where weather and temperature are a bit more within the mosquito’s varied tropical, sub-tropical, and temperate preferences. And, well, it’s just good practice to prevent or avoid mosquito bites by any reasonable means, regardless of Zika or any other illness, no matter where you live.

Ways to Naturally Prevent Mosquito Bites and Hinder Population Growth

[Image: www.mosquitomagnet.com]

It looks like a great place to clean your feathers, but it’s not a good idea to have one of these hanging around without also having a way to mitigate the mosquito eggs that could hatch from the waters. [Image: www.mosquitomagnet.com/]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states on its website, “The best way to prevent Zika and other viruses spread through mosquito bites is to prevent mosquito bites.” Well, when you put it like that, CDC! Thankfully, there are many easy and natural ways to reduce the incidence of mosquito presence and mosquito bites.

  • Wear protective clothing. You can wear long sleeves and pants to reduce the area a mosquito can dig in. Or if it’s just too unbearable to wear that much fabric, you can wear bug spray, DEET, or any number of other topical remedies. Just be sure if you’re wearing sunscreen. too, you apply insect repellent last. Or, as we’ll get to in a minute, there’s an alternative to any of that smelly stuff.
  • If the water’s standing, flip it over. Or use it to water a plant. Birdbaths may be quaint, but they are mosquito nurseries. Rainwater repositories, horse or livestock water troughs, your dog’s outside water bowl, a non-aerated koi pond, and any other number of vestibules and yard items can contribute to your home’s immediate mosquito population. You can mitigate this by simply taking steps to make sure water isn’t sitting or stagnating for days after rain.
  • Herbs and flowers can save your skin. You can plant and grow mosquito repellent plants. Do some research about what grows best in your climate, but trust in the staples like peppermint, lemongrass, basil, garlic, the popular citronella, and even catnip! Most of these plants can be bought already grown, are fairly easy to maintain, and have uses beyond driving bugs away.
  • Choose a repeller you trust. In the spirit of saving the very best for last, you’re probably aware by now that there’s a virtually odorless mosquito repellent with a 98 percent effectiveness rating that requires no oily bodily application. Our favorite way to reduce the chance of mosquito bites is with Thermacell® appliances that wield allethrin, a synthetic copy of the natural mosquito repellent found in chrysanthemums that forms a 15′ by 15′ shield around your outdoor work or hangout space. You can find out how this terrific tool works here.

Thermacell logo.

A combination of all these solutions are the ideal way of reducing incidence of mosquito interaction around your home or campsite, but you’d do well to keep your Thermacell appliance nearby wherever you are. [Image: www.thermacell.com/]

For all the frustration mosquitoes might impose on our lives, the world is just too great and offers too many nature-packed reasons to warrant a life confined to netted spaces or freezing climates. Download a Pocket Ranger® mobile app, gear up with your Thermacell®, get out there, and explore!