Category Archives: See It

Explore Winter Wonderland at Cattaraugus County in The Enchanted Mountains

Explore the Winter Wonderlands at Cattaraugus County in the Enchanted Mountains

Contributed by: Cattaraugus County

Western New York Winter is upon us in The Enchanted Mountains! Here in Cattaraugus County, one day we could be shoveling out two feet of snow and the next dodging raindrops! Never fret, whether you choose to explore the Winter Wonderlands of our Natural areas or prefer to celebrate the season by visiting our splendid indoor museums, galleries and theatre performances, you are sure to celebrate all of Winter, not just the holidays. Come and enjoy these fun winter activities with the whole family, you’ll be glad you did!

Snowmobile season is in full effect! [Image: enchantedmountains.com]

Trails and Lodging 

When the snow comes down all fluffy and fast, you can be sure that is the best time to ride a snowmobile. Cascade over the freshly fallen snow laying peacefully on the fields or slow down in our forested areas to look up and glance at the snow-lined trees. We have over 450 miles of trails, including those in Allegany State Park. With all those miles and trails that connect into the next County, you will need at least a couple days to pack in all the fun! We have numerous lodgings with easy trail access including cabins in Allegany State Park, Harwood Haven, Mystic Water Resort and The Woods at Bear Creek! Plus plenty of B&B’s, house rentals and more! Call 1-800-331-0543 for your Free Trail Map and brochure which lists these places and more, plus restaurants, snowmobile rentals , snowmobile service stops and gas stations along the trail!

Here is just one example of the day of fun that awaits you this winter!

Stay at The Inn at One Bank Street in Randolph, which has restaurants and gas within a half of a block from your guest room. Walk over to Vern’s Place in the morning for an affordable, delicious meal to give you the energy to be out in the cold all day. Head back to the room, gear up and take your sled over to Arrowmart to gas up before you go, again just a half block away! Now you’re ready for an adventure – but don’t forget your trail map! It is very important to respect the landowners that allow the trails to go over their property. And remember, just because you see a trail doesn’t mean it is for your use! It is your responsibility to know the trails and stick to them!

How about heading up to Little Valley, then over through the back hills of Ellicottville through the McCarty Hill Forest then over to the quaint town of Franklinville. Check out the Woods at Bear Creek for dinner and to warm up. The Woods at Bear Creek offers a view of the pristine snow over their lake that can be seen from the restaurant! Once you’re warmed up, head south through Ischua and down through Portville. If you didn’t grab a bite to eat at The Woods at Bear Creek, then give Sprague’s Maple Farms a try! Almost everything on the menu has maple syrup in it! There are gas opportunities here too at Kwik Fill and the Halfway Inn Bar & Grill. Make your back to Randolph through Allegany State Park to start scoping out a location for next year’s snowmobile vacation.

Love winter but prefer the indoors?

Why not ease into it with ice-skating at the William O Smith Rec. Center in Olean. This is the perfect compromise. You get to enjoy a great winter sport, but can step off the ice to warm up at any time. Plus, what makes a better date night than ice-skating? (Hint, hint) Afterwards, take that special someone out to a lovely dinner at any of the new restaurants in Olean. Try Woodside Tavern on the Range on River Road for a beautiful setting, or the hip new Ravyn & Robyn Lounge, featuring fine Italian Cuisine made from scratch! There’s always the tried and true favorites as well – The Beef N Barrel, Brothers Bistro, El Mariachi and Angee’s! Recount the funny happenings of ice-skating while you dine together and enjoy the slower pace of winter.

Historial Museum exhibit fat Cattaraugus County New York

Cattaraugus County Historical Museum  [Image: Cattaraugus County]

Can’t stand the thought of cold weather?

Well, we recommend you make your way into one of our outstanding museums, galleries or theatrical performances to keep you warm. We have 26 museums in the County that can be viewed in our Heritage Brochure (free if requested as well). These have a variety of interests including Town and Village histories, History of the County, Seneca Nation Culture, themes relating to African American History and the Underground Railroad and one even has a Mammoth! The Regina A Quick Center is located on the campus of St. Bonaventure University and has stunning and important works of art from their collection and others. There are also live performances here from renowned musicians thanks to the group “Friends of Good Music”.

The theatre is alive and well and as you know the saying goes, “The Show Must Go On”. And that means in the winter as well. Spend a delightful evening inside dreaming of other lives lived and hearing the great stories and musicals put on by our fantastic local talent. Olean Community Theatre will be starting their 38th season in 2017 and will feature “The Big Meal” “Assassins” and “9 to 5”. The Olean Theatre Workshop has provided family theater for over 34 years and upcoming performances of The Odd Couple will debut in Feb. The Ray Evans Seneca Theatre is the host to the Cattaraugus County Living Arts Association’s performances. “Hair” will be gracing the stage here in February and is sure to be the talk of the town for the months surrounding. This one is not to be missed!

Actors play a scene from the play Arsenic and Old Lace at the Olean Community Theatre in The Enchanted Mountains

Olean Community Theatre, Arsenic and Old Lace Play  [Image: Cattaraugus County]

So whatever you’re idea of winter is, a time to enjoy crisp cool air and fluffy snow or a time to slow down, relax and find special moments indoors, then The Enchanted Mountains of Western NY are where you need to be! Visit us online at EnchantedMountains.com, call us at 1-800-331-0543 or follow us on Facebook!

Leaf Peeping in Southwestern Pennsylvania

By Sheena Baker, Somerset County Chamber of Commerce

Leaf peeping – traveling to view and photograph the changing fall foliage – is a favorite pastime for many on the East Coast each autumn, including in the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania. Brilliant shades of orange, crimson and gold adorn the rolling hills and countryside, turning the region into an awe-inspiring landscape of vivid colors.

There is no exact science to predicting when leaves will change colors, though factors like tree species, elevation and weather play an important role. In the Laurel Highlands, leaf peeping is usually best in late September through early October. We suggest those wanting a more precise fall foliage report visit the Pennsylvania DCNR website for weekly fall foliage reports.

While the Laurel Highlands offers a plethora of activities to celebrate and view the fall foliage, autumn is also the perfect time for a leisurely driving tour of Somerset County’s 10 historic covered bridges, which provide the ultimate leaf peeping tour destinations.

Red Covered Bridge Southwestern Pennsylvania

At one time, Pennsylvania was home to more than 1,000 covered bridges. Though it’s estimated that less than 200 of these unique, charming structures remain today, the Keystone State still boasts the distinction of being the “Covered Bridge Capital of the World.” Thirty-six of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are home to at least one covered bridge with Lancaster County boasting 29, the highest number of any county.

To the naked eye, Somerset County’s 10 covered bridges may all appear to be the same. They’re all wooden structures with pitched roofs and painted red with white trim. If you’ve seen one covered bridge, you’ve seen them all, right? Wrong. Upon closer inspection, each of Somerset County’s bridges differs from one to the next. Aside from differing in length and the number of spans, the bridges vary in structure, too, as either burr truss designs or multiple kingpost truss bridges. There are other differences, too, if you take the time to look.

The details surrounding these landmarks’ origins are at times a bit fuzzy. For instance, some historians believe Walter’s Mill Bridge, on the Somerset Historical Center property, was constructed in 1830, which would make it the oldest surviving covered bridge in Somerset County and possibly one of the oldest in Pennsylvania. Others maintain it wasn’t built until 1859. Likewise, there are differing opinions on when Trostletown Bridge was erected, and no one knows who built Pack Saddle Bridge over Brush Creek in 1870. Those details are, as they say, lost to history, but we know that these structures were constructed in the mid- to late 19th century. Over the years, many – if not all – have been refurbished and restored, often to accommodate automobile traffic or to repair damage caused by weather-related incidents. The New Baltimore Bridge, originally constructed in 1879, was destroyed by a 1996 flood and was replaced by a replica two years later. Pack Saddle and Glessner bridges have also undergone extensive rehabilitation projects in the past 20 years.

These covered bridges are beautiful any time of year, but are truly breathtaking when complimented by autumn’s rich colors. They bring a certain romanticism and touch of history to life in our fast-paced, everyday society and make for stunning photo opportunities or just a fun day trip.

The Somerset County Chamber of Commerce offers a self-guided driving tour of all 10 covered bridges in America’s County®. Beginning and ending in Somerset, the approximately 175-mile Somerset County Covered Bridge – And More! – Tour guides visitors to the 10 bridges, turn by turn, and highlights other points of interest along the way, including the Flight 93 National Memorial, Quecreek Mine Rescue Site, The Mountain Playhouse, Stonycreek Whitewater Park and the Great Allegheny Passage, tabbed by National Geographic’s travel editors in 2012 as one of the top 10 places in the world to visit during fall. The brochure is available on the chamber’s website or by contacting the chamber and requesting a copy.

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Rehabilitated Park

It can be difficult to be good to ourselves or the environment in a world filled with deadlines and busy shuffling to work, school and appointments. We are lucky though, when we need a break from the rush, to have parks and wildlife areas where we can escape. Parks where one might find some solace, a quiet respite, or simply hear one’s thoughts while cycling or watching campfire embers die down. Awesomely, there are parks where these realities mingle–parks that were once damaged by human negligence, but, through human work and diligence, are now places people can gather to reflect, unwind and enjoy nature. Here are a few rehabilitated parks where hard work paid off!

Fox Point State Park, Delaware

The first rehabilitated park we would like to share is Fox Point. It is a 55-acre state park more than 50 years in the making. The property that the park now occupies was once part of the Delaware River. Through the end of the 1800s and into the mid-1900s, the Pennsylvania Railroad dumped waste and sewage sludge into the river as it sought to increase industrial land along its right-of-way, essentially burying the river for its own benefit. In 1958, however, S. Marston Fox began lobbying to turn the land over to the people of Delaware, and spent the rest of his life carrying that torch.

And what light that torch has thrown! Access to the Delaware River should be for [Image: destateparks.com]

A well-hoisted torch! Access to the Delaware River is important for all. [Image: destateparks.com]

Through decades of legal battles and environmental remediation, Fox Point State Park is open to day-use activities like picnicking, rollerblading, biking, volleyball, and generally taking in the sights of the Delaware River. The hard work poured into Fox’s vision of a “window on the river” is part of the experience today, one can learn about the park’s history and how the property was rehabilitated while taking in views of Philadelphia and the Delaware Memorial Bridge, and strolling along that same river that inspired northern Delawareans to rally around Fox’s dream for shared access to nature.

Route 66 State Park, Missouri

Route 66 State Park in Missouri, much like its name suggests, showcases some of the history of the highway that captured imaginations as the “Main Street of America” in the middle of the last century. The park is outfitted with an intact 1935 roadhouse (which serves as its visitor’s center) and stuffed with exhibits that commemorate the roadway that John Steinbeck called “The Mother Road.”

But to only point out the park’s proximity to an historic road misses the heart of its complicated history.

Fish and frogs and fun!

A peaceful pond and landscape with no clear indication of there having been a town here. [Image: www.mostateparks.com]

Beyond its roadhouse and visitor’s center, the 419-acre, day-use park is primarily composed of trails that meander through flatland and swamp where there was once the town of Times Beach. Times Beach was a town established (through a newspaper promotion) in 1925.

Whoa! What a deal! [Image: www.allday.com]

Wow! What a deal! Indeed the boisterous language served to draw the attention of those who might wish to escape the summer heat along the scenic Meramec River. [Image: www.allday.com]

At the end of 1982, a devastating flood drove hundreds from their homes just as dioxin contamination (caused by tainted waste oil which had been distributed on the town’s roads to reduce dust) was confirmed. The Environmental Protection Agency recommended that no one return to inhabit the town, and the federal government and the state of Missouri bought out the land. State and federal agencies immediately set about cleaning up the contamination.

While not downplaying the hardship endured by those families, the sweetness at Route 66 State Park is undeniable—after more than a decade of rehabilitation, the park is not only healthy for human visitors, but the native swamps and attending wildlife have blossomed. Birds and frogs and deer provide a superb backdrop to outdoor recreation, where you can take a long bike ride, or learn about the ways people crossed the continent not even a hundred years ago. And all that adventure and education is just a short jot from St. Louis!

Freshkills Park, Staten Island

When its rehabilitation is complete, Freshkills Park on Staten Island will be nearly three times the size of Manhattan’s Central Park and the largest park developed in New York City in a hundred years. An impressive feat of environmental recuperation given that, from 1947 to 2001, Freshkills served New York City and its surrounding metropolitan area as a landfill.

Today, the park is characterized by a sprawl of native grasses and brush, wetlands and gentle blue kills, and sweeping sky views that are unusual in the city. Some of its completed rehabilitated segments, Schmul Park and Owl Hollow Fields, already serve the nearby residents of Staten Island and anyone else who wants to make their way to the island. On special occasions, like the recent Discovery Day, hundreds of acres that are still in development are open to visitors.

All of this within New York City! The view of a "kill," or a small stream or creek, at Freshkills Park. This photograph was taken during Discovery Day, on September 18th, 2016. [Image: Myrrah Dubey]

All of this within New York City, and not a skyscraper in sight! This shows a “kill,” or a small stream or creek, at Freshkills Park. This photograph was taken during Discovery Day, on September 18th, 2016.

Discovery Day speaks to the heart of the space, with free bicycles to borrow, and hour-long Audubon tours to teach guests about the wildlife that has thrived since the landfill was capped and the Park Plan has been implemented. Freshkills Park is a prime example of how a landscape can be brought back from the very brink of pollution, and grow into a green space we all can share and enjoy.

Keep Up the Good Work!

It’s important to reflect on how we interact with the world around us. It’s not always pleasant to think about our actions contributing to pollution, but being honest about it can empower us to make better choices. And, when it comes right down to it, the land that gets reclaimed from the clutches of pollution is just as precious as that which has always been pristine, if only because it speaks to the healing qualities embedded in the determination to make something better for ourselves and future generations.

Even with fall upon us, it’s not too late in the year to volunteer to clean up, or to just take some time for yourself in your favorite park! No better way to find out more about the parks near you than Pocket Ranger® mobile apps, that’ll get you out and on to exploration!

Celebrate 100 Years of the NPS in Western PA

Contributed By Sheena Baker, Somerset County Chamber of Commerce

What comes to mind when you think of national parks?

Most people associate national parks with the sprawling landscapes and geographical wonders of the West – Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon – when in reality there are more than 400 national parks, battlefields, monuments, historic sites, lakeshores, scenic rivers, trails and recreation areas across the U.S. and its territories, each one as unique and diverse as American citizens themselves.

As more and more Americans pushed westward in the 19th century, conservationists began to fear for the loss of the country’s scenic wonders, stunning landscapes and its native species as well as historic sites and natural monuments. This preservation movement slowly gained momentum and on March 1, 1872, President Grant signed a bill creating Yellowstone Park, the world’s first national park, “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Other parks – Yosemite, Sequoia and Crater Lake – followed in the years to come thanks to the efforts of men like John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt, but it was decades before the national parks – what writer and historian Wallace Stegner called “the best idea we ever had” – had their own unified identity.

Finally, on Aug. 25, 1916, Congress and President Wilson created the National Park Service to preserve and protect the country’s growing list of national parks while also leaving the sites “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

Since then, the National Park Service has worked with partners and volunteers as stewards to guard and promote these natural and cultural resources for the millions of people who visit these sites each year. In 2015 alone, more than 300 million people visited U.S. national parks.

This year marks the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary and to celebrate, the NPS launched the “Find Your Park” campaign to encourage Americans to discover and reconnect with the vast multitude of national parks across the country and to find a park that speaks to them personally. On Aug. 25, the day the NPS hits the century mark, until Aug. 28 – the National Park Service is offering free admission into all of its 412 sites.

Pennsylvania is home to 19 national parks or NPS-managed sites. No doubt most people think of Gettysburg National Military Park or Independence Hall in Philadelphia when they think of NPS sites in the Keystone State, but did you know there are five national parks in southwestern Pennsylvania?

To celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial this month, we suggest you #findyourpark at one of these five NPS sites in our region.

Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site

NPS site in Western PA

Image: Sheena Baker

When New York’s newly completed Erie Canal began negatively impacting business and trade in Pennsylvania in the mid-1820s, businessmen and legislators sought a solution to keep the state – and their interests – competitive. In 1826, the Pennsylvania legislature approved the Mainline of Public Works for the construction of the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. However, crossing the Keystone State also meant crossing the formidable Allegheny Mountains, a seemingly impossible task for a canal system. Instead, engineers built the Allegheny Portage Railroad, a system of 10 inclined planes – five ascending and five descending – with large stationary engines to pull and lower boats, rail cars and freight over the mountains from the Hollidaysburg canal basin in the east to the Johnstown basin in the west. With the completion of the 36.69-mile Portage Railroad in 1834, the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal – which came with a $16.5 million price tag – reduced travel time from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh from 23 days to just four. Today the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site covers 1,249 acres in Blair and Cambria counties and is, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes it, a “national park for nerds” as the site pays homage to engineering and innovation. At the park’s main unit, visitors can learn about the Portage Railroad at the Summit Level Visitor Center, tour the historic Lemon House, see Engine House #6 and the Skew Arch Bridge, and hike numerous trails. Visitors can also see Staple Bend Tunnel, the first railroad tunnel built in the U.S., at a second, separate until of the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site near Mineral Point. During the summer, park rangers lead heritage hikes, offer van tours of the railroad’s route from Hollidaysburg to Johnstown and host Evening on the Summit events on select Saturdays.

Flight 93 National Memorial

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, 40 ordinary individuals boarded a plane in Newark, N.J., bound for San Francisco. Little did they know that just over an hour after takeoff, they would band together as “citizen soldiers” in America’s first fight against a new kind of jihadist terrorism. The Flight 93 National Memorial tells the story of the passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 and pays tribute to their heroic actions, which prevented the plane’s four al-Qaida hijackers from reaching their intended target, believed to be the U.S. Capitol, just a short 18 minutes flying time from where the Boeing 757 crashed into an abandoned strip mine near Shanksville, killing all on board. Since the 2001 terror attacks, more than 2 million people from around the world have paid tribute to the Flight 93 story by visiting first the temporary memorial administered by local caretakers – the Flight 93 ambassadors – and later the Flight 93 National Memorial, which opened to the public in 2011. Today the memorial includes a visitor center with interactive displays, a flightpath overlook, a marble wall of names, 40 groves of memorial tress and nearly 3 miles of walking trails. Plans are underway to complete the memorial’s last phase, a 93-ft. tall Tower of Voices featuring 40 wind chimes, one for each passenger and crew member. During the Sept. 10-11 weekend, the National Park Service will lead the Families of Flight 93, Friends of Flight 93 and others in commemorating the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks with special ceremonies and programming. Be sure to visit the memorial’s website for details. The memorial also hosts the annual Plant a Tree at Flight 93 reforestation project each spring as well as Walk 93, an untimed public walk to raise awareness and support for the memorial.

Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

Before American colonists fought for freedom from British rule in the Revolutionary War, the British and French struggled for possession of the immense and valuable Ohio River Valley and Ohio Territory west of the Appalachians. That struggle came to a head in 1754-1755 when the British, under the command of Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock and a young Lt. Col. George Washington, made two failed attempts to push the French from Fort Duquesne in modern-day Pittsburgh. At Fort Necessity National Battlefield, site of Washington’s lone military defeat, visitors can learn how precursors to the French and Indian War – and the worldwide Seven Years War – were fought in the Laurel Highlands. In addition to offering a reconstructed version of Washington’s “fort of necessity,” an impressive Interpretive and Education Center with interactive displays and 5 miles of walking trails, Fort Necessity National Battlefield also details the history of the National Road (modern-day U.S. 40). Visitors can travel back through time and learn 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 also part of Fort Necessity National Battlefield and serves as a museum depicting life along the National Road during its heyday.

Friendship Hill National Historic Site

NPS site in Western PA

Image: Sheena Baker

Tucked in the westernmost corner of Fayette County on the banks of the Monongahela River, Friendship Hill National Historic Site is the country estate of Albert Gallatin, who served as Secretary of the Treasury for 13 years under the Jefferson and Madison administrations. The Swiss-born gentleman farmer and diplomat was influential in developing the United States in its infancy, planning the financing of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, funding the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804-1806, and advocating for federal funding for roads and canals, which eventually led to the building of the National Road in 1811. Today visitors to Friendship Hill can explore Gallatin’s uniquely constructed home, enjoy more than 9 miles of hiking and cross-country skiing trails on the 675-acre estate, visit the gravesite of Gallatin’s first wife, Sophia, and gain insight into life in early America. On Sept. 24-25, be sure to visit FestiFall, hosted by the National Park Service and the Friendship Hill Association. The free, two-day event celebrates the life and times of Gallatin and includes demonstrations, period music and food, crafts, children’s activities and more.

Johnstown Flood National Memorial

Image: Sheena Baker

Image: Sheena Baker

Sitting on a mountainside 14 miles northeast of the city of Johnstown, Lake Conemaugh once served as a reservoir for the nearby Pennsylvania Mainline Canal before it and the canal system became obsolete in the 1850s. Decades later, it became the home of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, an exclusive and somewhat secretive summer retreat for wealthy Pittsburgh industrialists and businessmen. A series of missteps and poor maintenance over the years made the deteriorating South Fork Dam a “ticking time bomb,” and on the afternoon of May 31, 1889, after a night of torrential rain, the structure gave way, unleashing 20 million tons – an estimated 3.6 billion gallons – of water on the unsuspecting residents of the valley below. The Johnstown Flood of 1889, the sixth worst death toll disaster in U.S. history and the country’s deadliest inland flood, claimed 2,209 lives and caused more than $17 million in property damage. The Johnstown Flood National Memorial, built on the banks of what was once Lake Conemaugh in Saint Michael, preserves the remnants of the South Fork Dam, the former lakebed and several buildings of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. At the site’s visitor center, visitors can watch the powerful “Black Friday” film, hear one survivor’s harrowing account, see interactive maps and displays, and visit the north and south abutments of the South Fork Dam. In the summer, park rangers offer guided tours around the lake as well as van trips and hikes along the flood’s path. Each spring, the National Park Service commemorates the anniversary of the 1889 flood with special programs and events, including a luminaria ceremony remembering the flood’s victims.

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.

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.

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.