Weekend in the woods: Alan Seeger and Bear Meadows Natural Areas

As you can see, I did not stick with my plan of going to Mount Nittany this weekend. Actually, I did go to Mount Nittany. I just saw the huge number of cars and immediately left. I’ll try again another weekend, maybe when the weather isn’t so perfect.

Anyway, after abandoning Mount Nittany I decided to check out an area I had read about in a display at the Forest Resources Building called Alan Seeger Natural Area. This particular display showcased a cross-section of a 500 year old hemlock tree that died. This forest was not logged in the 1800s like so many others, and so has multiple hemlocks that are 500+ years old. To put that in perspective, Europeans didn’t even settle Pennsylvania until 1681, meaning these trees were well over 150 years old when the first white man built a home in what would eventually become the state. The trees are indeed huge, and quite beautiful. The 1-mile Alan Seeger loop, an easy hike through the forest, showcases these giants quite well. It also features a pretty creek with a wooden bridge over it, and lots of rhododendron. Check out the featured photo on the post to see the beginning of the trail.

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A huge dead hemlock

Sadly, there is a conservation lesson to be learned here. The hemlock woolly adelgid, an insect accidentally introduced from Japan, is killing many of the hemlocks of the eastern United States, including those in this natural area. What I always think of as the “skeletons” of the dead trees still stand, a sobering reminder of the consequences of moving plants and animals from one continent to another.

Despite the sad sight of the dead hemlocks, it was a very cool area and worth visiting. However, the trail was pretty short at 1 mile, so on my way home I decided to make a spontaneous addition to my day and stop at Bear Meadows Natural Area, a National Natural Landmark. This includes the approximately 3.5-mile Bear Meadows Loop Trail, which I decided to embark on.

My first impression of Bear Meadows was just how unique it was compared to the other hikes I’d done. Most of the others have included a mountain stream, hemlocks, rhododendron or mountain laurel, and rocky slopes. This area, however, centers around a huge bog. There was an abundance of blueberry plants (not ripe yet) that I’m sure attract the bears that give the area its name. I’m sure it also attracts lots of human berry-hunters later in the summer. However, I was surprised to find that the path only features the bog for a short while before going off into the surrounding hardwood forest. It was of course beautiful, but I was a bit disappointed to not experience more of the most unique part of the area.

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Bear Meadows bog

The highlight of the hike had to be the birds. There was a huge variety of warblers, including Canada Warblers, a lifer for me (though they were determined not to sit still for a picture – oh well). I also saw Hooded, Black-throated Blue, and Black-throated Green Warblers, Ovenbirds, Common Yellowthroats, American Redstarts, Cedar Waxwings, Veerys, and plenty of others, including finding an Eastern Towhee nest. This is pretty amazing considering I wasn’t out until almost 2pm.

The most interesting moment of the hike had to be when I heard a sudden movement to my right then a strange buzzy sound. I jumped, and looked over to see a Timber Rattlesnake tail with its rattle rattling away. No pictures for this one – I wasn’t about to stick around with an upset snake nearby. I have encountered these guys before, just not quite this close. The best thing to do if you come across one is just leave – they’re not aggressive and won’t pursue you. I will admit, I was much more careful about checking logs before I stepped over them after that, but didn’t have any more encounters. Finding one of these snakes says something about the integrity of the area – they prefer relatively undisturbed habitat, which is exactly what you’ll find here.

I would definitely recommend these trails to anyone looking for relatively easy day hikes. The Alan Seeger Natural Area has a couple of nice shelter houses near a really beautiful stream, so if you pack a lunch plan out your day so that you can enjoy it there! Both trails are pretty buggy, so I’d recommend taking some good bug spray as well.

If I get ambitious, there might be a second installment for Weekend in the woods tomorrow. Since it’s going to be beautiful out again, it certainly won’t be about Mount Nittany, but if I can say one thing about Pennsylvania it’s that there’s no shortage of wonderful hiking!

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