The Allegheny National Forest is Pennsylvania’s only national forest, and it’s a place I enjoy visiting. Over the last few centuries the land has been dramatically transformed, and it will most likely experience the effects of human-induced alterations as time moves forward.
By the 1880’s, most of what is now known as the Allegheny National Forest had been logged. The old growth hemlocks, pines, beeches, and oaks were removed. With the land essentially abandoned, people referred to it as the “Allegheny Brush Patch.”
In 1923 the area was designated the Allegheny National Forest, and efforts were made to remediate and restore the land. Pioneer species like black cherry, red maple, and black birch became established, animal populations increased, and timber harvesting resumed under stricter regulations.
I took these pictures while recently exploring the Allegheny National Forest, and a quick drive through the area will give the current impression that the land is rather pristine. Unfortunately, that isn’t quite the case. You see, when Congress purchased the land almost a century ago, it only bought the surface rights. The mineral rights underground remained the property of oil and gas companies — companies whose presence is heavily felt today. Over 12,000 oil and gas wells are currently scattered throughout the 517,000-acre forest… each one accessed by a clear-cut road. Some estimates predict that by the year 2022, approximately one-fifth of the total forest will be stripped of vegetation and converted to an oil field.
So much for rehabilitated land…
It’s easy to get disillusioned by all this, especially when probing deeper into the history of natural areas like the Allegheny National Forest (look into the Kinzua Dam construction when you have a minute). However, the Allegheny National Forest just so happens to be home to countless benevolent creatures that actually work with, rather than against, the natural world… despite not owning any rights to the land. These creatures (including the gray catbird and wood sorrel, the latter which certainly is edible and tasty) make places like this all worth while, and they’re the perfect reason to keep coming back.
Anyway, check out the Allegheny National Forest on your next jaunt through Northwest Pennsylvania. You may be glad you did.