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Tall trees, no reception, and a sleeping hatchet

PA Local reviews camping at Loyalsock State Forest.


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—Colin Deppen, Newsletter Editor
Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen

June 2, 2023
Inside this edition: Road trips, Badillac RIP, free lighthouse, gossip empire, caffeinated eyedrops, and tips from the middle of nowhere. 
🏆 PA POP QUIZ: Put your news knowledge to the test with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz: Debt ceiling dealbreaker, Shapiro's secret schedule, and fire in the sky.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

This week marked 134 years since a catastrophic dam failure at a hunting club for wealthy industrialists caused the Johnstown Flood.

What was the name of the hunting club? 

A. South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club
B. Spring Lane Fishing & Hunting Club
C. The Millionaire's Fishing & Hunting Club
D. Pleasant Valley Fishing & Hunting Club

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)

Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» Five trips worth taking: Philly Mag has a guide to "The Best Pennsylvania Road Trips You Didn’t Know You Wanted to Take (Till Now)," with a beautiful-if-not-pinpoint-accurate map by Eric Hinkley

» One thing worth reading: The New Yorker wrote an obituary last year for a most unusual Philadelphia vehicle — Gilbert Hilton's decked-out Badillac —which bit the dust after the PPA towed it away.

» One thing worth knowing: The federal government is looking for nonprofits interested in taking care of a free lighthouse in Erie (and locations nationwide) as GPS makes the towers obsolete

» One thing worth sharing: One of the most popular podcasts in the country, "Normal Gossip," is made in Philadelphia. The Inquirer (paywall) says host Kelsey McKinney is "building a (socialist) gossip empire."

» One thing worth (maybe) trying: Pittsburgh startup Revitalize Energy wants you to put caffeine in your eyes. CEO Kyle Guinness told WESA the caffeinated eye drops can help with digital-era eye fatigue

Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism for Pennsylvania and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED.
» COVID-19 UPDATE: Your guide to finding resources on cases, vaccines, and tests

» Secret meetings spark criticism of Pa. opioid trust

» Gov. Josh Shapiro's secret workday calendars

» Mysterious cash delivery followed official's arrest

» Election deniers poised to oversee local voting in Pa.

» Penn State's accreditation probed after hazing report
A rocky creek surrounded by trees.
Worlds End State Park, Sullivan County. (Sarah Anne Hughes / Spotlight PA)

I am not a happy camper.

That is to say, I prefer the indoors to the out, a real bed to the ground, and the relative safety of my home to the dubious protection of a nylon tent. 

But I am also a team player in a long-term relationship with a person who — somehow! — sees nature as something to enjoy rather than fear. 

That’s how I ended up camping in the remote wilds of Loyalsock State Forest in rural Sullivan County over Memorial Day weekend armed with a sleeping hatchet (more on that later) and the sheer will to survive being outside for an extended period of time. 

I picked Loyalsock for two reasons: because I believed it would offer dark enough skies for my partner to try out his new telescope; and because the campsites at the better-known dark sky areas in the state, like Cherry Springs State Park, were booked. 

Overall, it was a positive experience, in that I lived and have apparently not contracted Lyme disease. But I definitely would have made a few adjustments based on what I know now that I want to pass on to PA Local’s readers in the form of these tips. —Sarah Anne Hughes, Spotlight PA

Roadside campsites — where nature is your bathroom!

Because of the last-minute nature of the trip, and the fact that it coincided with a holiday weekend, my campsite options were limited. I selected an available roadside campsite simply by looking at the booking website’s extremely basic map with symbols without attempting to learn anything about the area. That was, believe it or not, a mistake.

If I would have read the information readily made available by the state, I would have come to understand just how remote the campsite was. These sites, deep in the forest along a dirt and gravel road, are separated by at least half a mile and offer no access to a bathroom, as the similar sites at the nearby Masten Campground do.

Neither my partner nor I had cellphone service, and I was so scared of the chirping and howling fauna that my partner suggested we sleep in the tent with the hatchet he brought to chop wood. We did not need the sleeping hatchet for self-defense, but it did provide peace of mind. 

I also selected a site that was not within walking distance of water. Other sites, as I learned from this Reddit post, offer that amenity, which would have been a lovely perk.

Tip No. 1: Read the great information provided by the state to make sure you find the kind of campsite that best matches your needs.

If you want to be in an extremely remote area that is still accessible by a road — surrounded by beech trees and not much else — then I recommend you follow my lead and pick a drive-in site near Forksville.

A telescope being used at night near a car.
The new telescope in action. (Sarah Anne Hughes / Spotlight PA)
Seeking dark skies

While the entire purpose of the trip was to try out the telescope, I picked a campsite deep in the forest with tree cover so thick we could barely see the sky. That excellent planning on my part necessitated a late-night field trip.

With the assistance of a staffer at nearby Worlds End State Park, we picked High Knob Overlook as our destination. Accessible by a paved road, the vista had a parking lot and plenty of room to stretch out and do our stargazing.

Tip No. 2: In addition to offering a great place to stargaze, High Knob Overlook also provides a view of much of Loyalsock State Forest’s more than 100,000 acres. If you’re in the area, it seems like an ideal place to watch the sunset.

There are also grassy campsites nearby that I looked at longingly as we prepared to take the 40-minute drive back to our own outdoor home away from home. 

Seeing the sights

We arrived a few hours before the campsite’s 3 p.m. check-in time, so we went on a hike. I found the state’s trail map to be a bit confusing, so I relied on AllTrails to pick a spot. In addition to the reviews, the website rates the trails as easy, moderate, or hard — extremely necessary information for someone who does not own hiking boots.

We hiked the Fern Rock Nature Trail, which was as easy to traverse as promised. I regret we did not try Rusty Run Falls instead, as it offers a waterfall at the end and I frankly need a little scenic treat at the end of hikes to get through them without whining too much.

Once the hike was over, we started to make our way over to our campsite only to realize we didn’t have cellphone reception and had no idea how to get there. We drove around until we spotted Worlds End State Park, where a staffer offered us a paper map and directions.

While there, I gaped at the beauty of the Endless Mountains, waded in Loyalsock Creek, and felt generally awed by where I was. 

Tip No. 3: Skip the hike, and visit Worlds End State Park! It was so beautiful and not too crowded. The swimming area looked so inviting and I bet it would feel glorious on a hot summer day. 
Our favorite quote about Pennsylvania — or from a Pennsylvanian — this week.

“Low, loud, and frequent flights could disrupt livelihoods in a region that has built its identity on outdoor recreation and bucolic tranquility..."

—Democratic U.S. Sens. John Fetterman and Bob Casey urging further study of a plan to conduct fighter jet trainings over the Pennsylvania Wilds

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
Flamingo party at Longwood Gardens, via @lora_explores. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on IG, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A large group of flamingos wading in a pond underneath what looks like a castle turret.
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

The failure of a neglected dam at the South Fork Fishing & Hunting Club caused the Johnstown Flood on May 31, 1889, killing 2,209 people.

The club was a getaway for wealthy elites like Pittsburgh's Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Mellon, and Henry Phipps Jr.

Jared Frederick, an assistant teaching professor of history at Penn State Altoona, has a 10-minute explainer of the historic event for WPSU's PA Past series, which also covers John Burns, Hero of GettysburgThe Whiskey Rebellion; and The White Lady of Wopsy.

Thanks for reading PA Local. We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 

Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism for Pennsylvania and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED.
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