What better destination for those who love nature and the outdoors than Cook Forest State Park, with its 6,668 acres of prime vacationing land?
Bordered by the beautiful Clarion River and full of virgin white pine and hemlock timber, the Park has been designated by the National Park Service as a Registered National Natural Landmark (you’ll find a plaque commemorating this designation in the Forest Cathedral). Read on to get an idea of just how much film you’ll need for your camera, or visit the Forest Friends area to see some great photos.
Local American Indians called the Clarion River the “Tobecco,” which means “dark brown water.” Tannic acid from decaying evergreen needles turned the river brown in color.
Early settlers called it “Toby Creek.” Effects from lumbering — cleared hillsides and erosion — renamed it “Stump Creek” and “Mud River.” The “Clarion” River was named when Daniel Stanard and David Lawson, two road surveyors, were blazing a trail from Kittaning to Franklin in 1817. Stanard said, “The ripple of the river sounds like a distant clarion” (a trumpet call).
Rivers were vital for transportation by the early logging industry. Pennsylvania led the nation in lumber production in 1860. Logs were brought to the Clarion, bound together in simple rafts, and “run” down river for sale in Pittsburgh. A one-way trip on the Allegheny River from the mouth of the Clarion to Pittsburgh was over 100 miles!
Old Growth Timber Areas:
From the area of Cook Forest State Park came the famous Pennsylvania cork pine, so named because of the white pine’s thick, cork-like bark.
There are four old growth forest areas in the park: Swamp, Seneca, Cathedral, and Cook Trails areas.
The Swamp area consists mainly of ancient red and white oaks, red maples, and black cherry. Some trees are over 280 years old. There is an impressive stand of eastern white pine, eastern hemlock and American beech trees. The Swamp Area lies in the extreme northeastern section of the park. Baker Trail runs through this area
The Seneca area lies on the hillside northwest of the Clarion River and southeast of Fire Tower Road. Trails leading through this area include Deer Park, Mohawk and Seneca.
Along with white pine and hemlock, some large pitch pine of nearly 300 years old is also present. Tornado damage from 1976 can also be seen here.
The Cook Trails growth areas consist mainly of eastern white pine, eastern hemlock, and American beech. Many white pine and hemlocks in this areas approach 350 years old. Scientists believe this old growth areas began growing following a large forest fire in 1644. Some trees survived the fire and are almost 450 years old. Many American chestnut snags are still standing, 80 years after the chestnut blight swept through the area.
The bedrock of Cook Forest is mainly sedimentary rock, laid down about 300 million years ago when an ocean covered western Pennsylvania. Heavy erosion of the mountains to the east deposited thick layers of sand, resulting in massiv, coarse beds of sandstone. Movements in the earth’s crust eventually lifted this ocean floor to an elevation of 1,200 to 1,600 feet.
The sandstone is unusual because it has few cracks. When the sandstone is exposed, like at Seneca Point, it cracks in large pieces, some as large as a house.
Forest Cathedral Area:
The Forest Cathedral Natural Area is one of the largest growth forests of eastern white pine and eastern hemlock in Pennsylvania. Many of these magnificent pine and hemlocks exceed three feet in diameter and approach 200 feet tall. Often called “William Penn Trees,” trees of this size are often 300 years of age, dating to the era of William Penn, the first governor of “Penn’s Woods.” It is fitting that this forest remains in the midst of the area that saw the greatest logging boom in the history of Pennsylvania. In the late 1800s, thousands of acres of old growth forests were cut for the shipbuilding and construction industries.
During the summer of 1956, a storm of tremendous force struck the Forest Cathedral area and destroyed some of the oldest and largest trees. Many of these were removed after the storm to protect the remaining trees from disease and insects. On July 11, 1976, a tornado passed through the campground and destroyed a section of the old growth timber area which lies west of PA Route 36. A partial salvage operation was conducted after this storm.
The Forest Cathedral is easy to reach by hiking the Longfellow Trail from the Log Cabin Inn Visitor Center.