COOK FOREST, Pa. (EYT) – “As busy as Cook Forest and Clear Creek State Parks were last year, I think, we had more people seeking out new areas on the Clarion River Lands,” said Ryan Borcz, DCNR Manager for Cook Forest, Clear Creek, and the Clarion River Lands.
He jointly manages the Clarion River Lands Bureau of Forestry.
The distinction between Cook Forest and the Clarion River Lands is that 11 or 12 years ago State Game Lands 283 became a DCNR land through a land exchange with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Clarion River Lands are on our public use map.
It’s a contiguous tract of land that butts up against Cook Forest.
There are more people looking for opportunities for recreation, whether it be hiking, biking, or riding horses.
“What we have with the Clarion River Lands is mostly a multiple-use trail system open for hiking, bike riding, and also equestrian use,” continued Borcz. “Like it or not, not everybody’s view of how those trails or treadways are to be maintained is the same. I think that’s common with almost any multiple-use recreation scenario. You just have people on different ends of the spectrum about their expectations for the public land,” Borcz explained.
Borcz told to CookForest.com, that the complaints are not so much about horse droppings on the trails.
“What has come into question right now are the Clarion River Lands Crossings. There are two crossings. One is called Slater’s Crossing, and one’s called Picture Rock Crossing. We’re (DCNR) in the process of having a meeting with DEP to determine what is needed, if anything, to allow those crossings to continue. It’s a conversation that hasn’t happened yet but will happen soon.”
According to Borcz, “There are ongoing conversations (that) maintenance of those trails in the Clarion River Lands is the responsibility of Ray Smith owner, of Cook Forest Scenic Trail Ride, who for 10 years has had a commercial activities agreement with DCNR for public, commercial operations on DCNR land.”
Smith declined to comment for this story.
However, there are changes in the new agreement, calling for a two-year term instead of ten, a requirement that the historical use of two crossings are off-limits until DCNR and DEP determines what, if any, permit is necessary to allow those to happen, and increased liability insurance.
“There’s some language in there about trail work required that wasn’t in the old agreement, but a lot of it is very similar to the old agreement,” Borcz added.
Cook Forest has a very well-marked trail system that has obviously the Forest Cathedral and the old growth, but Clarion River Lands has a remoteness that’s a little bit more challenging to get into some of these places, even vehicle access. Cook Forest also has only a handful of multi-use trails.
Borcz emphasized that it is not all commercial equestrian use, and there are people who trailer in their own horses, and it is somewhat of a destination for people to trailer their horses.
“We pay attention to how the trails are being used, and any trails that aren’t on our map or that aren’t authorized on our land. We do have park staff, and those are the things that we have to pay attention to.”
Clarion Conservation District
Trudy Alexander, District Manager of the Clarion Conservation District, said she has had some complaints from hikers but does not have any enforcement authority at the Conservation District Level 2.
She is required to refer complaints to DCNR and DEP in Meadville.
The Trails Tell The Tale
Looking for what kind of impressions avid hikers gain in their journey throughout the region, we talked with local trail enthusiast Bob Bauer.
“I live in Brockway now, but my brother and I grew up in Scotch Hill,” said Bauer. “We grew up 20 minutes from the North Country Trail, so we are very local. You know, we’re not troublemakers. This is our backyard and this is – this is where we live. This is our heritage and our legacy for our kids.
“Between my brothers and I, we’ve got 11 kids. When we’re dead and gone, we want the North Country Trail to still be there for our kids.”
Having two brothers, they spent lots of time in the forest and the river, making memories that last a lifetime. Bauer always enjoyed running and ran cross country for North Clarion High School.
Bob and his wife Nona put together an exciting 25k Trail Run using 13 beautiful trails of Cook Forest State Park, totaling 16.5 miles with 3,600 feet of elevation and attracting between 300 and 400 runners at the event.
They’ve noticed evidence of trail disturbance from horses.
“When you’re on designated hiking trails, and these people on the horses are infiltrating that and destroying the trail, creating an issue with erosion on some high banks.
“What really probably bothers me the most is (that) Dave Galbreath and his North Country Trail Chapter have done a tremendous amount of work establishing and building and clearing the North Country Trail. For those guys that do all that work and then a group of people in the forest to just to go in and destroy that kind of hits home for me.”
He has encountered similar instances when camping with his wife and dog.
“We were at a primitive campsite with our dog, and pretty soon I heard noises, and there was a couple on a couple of horses that left a designated trail and dropped onto the North Country Trail, went through two barricades there to try and prevent it and went around it and came down next to the river.
“There was also a time last year when we camped over the 4th of July and a large group of horses, all with riders — we’re talking about a dozen — all left the designated trail and trespassed on to Trudy’s land and went down through a campsite that they have there, trampled it up, went down to the river, came back up and then, and then went on their way.
“I don’t know whether it’s a lack of education or awareness. At that point, I contacted Ryan and we had a conversation, and they looked into it and they posted some additional signs.”
Bauer credited the work of Ryan Borcz and the DCNR staff with limited resources.
“Once they get wind of it, they go out and investigate it and get a good look and see what’s going and confirm or deny it.”
The problem that Bauer and friends are running into is that people on horses – whether they are coming for a commercial business or individuals and switching from designated multi-use trails to hiking trails.
“The problem with that is designated hiking trails are built and designed to handle bi-pedal humans and not necessarily 800-pound animals, that’s going to post holes through the trails and create some major issues not to mention just the natural horse defecation on the trail.
“No one cleans that up, but when you’re hiking and you take your kids and your dog, now everybody’s running through it. If we were to go on to a horse trail or a multi-use trail that we know horses are on, we know what to expect. It’s only fair.”