Agency Spotlight: Weiser State Forest
Weiser State Forest is located in the ridge-and-valley region of eastern PA. Named for the frontier diplomat, Conrad Weiser, the forest covers 30,000 acres on 16 tracts throughout the region. Weiser also encompasses a series of river islands on the Susquehanna River called the Sheets Island Archipelago. Much of the forest district was called "Wyoming State Forest" up until a realignment in 2005.
The forest was named in honor of Conrad Weiser, a great leader of the colonial period. Conrad Weiser was born on November 2, 1696, in Germany. In 1709 his family immigrated to the British colonies in America, settling in the Mohawk Valley near Albany, New York. At the age of 17, Conrad moved in with his Mohawk neighbors to learn the language of the Iroquois to serve as an interpreter between the colonists and their Native American neighbors. For 15 years, Conrad Weiser was closely associated with the Mohawks. His hard work and personality helped him gain the respect and trust of the Mohawks. In 1729, Conrad Weiser moved his family from New York to Tulpehocken, Pennsylvania.
In 1731, Weiser's public life began. His close association and knowledge of the Iroquois customs and language was key to maintaining and developing Indian policy during the period. He was befriended by Shekilammy, Chief of the Oneidas, who lived on the Susquehanna River near Sunbury. The Iroquois Confederation (Six Nations) sent Shekilammy to Philadelphia as a representative. Shekilammy selected Weiser to accompany and assist him with negotiations with provincial officials.
Conrad Weiser and Chief Shekilammy became a good team. For nearly two decades Weiser and Shekilammy traveled the valleys between the Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers serving as delegates during negotiations with the Six Nations. Following Major General Braddock's defeat at Fort Necessity in 1755 during the French and Indian War, Weiser persisted more than any other man of his time to hold the chain of friendship between white settlers and Indians from falling apart.
Conrad Weiser died on July 13, 1760, and was buried in the family lot near Womelsdorf in Berks County. On November 14, 1793, President George Washington, while standing at the grave of this great leader declared, "posterity cannot forget his services". It is apparent that Conrad Weiser was one of the great men of early America and was prominent in the development of our great State.
The Weiser Forest District includes Dauphin, Carbon, Columbia, Lebanon, Montour, Northumberland, and Schuylkill, Counties. Weiser State Forest consists of fourteen tracts of land located in Dauphin, Berks, Carbon, Columbia, Northumberland, and Schuylkill, Counties. The total area of State Forest land is more than 28,000 acres.
This region was prized in the mid 1700’s for its wealth of timber: white pine and hemlock; chestnut, oaks, beech, maple, poplar, and gum; yellow and pitch pine. Many sawmills were erected along the larger creeks and rivers, and timber was transported to markets downstream in large rafts. Lumber formed the base, and shingles and lath products were carried on top. By 1831 there were 100 sawmills in Schuylkill County alone. During the 1800’s iron smelting became a major industry in the region, and the forests were further cut over to produce charcoal to fuel the furnaces. The Schuylkill and Union Canals were dug during this time to transport charcoal to furnaces in southeastern Pennsylvania. At the same time coal was discovered, and by 1820 had become a viable industry in the region. Rail lines were constructed to transport coal products from the region. The forests of the region supplied the coal industry with mine props and railroad ties. Denuded hillsides were slow to re-vegetate, and serious soil erosion and stream siltation occurred. Uncontrolled and repeated wildfires swept across the region, consuming thousands of acres of forest land. In 1902 the Department of Forestry was established, primarily to control wildfires and replant deforested hillsides. Today the Weiser State Forest is again stocked with stands of saw timber and pulpwood-size trees, but fire scars are still evident throughout the district. The region is still recovering from the heavy use of its forests in the early years of our country. But with ongoing protection from wildfires, and science-based forest management guiding the Bureau of Forestry, fire damaged stands will gradually be replaced with young healthy stands of higher quality material.
Thirty-three miles of shared-use trails are open to hiking, with additional trail mileage also open on adjoining public lands. Marked trails are presently available on the Haldeman and Greenland Tracts in northern Dauphin County. Additionally, thirteen miles of shared-use trails are open to the public on Lykens Borough municipal lands and eight miles on State Game Lands 210. There are also marked trails on the Roaring Creek Tract in southern Northumberland and Columbia Counties. The Miners Path Trails on the Roaring Creek tract were developed using old maps with delineated foot paths used by coal miners. Miners traveled across the Roaring Creek valley to work in the mines in the Wilburton and Natalie area. An eight-mile shared-use trail also runs through the valley along the creek and reservoirs, for those who wish a more leisurely hike or walk. Hikers can enjoy numerous unmarked trails throughout the Weiser State Forest.
State forest roads are also available for recreational use: about 20 miles of roads on the Dauphin County tracts and 30 miles on tracts in Schuylkill and Carbon Counties.
Picnic areas are presently available in three locations in the Weiser State Forest.
The Rowland and the Minnich’s Springs picnic areas are both located on the Haldeman Tract in northeastern Dauphin County.
The C.Q. McWilliams Picnic Area is located on the Roaring Creek Tract in southern Northumberland County. Access to the site requires a 4 mile walk or bike ride from the valley visitor parking areas that provide access to Roaring Creek Trail. The area includes a covered pavilion near the picturesque McWilliams Reservoir.
All sites include picnic tables, charcoal grills and potable water. Permanent comfort facilities are available at Rowland and Minnich’s Hit Picnic Area. Portable toilets are available at C. Q. McWilliams Picnic Area.
Primitive backpack camping is permitted while hiking along state forest trails. Hikers may not stay more than one night at any campsite location unless they acquire a camping permit from the district office.
Seventeen designated roadside campsites are available on four Weiser State Forest Tracts. These are permanently located sites that contain a parking pad, picnic table and fire ring. Two of the sites are larger group sites to accommodate the needs of scouts, churches and similar organizations. Visitors are required to obtain a permit to camp at these locations. There is no charge for the permit.
More than 20 river island campsites are located along the 51 mile long Susquehanna River Trail between Sunbury and Harrisburg. The sites are located on DCNR islands and are available for overnight camping for individual and small groups floating the Susquehanna River. Groups of 10 or less may stay no more than two nights at any one campsite. Permits are not required. The Susquehanna River Trail Association (SRTA) provides oversight and maintenance of these sites. Please visit their web site for more information: http://www.susquehannarivertrail.org/index.htm.
Deer, turkey, grouse, squirrels, and black bear are common game species that visitors may encounter on the State Forest. Hunting is permitted in accordance with Pennsylvania State Game Commission regulations. The district has approximately 12 miles of administrative roads open to persons with disabilities. These roads are designated for use by individuals holding a valid DCNR or PA Game Commission permit. Access is by licensed passenger vehicle only.
Several of the larger streams and rivers in this district offer some of the best warm water fishing to be found anywhere. Cold-water fishing opportunities are available as well on three tracts of the Weiser State Forest. The West Branch of Rattling Creek originates on the Haldeman Tact in northern Dauphin County. This is a beautiful little stream designated as an exceptional value cold-water fishery. Another exceptional value cold-water fishery is Rattling Run in northern Berks County located at the southern edge of the Port Clinton Tract. On the Roaring Creek Tract in southern Northumberland and Columbia counties, fishing opportunities abound. South Branch Roaring Creek is a high quality cold-water fishery which runs for ten miles through this tract and includes three large reservoirs where warm water fishing is available. Ice fishing is becoming a popular winter activity on this tract. All fishing within the boundaries of the Weiser State Forest, Roaring Creek Tract is catch and release only.
A hang gliding launch area is available on the Haldeman tract in Dauphin County. The site is open to current members of US Hang Gliding Association displaying a current helmet sticker for the launch site issued by the Blue Ridge Hang Gliding Club. This area also serves as a vista overlooking the scenic Susquehanna Valley.
Boating and Water Trails
Electric motors and non-motorized boats are permitted on two of the three reservoirs on the Roaring Creek tract - the184-acre McWilliams’ Reservoir and the 31-acre Kline’s Reservoir. A short is required to access the Kline’s reservoir. The portage to McWilliams’ Reservoir is approximately 2 miles.
Water trails have been developed on the Susquehanna and Schuylkill rivers to provide opportunities along these scenic waterways for overnight canoe/kayak camping and boating day trips.
For maps and information on water trails contact the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission at sites.state.pa.us/PA_Exec/Fish_Boat/watertrails/trailindex.htm.
For visitors who enjoy taking drives to enjoy the forest scenery, sights, and wildlife, the Weiser State Forest maintains approximately 27 miles of State Forest roads on the Haldeman, Greenland, and Port Clinton tracts that are open to public driving.
Horses may be ridden on most State Forest roads and on many of the marked shared-use trails. Access is restricted on some trails unsuitable for horses. Horses are prohibited on the Weiser State Forest Roaring Creek Tract.
An eight-mile shared-use trail running the length of the valley on the Roaring Creek Tract is open to visitors interested in a relatively level ride. This trail offers a leisurely trip through the scenic valley along the creek and reservoirs.
Many roads and trails on the Weiser State Forest are open to mountain bikes. The Roaring Creek, Haldeman and Greenland Tracts in Dauphin County are very popular biking destinations. 28 miles of marked shared-use trails are available there as well as another 27 miles of State Forest Roads. The extreme variability of the topography in this region of the state offers a variety of challenges for all skill levels.
Cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are favorite winter activities on the Weiser State Forest Port Clinton, Haldeman and Greenland tracts. 20 miles of joint-use roads and 20.5 miles of shared-use trails are open for snowmobiles on the. Properly registered snowmobiles may be operated on the day following the official closing of fire arms deer season. In addition, an eight mile connector trail has been established in cooperation with the Pennsylvania State Game Commission across State Game Lands 210. Cross-country skiing is permitted on joint-use roads as well as on twenty-five miles of shared use trails. Maps showing the roads, trails, and access areas are available from the district office.
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