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Agency Spotlight: Salt Springs State Park
The 405-acre Salt Springs State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania, seven miles north of Montrose in Susquehanna County. Focal points of the park are the towering old growth hemlock trees, many estimated to be over 300 years old, and the rocky gorge cut by Fall Brook with its three waterfalls. The Friends of Salt Springs Park, a volunteer support group, owns 300 acres adjacent to the park’s southern border, which is also open for public access.

There are almost 13 miles of trails running through the park. The trails pass through old growth forest, overlook the gorge and meander through various habitats:

  • Fall Brook Trail: 1-mile, most difficult hiking, red blazes - Access this trail across the bridge from the Wheaton House. It follows Fall Brook and climbs steeply along the three waterfalls. Use extreme caution on slippery rocks and near the edge of the falls. After the third waterfall, the trail flattens out and follows the brook past Buckley Road until it ends at the intersection with Bunny Trail.
  • Hemlock Trail: 0.4-mile, more difficult hiking, white blazes - Access this trail at the northeast end of the picnic area, past Salt Spring. Follow right and climb steeply up the hill into the old growth hemlock forest. Just past the intersection with Woodland Trail, Hemlock Trail becomes a raised boardwalk. It follows the east rim of the gorge past Penny Rock to where a right spur leads to an observation platform overlooking the falls. Use extreme caution near cliffs and steep drop-offs. The trail continues to where it eventually intersects Fall Brook Trail.
  • Woodland Trail: 0.25-mile, easiest hiking, blue blazes - Reached from Hemlock Trail, this trail circles around the east side of the old growth stand. Explore a hemlock almost 300 years old that has fallen across the path.
  • Hardwood Trail: 0.5-mile, more difficult hiking, yellow blazes - Access this trail at the northeast end of the picnic area, past Salt Spring. Follow left up the moderate slope along the edge of the hill. The trail swings south and climbs gently through mixed hardwoods before leveling out and turning west to where it intersects Woodland Trail.
  • Upland Trail: 0.5-mile, more difficult hiking, red blazes - This trail extends the loop of Hardwood Trail, climbing steadily up the mountain through mixed hardwoods, before circling back to rejoin it.
  • Silver Creek Trail: 1.2-mile, easiest hiking, red blazes - This trail is accessed from behind the barn and follows Silver Creek through hemlocks and carpets of ferns. It follows the creek, climbing gradually through mixed hardwoods, and then up a steep climb to where it connects with Meadow Trail. An old stone wall can be an interesting rest stop.
  • Meadow Trail: 0.8-mile, easiest hiking, yellow blazes - Accessed from either Buckley Road or Silver Creek Trail, this largely flat trail loops through meadows and by old foundations, stone walls and an interesting shale outcropping.
  • Bunny Trail: 1.5-mile, more difficult hiking, orange blazes - This loop is best accessed from a small parking lot on Buckley Road, east of where Fall Brook crosses the road. The trail ascends gently along Fall Brook to a small clearing which was once a log landing. It then climbs steeply for a short distance through hardwood forest before intersecting and paralleling Cliff Trail through forest and old fields with some excellent views. It leaves Cliff Trail, passes a delightful spring and then descends through a forest to the parking lot.
  • Cliff Trail: 1.5-mile, more difficult hiking, blue blazes - This trail can be reached from either Bunny Trail or from the main parking lot by walking up the old logging road. Watch on the right for a sign pointing to the blue-blazed Cliff Trail. After a short climb on Bunny Trail, Cliff Trail then follows the contours of the land, gently climbing to the southwest corner of the property where there is an interesting spring area and Frog Pond. All along this section are boulders and cliffs worth exploring for ferns and wildflowers. From the pond, the trail follows old logging roads then descends to where it intersects Bunny Trail and then back to the main parking lot.
  • Summit Trail: 1-mile, more difficult hiking, red blazes - This trail consists of a short climb of about 0.3-mile from Frog Pond to the highest point on the Friends’ property, returning to Frog Pond via old logging roads. The summit is a relatively flat area, with large, widely spaced trees.
  • Connector Trail: 1.7 miles, easiest hiking, white blazes - This trail links Silver Creek and Meadow trails in the park to Wetland and Fall Brook trails on the Friend’s property at Buckley Road. The trail follows an easy grade through a ravine and across Wetland Trail bridge.
  • Wetland Trail: 0.6 mile, easiest hiking, blue blazes - This trail starts at the Buckley Road bridge and traverses the wetlands north of Fall Brook. It then crosses the creek and follows the south side of the creek. Signs of beaver activity and wetland plants and shrubs can be seen along this trail.
  • Overlook Trail: 0.2 mile, easiest hiking, blue blazes - Designed specifically for accessibility, this short, wide trail begins at the new parking lot on the north side of Buckley Road. The trail winds through light and dense forest on level land and connects to Fall Brook Trail near the overlook to the falls.
  • Friends Trail: 1.9 miles, more difficult hiking, white blazes - This trail can be accessed from the parking lot on Buckley Road. From Hardwood Trail, the new trail meanders south, crosses Buckley Road and continues through a meadow into hardwoods, along an old logging trail and through forest before connecting to Summit Trail.

A small picnic grove with tables and grills is between Fall Brook and Silver Creek, the two streams that traverse the park. A restroom is centrally located in the picnic area and near the parking area. At the southeast end of the picnic area is Salt Spring, the park’s namesake. A large timber frame pavilion, with electric outlets, is across Silver Creek from the picnic area. It may be reserved in advance for a fee from the Friends, or used on a first-come, first-served basis.

Sections of Silver Creek and Fall Brook traverse the park for almost two miles and provide ample fishing opportunities for both novice and experienced anglers. A favorite area is where Fall Brook flows into Silver Creek near the east end of the picnic area. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stocks both streams with trout in early spring.

About 800 acres, including adjoining lands owned by the Friends of Salt Springs Park, are open to hunting, trapping and the training of dogs during established seasons. Common game species are deer, turkey, squirrel and grouse. Hunting is prohibited in the Fall Brook Natural Area.

For campers, rustic tenting sites are privately situated along the banks of Silver Creek. All sites include a fire ring and picnic table. Pets are permitted in the campground. The campground has a restroom with composting toilets. Water is available from an outdoor faucet at the Wheaton House. Group camping is available in a large mowed field adjacent to the main campground. The maximum camping period is 14 consecutive days.

Camping cottages have wooden walls and floors, electric lights and outlets, and a porch. A cottage sleeps five or seven people in a single bunk and a single/double bunk. Rustic restrooms are nearby.

Group camping is available in a large mowed field adjacent to the main campground. There are composting toilets and handpumps for water. The maximum camping period is 14 consecutive days.

Winter is a good time to get out of the house. Most of the trails in the park are well suited for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. And pastures and hay fields provide wide open areas for sledding and tobogganing.

In the 1790s, when the first American settlers arrived at what would become Salt Springs State Park, the area was an unbroken forest of old growth trees, dominated by eastern hemlock. The immediate concern was to clear the land. For decades the trees were cut, piled up and burned. The better logs were used to build the first homes. Sawmills were soon built along Silver Creek and other nearby streams, and local tanneries began consuming hemlock bark at increasing rates. The hemlocks lining Fall Brook Gorge were probably spared because even by the early 1800s this area was a popular recreational destination.

In 1858, a mill and woolen manufactory were built below the first waterfall on Fall Brook, the remains of which can still be seen behind the Wheaton House. A flume channeled water from the first waterfall down the west side of the gorge and over a 16-foot overshot wheel. The building also had a lath machine, likely producing much of the lath used in the area’s first farmhouses.

Salt Spring on the south side of Fall Brook is one of the salt springs for which the park is named. The first people to extract salt from the spring water were American Indians who traveled through the area during hunting expeditions. They attempted to keep the location of the spring secret from the settlers, but eventually and with a large enough sum of money, it was revealed.

Numerous attempts were made by different entrepreneurs to develop the spring for commercial gain between 1795 and 1870. The brine obtained produced a high quality salt, but not enough could be coaxed out of the ground to yield a profit. The water was noted to be more sulphureous than salty. Bubbles would rise to the surface and when touched with fire would flash like black powder.

Efforts to strike oil at or near Salt Springs were also pursued, but with no success. In 1902, the North Penn Oil and Gas Company sunk a new test well just behind the Wheaton House, but plugged it after several months and left without explanation. When methane gas continued to seep up through the plug, a simple container was built at the top of the well to gather the escaping gas, which was then piped into the Wheaton home where it was used for cooking and lighting. These pipes still run through the house.

The renovated Wheaton family homestead houses the Friends’ offices, gift shop, and historical and environmental interpretive information. Displays feature nineteenth-century rural life and regional wildlife. The Wheaton House is open on weekends from May through September.

For more information, visit here.

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October 15, 2014

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