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DCNR secretary extends invitation to visit renovated Poe Paddy Tunnel, section of Mid State Trail
There are few places Pennsylvania’s bat populations are doing well, but a rail-trail tunnel slicing through a Paddy Mountain flank on the Centre-Union County line is bucking the trend.

Before an audience gathered May 19 not far from the village of Weikert, Pa. Game Commission biologist Greg Turner pointed to the Poe Paddy Tunnel—“one of those unique sites”—and ticked off the reasons why: two entrances; now-primitive contruction and blasting that left deep fissures and rough-hewn rock; and, now, a specially constructed access for the tunnel’s winged visitors.

Amid the whitenose syndrome outbreaks decimating bat populations, Bureau of Forestry and PGC biologists took a survey early this year of bats hibernating in the Poe Paddy Tunnel. They counted a total of 132 bats of different species; in 2014, there were 70 bats total.

“It’s a great thing when so many come to celebrate something that benefits so many,” Turner said, “and I want to thank everyone gathered here today for their demonstarted interest in bats.”

On a sun-drenched morning on the banks of Penns Creek, it seemed everyone was there— representeing the hikers and bikers, anglers and hunters, dog walkers and fall foliage lovers. Among them was DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn who joined other state officials and hiking group leaders in extending an invitation to visit the newly renovated Poe Paddy Tunnel and trestle, and Mid State Trail section.

DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn at the Poe Paddy tunnel reopening.

Dunn led a dedication officially marking the end of the major reconstruction project on the widely popular trail threading through Bald Eagle State Forest and paralleling Penns Creek.

“Certainly today’s turnout and support for this project is indicative of the special place this area holds in the hearts of all who enjoy the trail,” Dunn told the gathering. “With completion of this large-scale project, we know an increasing numbers of visitors will be drawn to the rugged beauty of this area and appreciate these improvements.

“Now they are able to travel a safer tunnel and bridge in pursuit of their outdoors adventures.”

Stretching almost 100 yards through West Paddy Mountain, the Poe Paddy Tunnel is very popular with visitors to Poe Paddy State Park and the surrounding Bald Eagle State Forest. It was closed in Feb. 2013 because of deteriorating conditions.

The project—including tunnel work, trail widening and reinforcement, and re-decking of the trestle bridge—was completed in Oct. 2015. Crossing Centre, Mifflin and Union county lines, and passing through West Paddy Mountain, the tunnel, trestle and rail trail all are located within Bald Eagle State Forest District, one of 20 state forest districts across the state overseen by DCNR.

“A strong collaborative thread runs through this project,” Dunn said. “Not only were three DCNR bureaus involved but so, too, were the Pa. Fish and Boat Commission and the Pa. Game Commission.”

The trail passes through over 300 acres of state Fish and Boat Commission land, the Ralph W. Abele Memorial Glen, and adjoins a world-class trout stream the commission oversees and protects.

“It is exciting to be here today to celebrate the restoration of Poe Paddy Tunnel with others who enjoy wild places and wild thing, said pa. Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway. “We are grateful to Secretary Dunn and DCNR staff for reopening the gateway to some of the most remote portions of Penns Creek.

“The rail trail is a convenient pathway for anglers to access one of the best wild brown trout fisheries in the eastern United States. The timing of today’s tunnel reopening is especially important since it provides angler access for the magnificent, annual green drake hatch in a week or so.”

“The Mid State trail epitomizes the wild character of Pennsylvania,” said Keystone Trails Association Executive Director Joseph Neville, speaking at the dedication. “Its ridges, hillsides, vistas and ruggedness all add to its unique character. This tunnel, trestle and trail brought our organizations together to provide access while protecting the bats we share the environment with and improving access for fishermen, hikers and others who use the trail.”

Movement to repair and reopen the tunnel did not go as quickly as some would have hoped. The work and the project’s remote location presented a few unique logistical problems. The project was broadened to include decking replacement on the railroad trestle bridge leading to one side of the tunnel. On the other side, more than two miles of rail trail had to be shored and resurfaced to facilitate heavy construction trucks reaching the site.

Also, it was determined the Poe Paddy Tunnel is an active bat hibernation site in winter. As a result, the contractor could not address tunnel repairs after Oct. 1, 2014, and refrained from working there until May 1, 2015, and DCNR worked closely with the Pa. Game Commission n incorporating bat habitat into the tunnel project.

A $1.2 million contract with Jay Fulkroad and Sons of McAlisterville, called for the entire three-phase project to be completed by Oct. 31, 2015. Work included: rehabilitation work on the old railroad bridge spanning Penns Creek; lining of the tunnel; and re-surfacing of the trail approaching the both the bridge and tunnel.

Popularly known as "The Wildest Trail in Pennsylvania," the trail snakes 325 miles through the heart of Pennsylvania’s remote interior, stretching from the New York to Maryland borders.

Time out: A fish, a stream and a sense of place

As evening shadows began rolling up Penns Creek, darkening the flanking White and Paddy mountains, it all came together for the DCNR secretary.

Hip-deep in the waters of a world-class, wild brown trout fishery, surrounded by Bald Eagle State Forest, she could see what she had talked about hours before. Passing were fellow anglers, the bikers and hikers. Perhaps a fellow birder of two.

“When you look down the Mid State Trail, or out across Penns Creek, you see the strong connection the Poe Paddy Tunnel, the resurfaced trail section and trestle bridge all make to all the wonderful places found here,” Dunn told a group of listeners gathered on the Centre-Union county line.

But that was earlier in the May 19th day. The public address, photo sessions, hand-shaking and intent listening all were behind her now. Now she had a very rare chance to relax. She could work a streamer. Drift the deep holes with a nymph. And try delicately to place an elk hair caddis dry fly before a rising and feeding brown trout.

She had excellent company. Fishing with her were Pa. Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway and Commissioner Eric Hussar. Together, they would sample what Arway, also speaking hours earlier at the Poe Paddy Tunnel dedication, described as “one of the best wild brown trout fisheries in the eastern United States.”

“The timing of today’s tunnel reopening is especially important since it provides angler access for the magnificent, annual green drake hatch in a week or so,” Arway said.

No green drake hatch. Yet. No “magnificent” hatches and trout dimpling the Penns Creek waters. Just an occasional brown cautiously rising to sip a caddis. Hussar would connect twice on trout, taking a break from mentoring the secretary on line drag, proper casting and careful walking on eel-slippery rocks.

No trout for the DCNR leader. No matter.

On the long drive that night, alone and back to Harrisburg, she had the sights and sounds of the Penns Creek valley to keep her company. She had seen, heard and felt the “connections ... to all those wonderful places ....”

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May 25, 2016

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