State forest wild areas offer the chance to experience solitude and quiet.
Bob Frye/Everybody Adventures
There were no minivans perched on two wheels this time.
I took that as a good sign.
It’s somewhere between two and a half and three miles from the last paved road to the parking area of this particular state forest wild area (I’m not going to say which one; occasional solitude has its benefits.). The drive is consistently downhill from the direction I was traveling.
In summer, or when conditions are dry, the ride isn’t particularly treacherous.
When there’s lots of snow, though, or lots of wet, slippery mud left behind by its melting, it’s a drive best left to four-wheel drive vehicles. And even then it can by iffy.
On this day, conditions were OK if not great.
But my last time here, someone had attempted to make the trek in one of those minivans with the wood grain paneling on the side.
It hadn’t gone well. When I drove past, the van – empty of people – was nestled in a ditch, cockeyed, sitting at about a 45 degree angle. The passenger side was lying against the hill, the two tires on the driver’s side up in the air.
That was going to be hard to explain to someone back home.
I could sympathize.
In my younger days, my cousins and I used to explore the backcountry in a variety of “mountain” cars. They were of all makes and models, multiple eras and countless colors – sometimes all in one vehicle.
The one thing they had in common was that they were all chiefly good for … well, nothing. They had no positive attributes, as a general rule.
Except that they got us places. Usually.
So if someone wanted to take a minivan to a special place like this one, I get it.
Officially designated state forest wild areas are that unique.
Pennsylvania’s state forest system includes 16 of them. The smallest encompasses about 1,700 acres, the largest more than 48,000. Most are between 3,000 and 12,000 acres.
All are places set aside to remain forever unchanged by the hand of man.
“A wild area is defined as an extensive area which the general public will be permitted to see, use and enjoy for such activities as hiking, hunting, fishing, and the pursuit of peace and solitude. Development of a permanent nature will not be permitted so as to retain the undeveloped character of the area,” reads a Department of Conservation and Natural Resources definition.
Exploration is limited to foot travel only.
Wandering here on this day was a revelation in beauty.
There was some snow on the ground yet, primarily under the hemlocks and laurel that line one of the trout streams I like to fish. The only tracks in it were from squirrels and deer.
Oh, there was evidence of people in one spot. Primitive camping is allowed – and thank goodness for that – but some areas, generally close to the road, get frequented a lot. Sadly, users don’t always eliminate every trace of their passing. Here, a homemade fire circle showed where someone had been.
But save for the trail markers painted on trees, that was it.
The water, meanwhile, was crystal clear. I could make out every rock on the creek bottom. It was cold – ice still clung to the edges – but otherwise incredibly inviting.
And the noise?
There was none, save for the occasional plop of melting snow falling from a branch to hit the ground.
That’s what I love about these places most of all, I think. The quiet.
I love parks of every kind, and game lands and state and national forests. I’ve no problem with sharing them, either.
People who use such places generally love them enough to care for their conservation, and for the conservation of all the things that call them home.
But it’s nice every now and again to get out where you can just be and listen to nothing and everything all at once.
How many wheels you use to get there is up to you.