By Ben Knopf
Gannon University Student Contributor
With a creek bubbling under our feet and cutting a path through te steep banks covered with trees, it was hard to believe we were only twenty minutes from the city of Erie. It seemed more likely that we had taken a step back a couple hundred years to a time when urban development was nowhere as expensive as it is today.
Founded in 2004, Erie Bluffs State Park is one of Pennsylvania's newest parks. This preserved land, only 12 miles from Erie, was acquired and donated to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR)by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. It boasts over 500 acres of relatively untouched natural ground and the longest stretch of undeveloped shore on Lake Erie.
Getting there is simple. All one needs to do is get onto Route 5. The park is right off the road. Visitors can also enter the park by
boat near the mouth of Duck Run.
At the roadside entrance to the park there is a noticeable field. When the park was first established, the DCNR leased a part of the land to farmers. When this lease expires in 2014, the DCNR does not intend on renewing it and instead plans on letting the forest naturally retake the park land.
One of the main attractions of the park is the tributary of Lake Erie, Elk Creek. The creek runs down the easternmost section of the park and is accessible either directly from the roadside or by trails in the park itself. This creek is a popular fishing destination.
The creek is filled with many types of fish, most notably steelhead, brown trout, smallmouth bass, and yellow perch. The steelhead, some reaching 30" in length, run from late fall to early spring. There are several nearby bait and tackle shops just outside the park on Route 5.
Duck Run is a creek much smaller than Elk Creek, that runs through a small gorge on the westernmost section of the park. This scenic creek is far deeper into the park lands. It takes a solid 35 minutes of walking from the entrance to get there. Once there, however, it is effortless to lose yourself in the beauty of nature, both figuratively, and sometimes literally.
Near the mouth of Duck Run and along the shoreline of Lake Erie, one of the largest colonies of bank swallows in the state of Pennsylvania and makes its home. The holes these birds make for their nests also provide homes for colorful kingfishers. As was mentioned earlier, the shoreline is undeveloped. This means that the beach has many stony outcroppings and little sand. However the view of the lake is awe-inspiring.
The woods are full of many different species of trees such as oaks, maples, beeches, and pines. The creek and the majority of the woods are inhabited by mourning warblers, bats, deer, bald eagles, and red-tailed hawks. As the woods themselves are easily the largest portion of the park, all this thriving flora and fauna makes it a great location for identifying tracks, trees, birds and other wildlife.
Another interesting feature of the park is that some of it is considered open
hunting and trapping ground. In an interview, Ryan Rager, assistant manager of the Presque Isle State Park complex, said, "our main focus is keeping everyone safe." To that end, hunters are asked to avoid high traffic areas, but the rest of the park is free game. Just remember that all laws of the PA Game Commission apply.
While the park offers many scenic views to hikers, it is best to hit the trails with caution. The trails that do exist are few and are not well marked. They can easily be confused with game trails that run off deeper into the woods. This should not discourage anyone from
hiking here, however, as following these smaller trails can lead to some wonderful adventures and discoveries. When asked about hiking in the park, Ryan Rager made note that cleaning up, improving, and marking the trails is going to be his next big project for the Bluffs. This should make hiking an easier prospect for the future.
Park Staff often holds both daytime and overnight educational programs for groups such as the Boy Scouts and others. For this reason, there are a variety of small clearings throughout the woods for these educational outings.
The bluffs themselves are often what bring people to the park and with good reason. The vistas that can be seen from the tops of the cliffs are breathtaking, and some of the cliffs themselves are over 90' tall.
This park is a constant reminder that you don't have to travel far to experience the beauty of undisturbed nature. The Bluffs State Park offers a wide variety of activities such as hiking, birding, hunting, and fishing. The park's helpful staff is always available, sharing their knowledge with anyone who will listen.
Creative Commons photos by Clint and Nicholas A. Tonelli