Here we are about to start Thanksgiving week and I have begun to reflect on what there is to be thankful for. With my heart belonging in the outdoors, I have been thinking about the things that Johnstown and the surrounding areas have to offer the outdoors person. I am a transplant to the area, but I came from an area where a lot of the natural areas (farmlands and woodlands) are disappearing and being replaced by housing developments. I am happy to be living in the Johnstown area now where you can drive just a few minutes to the store but you are also only minutes away from nature. I have come up with my top five outdoor recreation related things to be thankful for in our area.
Number one would be our rivers, lakes and other waters. Whether you are into fishing, paddling or even waterskiing, there are plenty of places to do these activities in our area. I reflect on the recovery of the Stoneycreek River in Johnstown from what was once a dead river to become a premier paddling destination in the area. We also have waters like the Youghiogheny, Glendale Lake, and Raystown Lake all within a couple hours of Johnstown. In addition, many of our smaller rivers and streams in the area provide anglers with a wide variety of fishing opportunities. Whether you like fishing the streams for trout or the local lakes for bass, we have it here. So whether you like paddling, waterskiing, whitewater rafting, fishing, sailing, finding waterfalls or just floating on the lake, you can find in in and around Johnstown.
Number two would be our trails in the area. Whether you are looking for urban trails, day hiking trails, long distance trails, or almost any type of biking trail we have it in the Johnstown area. With trails like the James Mayer Riverwalk in the Moxham section of Johnstown or the trails at Stackhouse Park in Westmont, you don’t have to travel far to hike a trail. However if you wish to get a little farther away there are plenty of day hiking trails around the area two. Whether it is at a state park or forest or even a national historic site, there are plenty of trails with interesting sights along the way. If you are looking for longer more challenging trails such as the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, the Lost Turkey Trail or any of the trail systems in the Gallitzin State Forest, they are nearby and you can find camping spots along most of them. If you like biking, there are plenty of opportunities whether it is a road ride tour of the covered bridges of neighboring Bedford County or mountain biking at Highland Park or on the trails at Blue Knob State Park. And for those that like riding the flat less challenging rail trails, there are plenty to choose from. There are about 10 rail trails in and around Johnstown which includes the Ghost Town Trail in Cambria and Indiana Counties.
Number three would be winter time fun. Yes we get snow and the weather gets cold and freezes the lakes (most years), but there are things to do to take advantage of the situation. There are five ski resorts within a two hours of Johnstown. These include the closest one at Blue Knob, Hidden Valley and one of the premier snowboarding destinations in the eastern United States at Seven Springs. And these resorts are not just for skiing and snowboarding, they also offer snow tubing, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. You can even try dogsledding at some locations like Nemacolin Woodlands. If you want to get away from the ski resorts, there are options for that too. You can take to the trails for snowmobiling, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. In addition, there are plenty of locations where you can go sledding. If you are the avid angler, there are plenty of lakes for ice fishing available throughout the winter months.
Number four would be those protecting and maintaining our outdoors opportunities. While we are out there playing, there are others that keep those places safe and well maintained for our enjoyment. Whether it is the Wildlife Conservation Officer monitoring the state game lands, the PA Fish and Boat Educators running Family Fishing Programs, or the Maintenance Personnel keeping our state parks clean and well maintained, they put their love of the outdoors first and foremost. But even with the efforts of these people, there is also a strong support from volunteers that help out through friends groups maintaining and supporting our parks and forests and leading programs to teach others about the outdoors
And number five, and most important to me would be our public lands throughout the state. We have a varied selection of outdoor recreation opportunities in the state of Pennsylvania. We have a large state park system with 120 state parks throughout the state. This includes about 12 parks within an hour of Johnstown or 10% of the parks. Unlike many of the states around us, there is no entrance fee for our state parks in Pennsylvania. These parks offer, hiking, fishing and hunting, biking, camping and boating. In addition we have another 2.2 million acres of state forest land which includes the nearby Gallitzin State Forest with over 24,000 acres. There are also state game lands, fish and boat commission waterways and national parks and historic sites. We have long distance trails like the Appalachian Trail, the Midstate Trail and the Tuscarora Trail. We have a lot to be proud of in the Johnstown area.
So I ask each of you, wherever you are, to reflect on what you are thankful for outdoors this year. While my list is in no way total and I am not able to go into too much detail due to space limitations, I defer to you, my readers to think about what is important to you. Please feel free to leave a message telling me about those outdoor resources that you are thankful for this Thanksgiving.
So get out and enjoy the outdoors around Johnstown and be thankful that our area is rich in natural history.