Kooser State Park is a small, roadside park up near Hidden Valley in the Laurel Highlands. A couple of Saturdays ago (before last weekend’s big snow) Deborah and I met Rob and Michele for an afternoon winter walk. The day was not too amenable for an outing: it was cold (about 25 degrees), and windy, and various forms of precipitation (from straight rain to sleet to fluffy snow) were coming down, but, we decided to reward ourselves with a late lunch at the nearby Laurel Mountain Inn after the hike, so everyone was in favor of the outing!
We turned off of Route 31 and found ourselves on an ice-crusted park road. We parked near the firewood shelter (for campers and cabin dwellers) and walked down to the lake.
Kooser Lake is a four acre body of water that was created when a dam was constructed back in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). In fact, the entire park bears the unmistakable look of a CCC construction project! The stone and brick buildings and walls, the natural timbers and frames, and the brown tones of the signs all are hallmarks of the work of this historical group.
Many of Pennsylvania’s parks bear the imprint of the CCC. From 1933 to 1942 almost two hundred thousand men worked on CCC projects and lived in CC camps throughout Pennsylvania. The camps, run by the army, fed and housed the men who were for the most part unemployed due to the economic ravages of the Great Depression. Local carpenters, brick layers and stone masons led (and taught) the work crews while they toiled on construction projects that would, over time, benefit millions of people by making the forests and parks of Pennsylvania accessible and usable for recreation. Pennsylvania had the second greatest number of CCC camps in the country (only California had more) in large part due to the active planning and forethought of the then Pennsylvania governor, Gifford Pinchot.
We stood in the blowing sleet next to the lake. The “No Swimming” sign seemed an unnecessary admonition, but during the summer the water would look very inviting. There have been problems with this small lake, though. In 2011 swimming was banned because of high E. coli levels in the water. I assume that septic systems were upgraded to correct the sewage pollution. In 2012, though, swimming was once again banned because of algae blooms in the lake and high levels of sediment that had accumulated on the lake’s (and swimming area’s) bottom. It is not clear from the various web sites that describe this park whether or not this latest swimming ban was lifted in subsequent seasons. One site talks about swimming and has an undated photo of happy people at a (warm and sunny!) beach, but many don’t mention the swimming potential of the lake at all. Small, artificial lakes require a high level of costly maintenance to keep water quality levels healthy. During times of state budget problems this lake might not have had a very high priority.
We curved around and walked up from the lake and headed down the narrow path past the empty camp sites and partially occupied rustic cabins. The cabins, also built by the CCC, are available for rent throughout the year. Several of them had curls of wood smoke rising out of their chimneys. They are heated by wood stoves but have some modern amenities, too: kitchens, indoor bathrooms, mattresses and beds. The showers, though, are in a separate building located in the middle of the cabin area. That would be a cold walk on a day like this! The thought of a warm fire, though, was very pleasing!
The trail surface was glazed with a bumpy layer of ice. Deborah’s coat was also accumulating a layer of ice (good insulation!). My stocking cap was soaked from the falling snow melting from the warmth coming off of my head. We were moving along the trail a moderate (2 mph?) pace but were still going faster than most of the cross country skiers who were struggling on the irregular, icy surfaces. Our walking had built up a good deal of metabolic energy and I even had to take off my gloves so that I could vent off some excess heat.
We reached the end of the park’s camping area and turned back to follow a trail that shadowed the Kooser Run stream. There was a sign that indicated that Kooser Run was a “trout enhancement area” stream. We knew that the stream is stocked with trout each year, and that it was regularly referred to as a “quality trout stream,” but we weren’t sure what other enhancements might be. We did see some stream modifications (stone partitions and timbered water flow channels that apparently made deeper pools of slower flowing water, but we did not know enough trout biology to understand the complete plan. Anyone who is a trout fisherman out there ….. send on your ideas!
My sense of direction was greatly impaired due to the quality of the ongoing conversations and to the murkiness of the day (no perception of sun direction at all!). So it was with some surprise that we were suddenly back at the car! We had been walking for about an hour and a half, and probably covered 2 or 3 miles. The cross country skiers had all packed up and gone home (or wherever it is skiers go!). As for us, we brushed off the snow and ice, climbed into the car, and headed to the Laurel Mountain Inn for a sandwich and a beverage and a chance to dry off before heading home.
And now, the result of the Fourth Annual House Cat Day Experiment!
Our cat, Mazie, walked around in the front yard for 5 or 10 minutes on the late afternoon of February 2. She sniffed the soil (and the single crocus that was up and braving the “epiterranean” world. She may have also watched one of the tiny, black, wolf spiders (Pardosa species) that are just starting to be active in the warming soil. She lingered outside and seemed to enjoy herself very much.
Similar results were reported from Albuquerque! Marian’s cat, Mora,
responded to an open window with a joyful leap out into the surrounding bushes!
Both results clearly indicate an early spring!
Ah, Science! Thanks for telling us what we want to hear!