by Terri Davis
The Allegheny Front Trail (AFT) has been newly cleared—including Ralph’s Majestic Vista and Ralph’s Pretty Good View, tributes to the legendary Ralph Seeley, founder of the AFT and the Quehanna Trail.
Photos 1-4 by Moshannon State Forest staff after the recent clearing of the vistas.
Photo 5 submitted by Terri Davis; taken by Patty Sullivan. Terri and a friend hiked the AFT on Easter Sunday to see the vistas cut back. Terri notes the day was cool and very comfortable for hiking.
Gary Thornbloom, co-chair of the Public Lands Committee at the Pennsylvania Chapter Sierra Club, wrote the following article, “Taking in the Sights of Ralph’s Majestic Vista,” about the AFT and its vistas in the Centre Daily Times, Sunday, September 20, 2015:
Autumn hiking can lead to beautiful views. The deep green of summer is transitioning to autumn’s dramatic palette, and the forest understory has thinned. By the end of October, deciduous trees are bare. From now until spring, the view from central Pennsylvania’s ridge tops makes many hikes special. The trails that lead to those views are the result of the vision and hard work of both individuals and organizations. Ralph’s Majestic Vista and Ralph’s Pretty Good View honor one of those individuals.
The Allegheny Front Trail (AFT) has many great views, and the 3 mile section along the Allegheny Front includes the most impressive of these. There are several options for taking in the views. Parking at the Tram Road parking area on PA 504, 4.5 miles east of Black Moshannon State Park provides the option of hiking a 6.3 mile loop. The trail is rugged with lots of rocks – wear good boots!
Begin by crossing PA 504 and head south on the AFT. The trail soon begins a descent on what was “…one of the braided parts of the Great Shamokin Path Indian Trail, called in this case Bald Eagle’s Path.” Greate Buffaloe Swamp (GBS) by Ralph Seeley. This is the first of several dips into and out of hollows along the Allegheny Front. The sidehill trail along this section was built by the Keystone Trails Association. Shortly after returning to the top of the Front there is a vista that looks south where to the lefts is a :…sharp mountain end that is Tussey Mountain above the Juniata Gap Natural Area – nearly 25 air-miles away.”
After a brief respite, the trail visits two arms of Whetstone Run. This section include challenging side hill hiking, made manageable by some impressive trail construction by the Penn State Outing Club. The short return to the Front between the two arms includes a vista that looks southeast.
The next vista, a well-defined campsite, comes after tough hiking in hollows and along sidehills and looks toward Bellefonte and Milesburg. More side hill hiking, and more views, and you arrive at Ralph’s Pretty Good View, a view that is actually excellent. Move around a bit to take in the miles and miles of Tussey Mountain’s ridge line.
And this brings us to Ralph. Ralph is Ralph Seeley and his lifelong passion has been trails. He has pursued the history of the oldest paths, tracks, and roads, and as an author his in-depth research informs us about the area those trails wind through. His vision for specific trails has led to the construction of those trails. He has had a hand in building bridges that take the trails over the streams.
Ralph has paddled, hiked, cross-country skied, and snow shoed his way throughout central Pennsylvania. He has shared his insights, in person and with his writing, with many of us in the outdoor community. For many years, he was an advisor to the Penn State Outing Club. In 1998, he received the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Conservation Volunteer of the year award. Ralph is someone those of us who enjoy trails – particularly the Quehanna Trail, the Rock Run Trails, and the Allegheny Front Trail – owe tremendous thanks to.
In three tenths of a mile, you come to Ralph’s Majestic Vista. Ralph modestly describes the view without calling it Ralph’s Majestic Vista: “…on the edge below are the hollows and humps between the Front and the Bald Eagle Valley; then the next, somewhat bumpy continuous ridge in the middle distance is the Bald Eagle Ridge…Beyond that is the Nittany Valley near State College…In the farthest distance, is the long line of Tussey Mountains.” Binoculars will help you pick out structures in downtown State College and on PSU campus, as well as other natural and man-made features throughout the landscape.
Back on the trail again, there is a short climb up to an interesting rock outcropping that the trail threads up and through. Encountering natural features, such as this, are a result of the extensive field work that is part of laying out a trail. People such as Seeley do this preliminary work to make the hike a richer experience. A gentle half mile descent brings you to the Underwood Road, a gravel State Forest Road; go 1.9 miles north to SR 504: then .3 of a mile east to the Tram Road Parking.
An alternative is to park where the AFT crosses Underwood Road. This avoid the hollows and side hill hiking, and sets up a relatively easy hike to Ralph’s Majestic Vista and Ralph’s Pretty Good View. This is a nice sunrise or sunset option.
However you hike in to the views along the Allegheny Front, the views are worth the effort. Autumn is a perfect time to make that effort. And while you are enjoying the panorama, take a moment to appreciate the dedication and vision of Seeley and all the others who make Pennsylvania public land such a great place to enjoy and to explore.
Article re-printed with permission of Centre Daily Times.
Regarding the “Front” section of the AFT, Ralph states on page 90 of his book Greate Buffaloe Swamp: a Trail Guide and Historical Record for the Quehanna Plateau and the Moshannon State Forest (third edition, 2001) that, in 1995, he and
Ken Barnes of the Moshannon State Forest district office . . . started scouting along the Allegheny Front east of [Black Moshannon State Park], sometimes alone and sometimes together. In June 1996 the first trail crew, a KTA crew, worked on the Front from Underwood Road to the Rattlesnake Pike.
Ralph includes a descriptive guide of this trail section, along with interesting historical notes. Ralph is wrapping up writing the book’s fourth edition.
Pages 34-39 of Ben Cramer’s book Guide to the Allegheny Front Trail (second edition) provide turn-by-turn descriptions of (and noteworthy comments on) hiking the AFT, including the “Front” section and its vistas. This handy guide helped me immensely last year as I traversed the rocky terrain for trail maintenance.
Recently, Mary Ann Williams gave me old newsletters and printouts from the now-disbanded Quehanna Area Trails Club (QATC). I found some interesting items about the vistas along the AFT. One newsletter, dated August 1996, includes a write-up by Ralph entitled “Loop Trail Around the Black Moshannon Park Area”:
A trail has been started that will loop around the whole Black Moshannon area, eventually totaling an estimated 35 miles.... The name for the new loop trail may be the Allegheny Front Trail; this has not been decided for sure yet.... From [Julian Pike] the trail goes east out to the Allegheny Front, and is complete for some 4 miles to the Front and along it some distance. It is also complete from Rt 504, the Rattlesnake Pike, west along the Front to a point within a half mile of the above section [The new trail meets Rt 504 where the Rock Run Entrance Trail starts.] There was so much sidehill and laurel work that the two pieces were not connected together when the KTA Trail Care crew worked there in early July.... The portion along the Front may well be the most difficult trail work of the whole loop. There will eventually be several vista points in the Front Portion.... It will take at least another year to complete.
Ralph has another write-up, “Update on the Allegheny Front Trail,” in a newsletter dated March 1997:
By the end of the work season in November 1996, the AFT was open (but not totally blazed) from the Julian Pike at the end of the Moss Hanne trail, over to the Rattlesnake Pike and the connection with the Rock Run Entrance trail (some six miles). There is a short piece starting about a mile west of the Rattlesnake Pike that still does not have permanent orange blazes, but I expect to get out to fix that in a few weeks.
Over the past year, between the permanent maintainer, Ted Pruss, Mary Ann Williams, myself, Ed Lawrence of KTA, Moshannon State Forest staff, and others, the AFT has made a near-complete comeback from the D.O. (dreaded overgrowth). Pockets of greenbrier and other thorny species were clustered overwhelmingly near what people love about the “Front” section of the AFT—its vistas—and by the end of last summer, we’d thoroughly subdued those pockets. Reblazing is under way, and there is a tad bit of cutting that needs to be done about midpoint. Sadly, due to the insect infestations in the past several years, trees are still falling, so if you hike this section (and other parts of the AFT), no sooner are logs cut up, then more will appear shortly after until the forest rebounds.
The AFT is a great trail, and people care about it. Last summer, one young backpacking couple told me they backpack the AFT about twice a year. They just love it. As a maintainer, it’s nice to stop, take a break, and talk with the people who traverse the trail.