Tips I wish I would have known when I started hiking [Guest post by Christian Alexandersen, Hemlocks to Hellbenders Podcast]
Guest article written by Christian Alexandersen, Hemlocks to Hellbenders Podcast
Like many Pennsylvanians, I discovered my love for the outdoors during the pandemic. I didn’t grow up in an outdoorsy household. In fact, I come from a long line of air conditioner lovers and couch dwellers. So, when I found myself exploring Pennsylvania’s woods in my mid-30s, I learned a lot of lessons fast.
But that doesn’t have to be the case for you. You don’t have to wander blindly into the woods like I did. You have the opportunity to take your time, do research, talk to more experienced hikers, go on group hikes and so much more.
We are incredibly fortunate to have so many parks and forests to explore in Pennsylvania. Thousands of miles of trails, beautiful waterfalls, incredible vistas and overlooks and old growth forests are within your reach. But it’s important that you do it safely.
So, below, I’ve created a short list of tips I wish I knew when I first started hiking. These tips will help you navigate trails, be prepared for emergencies, have the supplies you’ll need and feel confident hiking in Penn’s Woods.
Research where you’ll be hiking
Pack the essentials
Hike your hike
Christian Alexandersen is the host of the Hemlocks to Hellbenders Podcast. The biweekly podcast is about Pennsylvania’s state parks, forests and great outdoors. You can follow him on Instagram and Facebook.
Christian fell in love with the outdoors when he ran a mile in all (then) 121 Pennsylvania state parks in 2021. He has now run a mile in all 124 state parks and enjoys spending his time hiking, camping and exploring Pennsylvania.
Where could the American Marten be reintroduced in Pennsylvania?
The "American Marten Reintroduction and Management Plan for Pennsylvania" proposes a few locations for reintroduction (see image below), including areas within the PA Wilds and Allegheny National Forest.
Some of these sites fall within wilderness areas. The USFS describes Wilderness Areas as “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” (USDA 1964)
Want to help the American Marten Reintroduction initiative?
Email your comments of support for the plan and of reintroduction to: pamarten@PA.gov
Items for review:
One of the (many) cool things about Keystone Hike Fest is that you get to create your own experience! Over the weekend, you can choose from 25+ outdoor recreation activities, 6 learning sessions, and endless options to explore downtown Johnstown.
As you look at all the options to create your itinerary, rather than asking yourself "is Hike Fest for me?" you'll find yourself asking "how will I choose?!"
When creating your weekend itinerary, consider what you want to experience, learn, or work on. Maybe you want to maximize your hiking miles and learn new skills, or perhaps this is could be a weekend for you to slow down and simply enjoy the company of others.
To get your creative juices flowing, here are six ideas for how you could plan your Keystone Hike Fest Itinerary!
Learn More and Register
Keystone Hike Fest is open to all ages, hiking experience levels, and walks of life. See all that Hike Fest has to offer and sign up here!
KTA's nominations committee has nominated David "Cyril" Quatrone and Steve and Rita Black to become KTA Representatives at Large. Voting will take place at the fall board meeting during Keystone Hike Fest in Johnstown, PA. Get to know these awesome hikers below!
Meet David “Cyril” Quatrone
Since David “Cyril” Quatrone hikes with forearm canes, his trail name is Fourfeet. He’s hiked over 750 miles each year for the past 3 years, including completing 40% of the AT (all the AT in PA), and all of Thunder Swamp, Black Forest, and Darlington Trails. He is almost finished with the Horse-Shoe Trail, and is working on the Ticonderoga. This past year he hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up. The 6.5-mile trip down the South Kaibab Trail was done in 3 hours, but the same distance back up took over 8! He has helped trail work crews several times, coming within 10 feet of a bear once, and has provided trail magic along the AT. Cyril has written an unpublished book, “Cripple on the Trail.” Most of his hikes are day hikes, but he is seeking a solution to a problem presented by his disability and hopes to one day be able to do more and longer multi-day hikes.
Cyril has a B.A. (Northeastern Bible College), a M.Div. from St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Seminary, and a M.Ed. from Kutztown University. He teaches mathematics (and sometimes history) in Allentown. With several former students, he started and ran a non-Profit corporation, “Ensuring Tomorrow” (ET) for 7 years. In addition to providing scholarships and calculators to students, the organization took them to museums, plays, restaurants, lectures, and introduced many of these inner-city students to hiking!
Meet Steve & Rita Black
Steve & Rita Black live in Ford City, PA (Armstrong County). Steve is a machinist at a local tool and die shop and Rita has had careers in real estate and Career & Tech Ed. They are members of the Butler Outdoor Club and enjoy hiking with the Clarion & Butler Chapters of the North Country Trail. Steve can be found walking dogs at the Orphans of the Storm or metal detecting in search of old coins and “treasures”. Rita volunteers at the Salvation Army Thrift Store, Ford City food bank & the local libraries. Together they enjoy workdays at the Outdoor Discovery Center, Geocaching, and collecting stamps for the PA State Parks/Forests Passport. Favorite hiking areas are Clear Creek/Cooks Forest and Crooked Creek Lake Park.
KTA's nominations committee has nominated Julie Queen and Tony Vigliano for KTA's board. Voting will take place at the fall board meeting during Keystone Hike Fest in Johnstown, PA. Get to know Julie and Tony below!
Meet Julie Queen
Julie Queen is a passionate outdoor and adventure educator currently serving as the Manager of the Appalachian Trail Museum in Gardners, PA. Julie received a BS in Environmental Biology from Millersville University before going on to serve in the Peace Corps as a Natural Resource Conservation Volunteer in Ecuador. Julie has worked for the PA Department of Agriculture, PA Bureau of State Parks, and Girl Scouts in the Heart of PA. She thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2016 and served as a Ridgerunner in 2017. This is her third season as the AT Museum Manager. Julie also works as an Associate Adventure Guide with Adventure Explorations. She currently resides in Harrisburg, PA.
Meet Tony Vigliano
Tony Vigliano lives in Dillsburg PA with his wife and his dog and cats. He is a CPA that owns his own accounting firm and notary office. He and his two employees enjoy helping the community and small businesses and organizations. Tony likes working on cars, reading books, playing video games, exercising, and chocolate. Tony has adopted 3 sections of PA highway with PennDOT’s Adopt a Highway program. He also plays guitar, drums, keyboard, and cello and has recorded a couple music videos. Although Tony first started his career as a diesel mechanic, he went to college at the age of 30 and became an accountant in 2012 and finally a CPA in 2015. He started his own accounting firm in 2016. Although he’s extremely busy with his business he hopes to hit the trails again someday.
Though typically hot and humid, August offered some great weather for our two Trail Care events. Mostly, the rain held off until we were off the trail. When it did rain, though -- hoo boy! August 10-13, we partnered with the Allegheny National Forest and the ANF Chapter of the North Country Trail, to tend to some neglected trails between Tracy Ridge Campground and Allegheny Reservoir. They have not seen much attention since KTA's last Trail Care event there in 2019. In total, 13 volunteers contributed 200 hours toward clearing 16 miles of trails! Sincere thanks to: Tom Bastian, Steve Black, Syvia Grisez, Volunteer Leader Joe Hardisky (whose scouting report and workplan were invaluable), Dave Kazmierczak, Tom O'Donnell, Katie Prindle, Tony Robbins, Mike Toole, Jenn Ulmer, Shawn Weishaar, and Sam Zambardo. Thank you also to Allegheny National Forest for securing our camping at Tracy Ridge Campground, and showers at Willow Bay.
The last weekend in August, we had another successful event working on the Thunder Swamp Trail System in the Poconos.The thunder did indeed make an appearance, with a fantastic storm that some volunteers apparently slept through Friday night. The rain brought out hundreds of red efts, however, making for an awesome sight and some tricky footing the next day! We put a huge dent in trail needs along the main loop, and hikers should enjoy not having to clamber over downed trees or wade through thickets of saplings and berry bushes. A hearty group of seven volunteers worked 120 hours (miles being tabulated). We had another great stay at Resica Falls Scout Reservation (see pic of rain-swollen falls!) and owe Delaware State Forest a debt for opening some gates to allow better access to trail segments. Huge thanks to volunteers Shira Blady and Brian MaNamara (Volunteer Leaders who thankfully backpacked and scouted trail conditions), Tom Bastian, Al Germann, Tony Robbins, Dave Schurr, and Jenn Ulmer. Volunteers were treated to some new snacks donated by Kate's Real Foods, and received t-shirts from the fresh crop of Trail Care shirts.
In September, we'll be working on the gem in the Pine Creek Gorge that is the Golden Eagle Trail on Sept. 21-24. Unfortunately, Oil Creek State Park has decided to postpone their late September Trail Care until next spring. Since some people have already requested those days off from work, I'm coordinating with Sproul State Forest to get us back on the Chuck Keiper Trail. Watch the Trail Care website for updates!
Keystone Trails Association Announces New Hike Fest Event to be Hosted in Johnstown, PA [PRESS RELEASE]
Mechanicsburg, PA: Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and skill levels are invited to mark their calendars and save the date for Keystone Trails Association’s very first Hike Fest to be held October 20-22, 2023 in Johnstown, PA.
The Keystone Trails Association is a statewide organization committed to providing, protecting, preserving, and promoting hiking trails and hiking opportunities in Pennsylvania.
“Hike Fest is a true expression of what PA’s trails can accomplish for our state,” shares Brook Lenker, Executive Director of KTA. “We’re coordinating with businesses and organizations from around Johnstown to come together and create a community-wide outdoor recreation experience that focuses on caring for the environment, enjoying nature sustainably, and developing meaningful connections with people - all centered around PA’s hiking trails.”
Hike Fest will include excursions to popular and lesser-known hiking trails of varying distances and difficulties; educational sessions for Wilderness First Aid, trail care, and trail running; opportunities to explore the variety of local museums and shops in the heart of Johnstown; optional camping; plus other activities like kayaking, yoga, and biking.
Thousands of tourists gather in Johnstown, PA, every year to set foot on its Ghost Town Trail (a DCNR Trail of the Year award-winner), cruise through the mountains during the Thunder in the Valley Motorcycle Rally (now in its 25th year), and dance the night away during Polkafest (celebrating 25 years).
In recent years, Johnstown and the surrounding region have channeled significant investments toward trail development and outdoor recreation amenities. The area is becoming a noteworthy trails destination.
“With its tourism momentum, signature trails, and history of hosting successful community events, Johnstown was a natural fit for our inaugural Hike Fest,” says Lenker, “We’re grateful for the warm welcome from the many businesses and organizations involved in making, what we believe, will become an annual traveling event in KTA’s offerings.”
Partners and sponsors participating in Keystone Trails Association’s Hike Fest include Community Foundation for the Alleghenies, Visit Johnstown, Lorain/Stonycreek Hiking Trails, Venture Outdoors, Johnstown Running Club, Quemahoning Family Recreation Area, Herbert, Rowland & Grubic, Inc., Friends of the Inclined Plane Trail, PA Parks and Forests Foundation, Friends of Yellow Creek State Park, and the Lancaster Conservancy.
Registration for Hike Fest is now open at https://www.kta-hike.org/fallhikefest.html
Interested in getting involved with Hike Fest? Contact Casey Schneck, KTA Manager of Events and Publications at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This event is funded in part by Community Foundation for the Alleghenies Robert Waters Economic Development Fund.
About Keystone Trails Association: The Keystone Trails Association offers a robust trail care program with volunteer opportunities available on PA trails, serves as the statewide voice of the hiking trail community and trail advocate in PA’s capital, and offers a wealth of hiking opportunities throughout the year that both long-time hikers and the next generation of hikers can enjoy together.
We’re partnering with awesome local businesses and organizations to bring special deals, discounts, and offers to our KTA members!
Here’s what’s available to members right now:
How to access these deals
If you’re a current KTA member, you can access these offers by logging in to our member portal here:
If you’ve never signed in before, just click the “Having trouble logging in” link to create your password. Enter the email address you used when you became a member (likely the email address that receives our newsletter).
You’ll get an email with a link to create your password. Then, you can log in!
Once you’re logged in, click the “Member Only Special Offers” tab on the left sidebar to access the current offers.
Not a member yet?
Get access to these deals immediately when you become a KTA member!
During the month of July, there was one Trail Care event, July 6-9 on the remote Chuck Keiper Trail (CKT) in Sproul State Forest. On Friday and Saturday, determined crews tackled the >120 reported downed trees over the CKT in a 5-mile stretch from Petes Run Road to Grugan Hollow Road (as well as some brushcutting).
Unfortunately, due to a number of factors (high humidity, lower than ideal turnout), our two crews did not meet in the middle. A short stretch of blowdowns remains, including the worst part near Boggs Run where the trail has been rerouted from the original path.
On Sunday, a crew scouted a possible reroute around the swampy area on the Chuck Keiper cross connector trail south of PA 144 in the East Branch Swamp Area. We found a very plausible path that will keep hikers' feet dry! Sproul State Forest is working to submit this for approval from DCNR. We continued to hike the East Branch Swamp loop and discovered the western half of the loop to be very overgrown.
Stay tuned for a possible KTA Trail Care Code Orange workday in the Fall, finishing the chainsaw work in Boggs Run and brushing and re-blazing the East Branch Swamp Trail. Many, many thanks to the hearty volunteers who logged a tough 100 hours on the CKT: Tom Bastian, Woody Loudenslager, Tom O'Donnell, Tony Robbins, Dave Updegrave, and Jenn Ulmer, as well as two members of Forestry staff.
If you were thinking of trying Trail Care, but have not yet, consider joining us for a day or weekend! Upcoming August events include:
Check out the links above for more information about each event, including camping options, logistics, etc.
Many hands make light work -- let me know if you can offer yours!
Manager of Trail Maintenance & Training; email@example.com
Hiking in a group is often an underrated experience. Heading out on a trail in community offers numerous benefits that can add value to your hike and help you grow as a hiker.
10 Benefits of hiking in a group (or with a club)
Why do KTA members enjoy hiking in a group?
Here are five stories from a few of our hiking/trail club members.
Pradip (Chester County Trail Club)
"Before joining Chester County Trail Club (CCTC), I was a lone walker. Although, it was peaceful, soon it became boring since I did not know very many new places to hike. I joined CCTC and since then things are much better. Collective experience makes you aware of beautiful places to go hiking, and teaches subtle details of hiking practices. Besides enjoying the physical benefits of hiking, which everybody knows about, hiking in a group gives one extra and very valuable benefit of social interactions. I have yet to see a “frowny” hiker. Even when they are facing misery (tongue and cheeks) of physical exertion they still have a precious smile on their face.
Cynthia (Lancaster Hiking Club)
“First, when I moved to the area I didn't know where to hike, and going with the Lancaster Hiking Club has shown me so many cool places. Second, as a woman who often hikes solo, it is really nice to go with a group and not worry at all about being on my own. Third, I've made really good friends from hiking in a group, including people both considerably older and significantly younger than me whom I wouldn't otherwise engage with easily. These friends have encouraged me to challenges such as hiking much of the Appalachian Trail and big hikes abroad like the Tour du Mont Blanc.”
Jeffrey (Lancaster Hiking Club)
“One of the things I like about group hiking is the knowledge I've gained over the years: knowledge about such myriad topics as what to pack/what not to pack, identifying fauna and flora, what's new in hiking gear, how to take care of myself when I"m in the woods, and getting to places that I may not have visited before and or even heard of. I like the feeling of safety I feel when I hike with experienced hikers because if I have an accident or medical situation I'll have plenty of help. Someone always has a bandage or aspirin in their pack. And of course, there's the camaraderie and life-long friendships.”
Kathy (Chester County Trail Club)
“I think hiking with a club/group is beneficial in a number of ways and the first one that comes to mind is there's safety in numbers. Another bonus is the opportunities that can be presented with more individuals involved and contributing to the group. Be that a variety of hikes or places to go, helping to lead us to more experiences in the outdoors. In that same sense, the knowledge and experiences of others can be shared, making us stronger physically, spiritually, and mentally. Learning from this and making us more aware of our surroundings and ourselves. Lastly, we can't deny the friendships that can be made and grow from within this group experience, especially with like-minded individuals.
I, myself, have gained a lot in the club/group experience in so many ways that I'm a better person because of it. Some of my best friends are from the hiking community and sharing these experiences with them is meaningful.”
Krista (Susquehanna Appalachian Trail Club)
“Hiking in a group exposes you to fascinating stories and experiences of other hikers. You can choose sections of trails that require car spotting. Being in a group gives learning opportunities to hear about favorite trails, cultural sites, hiking and gear tips, birding, animals, insects, and plants.
Joining a club gives you more chances of finding hike leaders that match your preferred pace, distance, and difficulty levels. And, you can try harder hikes when you want to be challenged or want to see something special.”
Try hiking with a club!
How to find a hiking group
You don't have to go far to find a group of hikers in Pennsylvania!
Keystone Trails Association