by Wanda Shirk
Three trail shelters are new to the Susquehannock Trail System (STS), in Clinton and Potter Counties, over the past 2 years. To facilitate long-weekend trail loops, the Susquehannock Trail Club has also established 2 crossover trails and refurbished the North and South Link Trails connecting the STS with the Black Forest Trail (BFT). The ambitious and active STC has also recently bridged half a dozen former wet crossings with log bridges that hikers will appreciate year-round but especially in the winter and spring months, when the streams are colder and run higher.
The first shelter, at mile 10.7, provides a roof for up to 4 people, but it’s a site with a history. In the 1930s, it was a brick dynamite house that the Civilian Conservation Corps built for storing explosives safely. These were the days when TNT sticks, rather than bulldozers, were the power tools of road construction. The STS has cleaned the historic building, repointed the bricks, repaired the roof, and added a porch and bench to the front so that a pair of hikers can camp by the fire ring without setting up a tent.
Two standard-sized (9’ x 12’), 3-sided, Adirondack-style shelters now stand ready to hold half a dozen or so backpackers: the Spook Hollow Shelter at mile 31.5 and the Scoval Branch Shelter at mile 42.5, the midpoint of the 85-mile STS loop. These well-equipped shelters make possible a nice 3-day weekend hike from Ole Bull State Park to the little village of Cross Fork, the only town on the STS. Suggested plan: On day 1, drive to Cross Fork, get a 10-mile shuttle up the road (see the STC website for shuttle contact info), and hike 5.5 miles in the afternoon from Ole Bull State Park (guidebook mile 26) to the Spook Hollow Shelter. On day 2, hike 11 miles from the Spook Hollow Shelter to the Scoval Branch Shelter and enjoy a night at the trail’s luxury resort. On day 3, a 6.5-mile hike will get you back to your car in Cross Fork, where you can get great ice cream at Kinney’s Store—or a beer at Deb’s Restaurant across the road—with time to drive home and do your laundry before another workweek.
The west-east crossover trails are the West Branch Trail (6.8 miles, connecting the STS at guidebook mile 77.9 on the west and mile 11.25 on the east) and the East Fork Trail (9 miles, connecting guidebook miles 74.2 and 14.4). A start at the Denton Hill trailhead could utilize the West Branch Trail for a 25-mile loop or the East Fork Trail for 34-mile loop. The 2-person Dynamite House Shelter at mile 10.7 is the only shelter on these loops, but many fit hikers could hike 15 miles (counterclockwise) from Denton Hill on day 1, utilizing the flat and easy West Branch Trail, then camp at the Dynamite House shelter and finish the loop with 11 miles on day 2—all without the weight and bulk of carrying a tent.
The BFT North Link–STS South Link Trail loop hike is another great weekender of 25 miles total, with fairly easy access options from Pennsylvania Route 44. Both link trails (North Link Trail, 8.5 miles; South Link Trail, 6 miles) and the STS section (2.3 miles) have gentle grades and easy treadway, with the BFT section (8 miles) providing just a little more challenge. Optimal camping is on the North Link Trail section just west of Dyer Road at the north end of the loop, south from route 44. (Parking, campsites, and picnic tables there facilitate equestrians, as it is a shared-use area.)
The STS and BFT are blazed orange; the link and crossover trails are sometimes blazed red (for shared-use trails) but are well marked and easy to follow.
The Susquehannock Trail Club takes great pride in the upgrades of the past 2 years. Another STS shelter, on the west side of the trail at mile 68, is planned for 2018. Construction is anticipated in the spring, weather permitting.