Forestry in Cambria County, PA

There are still a few small areas of virgin timber, reminders of the days when almost the entire county was a forest and revivers of the hope that about half the county at some time in the future will be again clothed in trees. The native trees were white oak, red oak, hard maple, black walnut, beech and chestnut, with areas of pine and hemlock in the north of the county and in the swampy sections of some of the uplands. The natural reforestration is not good. Practically all of the chestnut that escaped the axe of the charcoal burner and the rail splitter was blighted and there is little second growth. The beech has been almost crowded off the map. Black walnut is almost rare. The oaks survive in spots. There is a steady demand for all sorts of lumber and timber at high prices, mine props consuming large quantities of timber.

So far, as said before, no Cambria County barren land has been taken over by the state for forestry purposes. But private ownership has taken up forestry in earnest. The Water Company-Cambria Steel Company planting of pines on Mill Creek is notable as a pioneering effort. Johnstown is headquarters for the Gallitzin district of the state for forestry and the annual reports of the district forester show that the county ranks high in the list for the number of trees planted, the means of fire prevention adopted, and general interest among land owners, Boy Scouts, sportsmen, school children and others in every phase of arboriculture.

Several of the modern steel watchtowers of the State Department of Forests and Waters are in Cambria County, and a number in other counties afford views of part of Cambria. Nearest to Johnstown is Lower Yoder fire tower, named for the township in which it is located. The township lies on the south side of the Conemaugh River below the city, and rises in a few miles from the Coñemaugh River elevation to the highest point in the county. The tower is at an elevation of 2,720 feet, is 60 feet high and detects more fires than any tower in the same area.

Chickaree tower is in the vicinity of the highest point on the William Penn Highway, about midway between the old clay pike, north of the tower, and the stone pike, now the William Penn Highway, south of the tower, near the Cambria-Indiana county line. It was erected in 1921 at a ground elevation of 2,460 feet. It is easily reached from the William Penn Highway. It is 15 miles from Johnstown, three miles from Nanty Glo, and nine miles west of Ebensburg. From here Lower Yoder tower in the south is plainly visible on a clear day, the Cresson Sanatorium water tank near the crest of the Allegheny Mountain is a land mark to the east, and nine-tenths of the wooded land in Indiana County is under observation, including some of the most rugged sections of the Blacklick Valley.

St. Lawrence tower, four and one-half miles north of Patton, was built in 1921 at a ground elevation of 2,200 feet, giving observation of about 150,000 acres of forest land in Cambria, Clearfield and Indiana counties. The towerman has under his eye much of the watershed of headwaters streams of the West Branch of the Susquehanna, hunting ground for centuries on the Indiana cross-overs between Juniata, Susequehanna and Allegheny River waterways. Cherry Tree is almost due west, marking the beginning of the Purchase Line where it left the head of canoeing on the Susquehanna. To the eastward is the Beaverdams section, where great new coal operations are surrounded by territory in which many deer are killed. West of the tower is located an auxiliary game preserve. Much of the land in this section a hundred years ago was covered by a stand of virgin white pine. There is gradually coming back a growth of fine hardwoods among which is a good percentage of pine. The original timber from this section was sent to mills and markets by Chest and Clearfield creeks and the West Branch. White pine logs were hewed square and hauled to the streams.

From the Indiana County side, Glen Campbell fire tower guards a large section of Cambria, Indiana, Jefferson and Clearfield counties. McGee's Mills, Clearfleld County, is about three miles east of the tower. About 1800 a family named McGee came in over the trail through Belle fonte and established the first sawmill and grist mill on the West Branch. Four miles south of the tower is Patchinsville, first settled by Daniel Patchin, known as king of the Susquehanna raftsmen. The white pine stands extended far into Indiana County.

Blue Knob tower is on a spur of the Alleghenies at an elevation of 3,165 feet above sea level, in northwestern Bedford County. It looks into Somerset, Cambria, Blair, Huntingdon and Mifflin counties and south across the county of Bedford into Maryland. The Schweitz Mountain is nearby, and in Spruce Hollow, about five miles from the tower, is a monument marking the spot where were found the bodies of Joseph and George Cox, aged five and seven years, "the lost children of the Alleghenies." The monument several years ago was defaced, apparently by reckless hunters making it a target for their rifles. Blue Knob tower is three miles north of Pavia. Bobs Creek game preserve, on lands owned by the Game Commission, covers much of the ground over which hundreds of men searched for the lost children. The region is now easily accessible by automobile.

History of Cambria County, Pennsylvania
By: John E. Gable
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka-Indianapolis, 1926

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