Birding and Biking in the ANF Region

photo/Steve Dowlan

 

   The Allegheny National Forest Region located in northwestern Pennsylvania, and the Allegany State Park in southwestern New York, share the Allegheny River and a wildly beautiful area of magnificent hardwood forests stretching across the two state lines. As one destination for recreation, they offer a wide variety of activities both for experienced and novice outdoorsmen. Two favorites this time of year are birding and biking.  
 
BIRDING IN THE ALLEGHENY NATIONAL FOREST
 
   Birding is a popular and fun activity that can be enjoyed by all ages. You will need a pair of binoculars and a field guide, patience, curiosity and the desire to enjoy the wonder of nature as you explore new birding habitats. More than 200 species of birds can be found in the Forest, including bald eagles and osprey. The most common birds found are the ruffed grouse - the state bird of Pennsylvania, and the wild turkey.
   Avid birder Steve Dowlan, an employee of the Allegheny National Forest, suggests the following sites for birding within the Forest:
   Buzzard Swamp, south of Kane, includes an 11.2 mile trail system with several loop and connector trails. Buzzard Swamp has fifteen ponds that have been built to provide habitats for wildlife, making this one of the best wildlife-viewing trails in the Allegheny National Forest (ANF). With exceptional habitat diversity, numerous species of waterfowl, wading birds, forest and grassland songbirds call Buzzard Swamp home.  Bobolink, Field Sparrow, Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow, Eastern Meadowlark, Indigo Bunting, Great Blue Heron, Wood Duck, Red-shouldered Hawk and Woodcock are within this area.
   Big Bend Birding Overlook, just past the Kinzua Dam between Bradford and Warren along Route 59, provides an overlook of the Kinzua Dam spillway. Other popular sites in the ANF are Rimrock Overlook, Timberdoodle Flats, and Tracy Ridge Campground.
   Rimrock Overlookoffers a canopy-level view of forest songbirds set among massive borders, with great views of the Allegheny Reservoir. Hermit Thrush is a common breeding species, and nests throughout the trails and picnic area. Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks soar above and around the overlooks, often flying below eye-level. Other breeding forest birds include American Redstart, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Eastern Towhee, White-breasted Nuthatch and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. For a birding guide book, Steve recommends “National Audubon Society-Guide to Birds” written and illustrated by David Allen. Rimrock Overlook is located along Route 364, 14 miles southwest of Bradford, PA.
   Timberdoodle Flats Interpretive Trailis named for the American woodcock, also known as the timberdoodle, a bird species that uses both open areas and forest woodlands for mating and nesting. This trail is a wonderful beginners’ trail for those interested in birding. Informational and interpretive signage is located along both trail loops. The Woodcock Loop, 1-¼ miles in distance, is marked with yellow woodcock insignia and features 12 interpretive stops. The shorter Bluebird Trail, ½ mile in distance, is suitable for parents with small children and features six interpretive stops.  Trailhead parking is located along Route 59, just west of the intersection of Route 59 and Route 770. From Bradford, travel south on Route 219, turn right onto Route 770 heading west; at the intersection with Route 59, turn right, then watch for the large brown Forest sign for trailhead parking.
   At Tracy Ridge Campground, you might find a Northern Saw-whet Owl from March through July. Cerulean Warblers sing in the oak trees along the Tracy Ridge Trail. The Mourning Warbler will likely be seen in clear-cut areas. Tracy Ridge Campground features 119 campsites. If you enjoy hiking, you can access both the North Country National Scenic Trail and the Bullis Hollow Trail from this campground in the Allegheny National Forest.
   Osprey (Pandion halaetus) are a fish-eating large bird of prey, usually mating for life. Osprey nests can be viewed from Route 321 along the Longhouse National Scenic Byway north of Kane, PA.
   Bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are among the largest birds of prey. They may weigh up to 14 pounds and have seven-foot wingspans. Bald eagles are readily identified by their white heads and tails, however, they don’t attain this plumage until five years of age. They nest in large trees near water. Bald eagles have been sighted at the Allegheny Reservoir, Tunungwant Creek, Smethport’s Hamlin Lake, and north of Eldred along the Allegheny River and Oswayo Creek.
   Other suggested sites for birding are Marilla Reservoir and the northern shoreline of the Allegheny Reservoir. Marilla Reservoir, located 5 miles west of Bradford along Route 346, includes a loop trail and is an easy family-friendly hike.  Pennsylvania Route 346 continues northwest to the Willow Bay Recreation Area on the Allegheny National Forest, connecting to Route 280 in NY, running along the northern shoreline of the Allegheny Reservoir.
   A variety of excellent nature and wildlife books are available at the Bradford Ranger Station, 29 Forest Service Drive in Bradford, PA, located at the intersection of Route 59 and Route 321 in the Allegheny National Forest. Birding books sold at the Ranger Station through ENFIA (Eastern National Forest Interpretive Association) include:  1) Peterson First Guides: Birds by Roger Tory Peterson; 2) Peterson Field Guide - The Young Birder’s Guide Birds of Eastern North America by Bill Thompson III; 3) Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America by Roger Tory Peterson; and 4) Birds of Pennsylvania Field Guide by Stan Tekiela.
   Birding tips: Peak migration period for song birds is mid-April to the end of May.  Generally, birds are secretive and shy. Learning bird songs will aid in species identification.  Observe birds when they are most active in the early morning, especially during breeding season.
   Binoculars recommended for birding are: 6x32, 7x35, 8x40, 7x42, 8x42 or 8.4 x44.  Buy binoculars that have a single focusing knob located between the two barrels that turns one to one-and-a-half times. Don’t buy binoculars with separate focus adjustments on the two barrels - they’re too slow to be useful for birding.
 
BIKING IN THE FOREST
 
   Biking or cycling is an easy, fun way to get outdoors. Most of us know how to cycle, and once you have learned you don’t forget. Beneficial for the body and the mind, cycling builds strength, muscle tone, stamina, improves cardio-vascular fitness and is a good way to eat up calories.  Cycling burns approximately 300 calories per hour, if you cycle 30 minutes every day you would burn 11 pounds of fat in one year.According to the British Medical Association, biking just 20 miles a week can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 50%.
   Biking in the Forest puts you in touch with nature. The fresh air and beauty of the scenery can reduce stress and relax and rejuvenate your soul. Biking is permitted on all Pennsylvania State Forest roads and old logging roads, with mountain bikes recommended for biking on dirt roads. All the state parks have many opportunities for biking.
   Route 3011, the Kinzua Scenic Byway, connecting Route 59 to Route 6, is an official shared-use highway for biking and vehicle traffic. The low traffic count and stunning woodland scenery along this corridor make a perfect day excursion for cycling. A point of interest mid-way along Route 3011 is the Kinzua Bridge State Park, home of the National Historic Landmark - the Kinzua Sky Walk. A day use park, there is no admission fee to the park.
   A more adventurous cycling route is the Longhouse National Scenic Byway, a 27-mile loop that circles the Kinzua arm of the Allegheny Reservoir. Diverse topography, large elevation changes and a variety of interesting overlooks along the roadway make this a scenic challenge. The road is shared use. Two developed overlooks - Rimrock Overlook and Jake’s Rocks - provide stunning vistas for the water and forest. Vehicle parking can be found along Route 59 at the Bradford Ranger Station. This starting point also has public restrooms and maps available for additional cycling and mountain biking trails within the Forest.
   Local biking enthusiast, Pete Dzirkalis, owner of Just Riding Along, a full-service bicycle shop located in Bradford, PA offers advice on outfitting for local rides and suggested riding areas. Pete loves cycling and his passion shows in his shop. He has been servicing bikes for 22 years, and experience goes a long way in getting things fixed quickly and efficiently.  He can tune and repair all brands of bikes - anything from fixing flat tires to precision frame machining.  His shop specializes in personalized customer service for both beginners and experienced bikers.
   If you are ready to be outfitted with a new bike and gear, stop by and have Pete work with you to find the perfect fit. “It is important to be sized for a bike,” explains Pete. “For example, the TREK 820 is an excellent entry level model; it lets you get out and ride anywhere - trails, pavement, or a dirt road, and it comes in six different sizes. We fit the bike according to your height; with this model we can fit someone 5 ft. tall up to 6 ft. 6 inches.” 
   During the summer you will find over 100 bikes on the shop floor, from child-size bikes with training wheels to hybrid bikes like the TREK FX Series that is a jack of all trades, taking you from dirt roads to pavement. For experienced riders, the TREK Madone is a lightweight road racing bike that enables you to cover long distances quickly. The TREK X-Caliber is a popular 24” wheel, which is nice for riding on rougher terrains. Most bikes now have a wide range of gears, with 21-30 speeds. As Pete explains, “When riding a lot of hills, which is what we ride in Allegany State Park and the Allegheny National Forest Region, gearing makes a big difference. Gears help you pedal with a nice steady stroke.”
   Single speed cruiser type bikes are still available for those who want an older style bike for casual biking. Cruisers are what many of us had years ago as children - no gears. For biking enthusiasts, they sometimes go “retro” preferring a single speed as this type of bike provides an extra physical challenge in taking on hills.
   Common accessories that you will want are a water bottle with a cage, a quality helmet and gloves. Gloves will keep your hands from scraping if you take a tumble, and a $45 bike helmet is cheap insurance to protect your head. Riding gear including padded shorts and jerseys with a wicking material will add to the comfort of a long ride.
   A smart phone holder might be the perfect new accessory for your bike. Many riders are using their smartphones as speedometers, and using phone apps to map their rides and distances. The smart phone holders can easily be mounted on your handlebars.
   If you are traveling in the region and want to learn some of the best riding areas, the Just Riding AlongWeekly Bike Rides are a great way to learn the local trails. Shop owner Pete has been leading group bike rides for 11 seasons. All rides start in front of Pete’s shop on Tuesday and Thursday nights at 6pm. Tuesday nights are for the road bike riders. Two groups - the beginners will ride 15 miles, with the advanced riders covering 30-40 miles. All riders must wear a helmet. It is suggested that you have some riding experience before joining the riding group and that you bring water, a snack, and a spare tube for the bike. It is pretty much rain or shine - except if it is lightning or very extreme weather. Thursday nights are trail rides, better for experienced riders on mountain bikes with big tires as you will be riding on rocks, dirt and crossing creeks, covering 15-20 miles of riding. Social time is usually held after the Thursday night ride.
   Beginning in April, the shop hours at Just Riding Along, 48 Mechanic Street in Bradford, PA are: Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 6pm and Saturday 9am to 1pm. Phone 814-363-9101 or visit them on Facebook for the latest riding and biking information.
 
GEAR UP AND RIDE!
 
   The following trails are recommended for cycling by experience level.
   Beginners: Beginners will enjoy the Roscoe Cross Country Ski Trails at Allegany State Park. You will be riding in the woods; the trail is not really aggressive or rough.
   Intermediate: Willow Creek ATV/Bike Trail located along Route 346. A suggested ride would be to start at the Willows Restaurant (approximately 12 miles west of Bradford), biking to the trailhead along FR 137 from the restaurant parking area. This is an approximate 10-11 mile loop. You will be riding along the ridge top. The trail has both smooth and rough sections.
   Experienced: Morrison Trail is located within the Allegheny National Forest. This 10.8-mile loop trail is pretty rough, featuring rocks, creek crossings, hardwood forests and is a challenging ride. McCarty Hill, NY is a great single track riding area for advanced bicyclists. Trail descriptions are available at: www.trails.mtbr.com.
   The Western New York Mountain Bicycling Association prints the Ellicottville Area Trail Map with trail mapping and elevation contours of Holiday Valley, McCarty Hill, Rock City, HoliMont, Golden Hill and parts of Allegany State Park. The trail map may be purchased for $8 at Just Riding Along. The purchase price is a donation to the trail association.
 
PLAN YOUR TRIP
 
   Birders who want to stay close to Buzzard Swamp can rent the charming Olmsted Manor Carriage House. If you would like to bring a group for a “birding” event, the nearby Olmsted Manor is inexpensive and can easily accommodate a large group. Lodging overnight rates start at $46 a night for a private room.  Phone 814-225-4406 or log onto www.olmsted.org
   Other lodging options in Kane include the Kane Manor 814-837-6522, the Kane View Motel 814-837-8600, and nearby at the intersection of Route 219 and Route 6 is Lantz Corners Getaway 814-778-5391. Cabins and campsites may be reserved at Willow Bay along the Allegheny Reservoir at www.recreation.govor by calling 1-877-444-6777.
   For a FREE travel guide and map, with a full list of available accommodations, restaurants, and area attractions please call 800-473-9370 or www.visitANF.com.
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