What better destination for those who love nature and the
outdoors than Cook Forest State Park, with its 6,668 acres of prime vacationing
Bordered by the beautiful Clarion River and full of virgin white pine and
hemlock timber, the Park has been designated by the National
Park Service as a Registered National Natural Landmark (you'll find a plaque
commemorating this designation in the Forest Cathedral). Read on to get an idea of just how much film you'll need
for your camera, or visit the Forest Friends area to see
some great photos.
Local American Indians called the Clarion River the "Tobecco,"
which means "dark brown water." Tannic acid from decaying evergreen
needles turned the river brown in color.
Early settlers called it "Toby Creek." Effects from
lumbering -- cleared hillsides and erosion -- renamed it "Stump Creek"
and "Mud River." The "Clarion" River was named when Daniel
Stanard and David Lawson, two road surveyors, were blazing a trail from Kittaning
to Franklin in 1817. Stanard said, "The ripple of the river sounds like a
distant clarion" (a trumpet call).
Rivers were vital for transportation by the early logging
industry. Pennsylvania led the nation in lumber production in 1860. Logs were
brought to the Clarion, bound together in simple rafts, and "run" down
river for sale in Pittsburgh. A one-way trip on the Allegheny River from the mouth
of the Clarion to Pittsburgh was over 100 miles!
Old Growth Timber Areas:
From the area of Cook Forest State Park came the famous Pennsylvania
cork pine, so named because of the white pine's thick, cork-like bark.
There are four old growth forest areas in the park: Swamp,
Seneca, Cathedral, and Cook Trails areas.
The Swamp area consists mainly of ancient red and white oaks,
red maples, and black cherry. Some trees are over 280 years old. There is an impressive
stand of eastern white pine, eastern hemlock and American beech trees. The Swamp
Area lies in the extreme northeastern section of the park. Baker Trail runs through
The Seneca area lies on the hillside northwest of the Clarion
River and southeast of Fire Tower Road. Trails leading through this area include
Deer Park, Mohawk and Seneca.
Along with white pine and hemlock, some large pitch pine of
nearly 300 years old is also present. Tornado damage from 1976 can also be seen
The Cook Trails growth areas consist mainly of eastern white
pine, eastern hemlock, and American beech. Many white pine and hemlocks in this
areas approach 350 years old. Scientists believe this old growth areas began growing
following a large forest fire in 1644. Some trees survived the fire and are almost
450 years old. Many American chestnut snags are still standing, 80 years after
the chestnut blight swept through the area.
The bedrock of Cook Forest is mainly sedimentary rock, laid
down about 300 million years ago when an ocean covered western Pennsylvania. Heavy
erosion of the mountains to the east deposited thick layers of sand, resulting
in massiv, coarse beds of sandstone. Movements in the earth's crust eventually
lifted this ocean floor to an elevation of 1,200 to 1,600 feet.
The sandstone is unusual because it has few cracks. When the
sandstone is exposed, like at Seneca Point, it cracks in large pieces, some as
large as a house.
Forest Cathedral Area:
The Forest Cathedral is a National Natural
Landmark and has been set aside for protection as a state park natural area.
The Forest Cathedral Natural Area is one of the largest growth
forests of eastern white pine and eastern hemlock in Pennsylvania. Many of these
magnificent pine and hemlocks exceed three feet in diameter and approach 200 feet
tall. Often called "William Penn Trees," trees of this size are often
300 years of age, dating to the era of William Penn, the first governor of "Penn's
Woods." It is fitting that this forest remains in the midst of the area that
saw the greatest logging boom in the history of Pennsylvania. In the late 1800s,
thousands of acres of old growth forests were cut for the shipbuilding and construction
During the summer of 1956, a storm of tremendous force struck
the Forest Cathedral area and destroyed some of the oldest and largest trees.
Many of these were removed after the storm to protect the remaining trees from
disease and insects. On July 11, 1976, a tornado passed through the campground
and destroyed a section of the old growth timber area which lies west of PA Route
36. A partial salvage operation was conducted after this storm.
The Forest Cathedral is easy to reach by hiking the Longfellow
Trail from the Log Cabin Inn Visitor Center.