With two million acres of natural landscape, tree-covered mountains, and rushing rivers, there's no doubt how Pennsylvania Wilds earned its moniker. Fortunately, it is now even easier to explore the gifts Mother Nature so generously endowed upon the region, as new attractions highlight the seemingly endless outdoor recreation opportunites.
Through a simple name, it aptly applies to the new nature facility at Sinnemahoning State Park: Wildlife Center. The $3.8 million, 9,300-square-foot center, complete with green features like geothermal heat and energy efficient lighting, offers educational opportunies, an artisan gallery and classroom, and meeting space. Of course, the center offers opportunities to view wildlife too. Watch for nesting bald eagles, elk nursing their calves, bobcats in the snow or roaming bears.
If such wildlife sightings don't take your breath away, here's a view that's sure to. For years, visitors to Kinzua Gorge were limited to a Kinzua Bridge State Park overlook, but recently, the Kinzua Sky Walk, which uses remaining towers from a viaduct built in 1882, allows them to walk out 560 feet over the valley, stand on an octagonal platform and look through any of the 12 glass panels to see a 221-foot vertical drop into the gorge. Talk about breathtaking!
You might expect a stay at Bald Eagle State Park to involve a sleeping bag and tent, but there's no need to rough it with the Pennsylvania State Park system's first-of-its-kind Nature Inn on site. Just 35 minutes from State College, the inn is comfortable, high-tech and guilt-free: Much of the wood in the 16-room building is Forest Stewardship Concil-certified Pennsylvania hardwood harvested from within 200 miles. Giant cisterns collect rainwater to flush toilets, geothermal energy warms and cools the inn and sunshine heats the water. It's the perfect place to rest up after a day of bird-watching and exploring the park's trails.
From bird-watching to...elk-watching? You bet, and you'll find none better than at the premier elk viewing location of Elk Country Visitors Center in Benezette Township. While at the home of the largest wild elk herd in the Northeastern United States, watch elk grazing through the panorama of windows in the Great Room, stop by the center's Discovery Room for touchable exhibits and check out the 4-D presentation of the Immersive Theatre.
Parker Dam State Park certainly isn't new, but it had new reason to celebrate as 2012 marked the 75th anniversary of the 968-acre park. Known as a rustic, family-friendly park surrounded by forest, Parker Dam's original infrastructure was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. A birthday party and other special events are planned for the park this summer, and after years of being closed due to tornado damage, the CCC Trail will also be reopening.