The Standing Stone Trail is a survivor. Twenty years after the concept of this trail (originally named the Link Trail) was born in a flower club meeting, it seemed like years of hard work organizing volunteers to act on every stage of its creation (from politics to trail work) would vanish into last year’s leaves, dead logs, and overgrowth. However, many men stepped up to keep the trail going. It was their action of taking over the trail from the KTA and securing a tools grant, which led the way to the paths being cleared again so that we could invigorate the trail as we know it to be today.
However, to just say what the Standing Stone Trail is in these words is to understate what exactly it is and it was. When it first began, it was meant by Tom Thwaites to be the “link” between the Mid-State Trail and a proposed rerouting of the Appalachian Trail. Nevertheless, this reroute never happened, but the land rights and the early efforts to create a connecting trail did occur. As a result, years of hard work and effort by strong bodies, wise minds, and committed souls led to the transformation of a rocky trail that progressed southward from Greenwood Furnace State Park to Cowans Gap State Park.
Between those years, many things happened. The Rocky Ridge Area was morphed into Martin’s Gap Natural Area by people like Jean Aron. This section is now just as famous for a unique collection of wild flowers such as obolaria and also the putty root orchid as it is for the boulders that encourage brave souls to climb up, up, up! In addition, the showcase section of the trail, the Thousand Steps, was preserved as part of the 669-acre Harbison Walker Tract. With the efforts of the Keystone Trails Association and people like Carol Witzeman, Steve Stroman, and Joe & Betty Clark, Mount Union now gets to play host to a trail that rises well over 1,600 feet into the sky. In addition to the views of Huntingdon Township, which it provides, it preserves the history of the ganister mines that once gave Mount Union the moniker “Bricktown, U.S.A.” More than anything though, this section shows the love of nature that the trail community has for their sport since it involved purchasing and donating the land to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. This act represents the ultimate in trail commitment.
As a result of this and many other efforts by a myriad of people, too numerous to mention, who volunteered their time and effort, the Standing Stone Trail is the epitome of everything that a backpacking trail should be. First and foremost, it is well-maintained. In the beginning, there were only 8 maintainers! Today, that number is 20 maintainers for 27 sections. This has condensed the work load to a couple of miles instead of an average of over 8 miles. Because of this and the combined efforts of the Old Timer’s Trail Crew and our rock working crews, the trail stays traversable in all 4 seasons. In addition, many key players ensure that the trail is blazed, signed, staffed, clearer, and hiked. Because of this, people can see beautiful vistas like the Throne Room, which Pennsylvania Magazine named best hike up vista in Southern Pennsylvania for the May / June 2009 issue.
However, the Throne Room is not our only gazing point. In addition, there is also the Stone Mountain Hawk Watch Vista, with a wooden seating area. There is also Sausser’s Stonepile, the Hall of the Mountain King, the King’s Chambers, Butler Knob, Clark’s View, Windy Vista, Hooper’s Gap, and our patch’s image, which can be seen at Monument Rock’s vista.
In 2011, our trail became home to the Butler Knob Shelter. This beautiful and well-maintained wooden house provides a home away from home for trail weary hikers resting from or for the Thousand Steps, which are about ten miles away from it. While it is the only shelter on our trail, it represents a vision of the future for what our trail can become.
In this future, the proposed 9.11 Memorial Trail is overlapping a small part of our trail for their paths, which will connect Shanksville, the Pentagon, and the Twin Towers. In addition, we are a significant part of the Great Eastern Trail, which is a 1,600 mile trail that lies between Alabama and New York. While not as long as the Appalachian Trail, it offers the ability to connect to the Florida Scenic Trail and the North Country Trail. The first through hikers, Bart Houck and Joanna Swanson, began the successful initial trek in January 2013. Now, other hikers follow in their footsteps on this more “private” version of the Appalachian Trail.
But Bart and Joanna are not the only hikers to use the Standing Stone Trail. On a recent October day, over twenty cars were parked at the base of the Thousand Steps. While this doesn’t seem like a lot of cars, it represents a maximum amount of cars that fit in the Route 22 parking lot beneath the steps. In addition, while this staircase can feel crowded on the narrow passageway, it represents one of the things that makes our trail so special: it is a place you deliberately have to seek out.
In this, aside from the entrances at Greenwood Furnace and Cowans Gap, the trail is accessed largely from dirt roads. Thus, it’s possible to be the only person at a vista on some days. Here, we have a largely undiscovered gem in the middle of Central Pennsylvania. By becoming the DCNR’s 2015 Trail of the Year, we would be able to bring additional hikers to the small towns of this region such as Mount Union, Three Springs, and Mapleton, as well as Lewistown and Huntingdon. Not only would this help our trail’s visibility, but it would do much to improve the local economies of these towns.
Right now, our trails are featured in guidebooks such as Scott Brown’s Pennsylvania Mountain Vistas and Tom Thwaites’ 50 Hikes in Central Pennsylvania. We also have a webpage and a Facebook group page .
However, for our increasing social media presence, we are what we aren’t. We aren’t trying to be a rails to trails path. Yes, many of our trails were made from existing paths such as the dinkey grades of the Thousand Steps, but we are not a waterside walk. We are a rocky trail that demands effort to ascend the four mountains that make up our trail (Stone, Jack’s, Cove, and Blacklog). We aren’t trying to be the Appalachian Trail either. Sure, the Great Eastern Trail is an alternative to that trail, but this path that goes through Rothrock and Buchanan State Forests is not as crowded as this internationally famous trail. For that, the Appalachian has a magnetism all its own, and that’s rightly so and will continue to be so. We will continue to be a special getaway.
We are the little trail that can and does. In this, it would almost be fair to say that what we are is a hearty weeklong backpacking trip or a rugged day hike through the “mom and pop store” of trails. What I mean by this is that is we aren’t a National Park. “All we are” is a relatively pristine series of beautiful photographic images waiting to be captured in their own private cathedral. You’ll probably see some deer, and you could even get lucky and see some turkey or bears on the trail. Many days, you’ll see more picturesque birds and wildlife than you will people. Isn’t that what it means to be roughing it?
Thus, for people who like their hikes challenging, we’ve got the place for you. There are many 1,000+ foot ascents and descents through our “manicured” trails and rocky paths. There are plenty of ridges to traverse between the rises and drops of Pennsylvania’s mountains. There are daydreams to be had. There are inspirations to feel. There are many hollows to leave your cares behind. All in all, the members of our club have continued to work hard to give people the best trail experience possible. They’ve sweated through summer days while braving the winds and rains to ensure that there will never be a time that we have to wonder if the Standing Stone Trail will be relegated to history. Whether this is rerouting Hooper’s Gap or rebuilding sections on Cove Mountain or cleaning graffiti or picking up trash or sharing pictures of the trail or telling stories about what the trail is and was and could be over breakfast before a trail clearing, we are an adventure waiting to happen. All you need to do is stop by and see.
Standing Stone Trail
Standing Stone Trail Club
We are located in Central Pennsylvania between Greenwood Furnace and Cowans Gaps State Park. At its southernmost point, the Standing Stone Trail sits below the turnpike at mile marker 180. In the north, the trail is northwest of the town of Lewistown and east of Huntingdon. Much of our trail sits above the quiet farm country of Big Valley. Its 75.2 miles of trails are located on some private hunting club property, but it is also made up of Rothrock and Buchanan State Forests.
The trail goes through Huntingdon, Mifflin, and Fulton Counties.
The trail goes through Huntingdon, Mifflin, and Fulton Counties.
The trail does run through the towns of Mount Union, Mapleton, and Three Springs. These feature convenience stores and other resupply / restaurant options. Other than those towns, there are not any brushes with “civilization.” However, there is camping and other state park supply opportunities at Greenwood Furnace and Cowans Gap State Park.
Becoming trail of the year will be a way that we will become recognized for these achievements and that we will showcase our achievements to combine with those of other hiking clubs in the area and the state. In addition we will continue to work with our partners (Greenwood Furnace, Cowans Gap, the Standing Stone Coffee Company) in an effort to continue to publicize through local agencies such as the Huntingdon County Visitors’ Bureau and our social media and Internet presence as well as our place in the Keystone Trails Association, in order to bring visitors and hikers to these mountains. Both Greenwood Furnace and Cowans Gap feature many yearly activities, which we would maintain a presence with. We are currently in the process of rewriting the 2006 version of our trail guide, and we have already updated our newsletter to reflect our current goals and efforts to be seen as an evolving and maturing hiking trail in Pennsylvania’s beautiful outdoor community. In addition, we have new brochures to give out to people who are interested in our club. As a result, it is our eventual hope that we can be seen as one of the premier destinations to escape into the stones and clouds for a hike.