Pine Creek Gorge
, also known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania
is situated in approximately 160,000 acres (650 km²) of the Tioga State Forest
in the U.S. State
along Pine Creek
. The Canyon begins south of Ansonia
, near Wellsboro
, along U.S. Route 6
and continues for approximately 47 miles (76 km) south. The maximum depth of the canyon is 1,450 feet (442 m) at Waterville
, near the southern end. At Leonard Harrison
and Colton Point State Parks
, the depth is more than 800 feet and from rim to rim is approximately 4,000 feet (1200 m).
The canyon is located in Tioga State Forest and several state parks are on or near it, keeping it largely undeveloped and natural. Along the canyon floor, the Pine Creek Rail Trail, a public path used for biking and hiking, stretches the entire length. More recreation is available at the canyon along the West Rim Trail. The West Rim trail is strictly for hiking and its 30 miles follow the western edge of the canyon.
Pine Creek Gorge is a product of the last ice age
. Pine Creek
had flowed northeasterly until about 20,000 years ago. The creek was dammed by rocks, soil, and other debris, pushed there by the receding Laurentide
Continental Glacier. The dammed creek formed a lake near the present town of Ansonia. The glacial meltwater that filled the lake overflowed the debris dam
. This caused a reversal of the flow of Pine Creek. The creek flooded to the south and quickly carved a deep channel on its way south to the West Branch Susquehanna River
The Pine Creek Gorge National Natural Landmark
includes Colton Point and Leonard Harrison State Parks and parts of the Tioga State Forest
along of Pine Creek between Ansonia and Blackwell. This federal program does not provide any extra protection beyond that offered by the land owner. The National Park Service
's designation of the gorge as a National Natural Landmark notes that it "contains superlative scenery, geological and ecological value, and is one of the finest examples of a deep gorge in the eastern United States."
The gorge is also protected by the state of Pennsylvania as the Pine Creek Gorge Natural Area, which is the second largest State Natural Area in Pennsylvania. Within this area, of Colton Point and Leonard Harrison State Parks are designated a State Park Natural Area. The state Natural Area runs along Pine Creek from Darling Run in the north (just below Ansonia) to Jerry Run in the south (just above Blackwell). It is approximately long and wide, with state forest roads providing all of the western border and part of the eastern border.
Within the park, Pine Creek and the walls of the gorge "visible from the opposite shoreline" are also protected by the state as a Pennsylvania Scenic River. In 1968 Pine Creek was one of only 27 rivers originally designated as eligible to be included in the National Wild and Scenic River system, and one of only eight specifically mentioned in the law establishing the program. Before Pine Creek could be included in the federal program, the state enacted its State Scenic Rivers Act, then asked that Pine Creek be withdrawn from the national designation. However, there was much local opposition to its inclusion, based at least partly on mistaken fears that protection would involve seizure of private property and restricted access. Eventually this opposition was overcome, but Pennsylvania did not officially include it as one of its own state Scenic and Wild Rivers until November 25, 1992. The state treated Pine Creek as if it were a state scenic river between 1968 and 1992. It protected the creek from dam-building and water withdrawals for power plants, and added public access points to reduce abuse of private property.
Humans and the Gorge
Pine Creek Gorge served as a major route of travel for American Indians. They hiked up and down the gorge for thousands of years to a seasonal hunting camp near Ansonia. Ansonia was named for its founder, Anson Phillips, who built a lumber mill that drew the first settlers to the town.
The Lumber Era
The white pine
, and hardwood
forests that covered the area surrounding the gorge were harvested by lumbermen in the 1800s. The logs were floated down Pine Creek to the West Branch Susquehanna River and on to Williamsport
. By the early 1900s only a few isolated areas of native forest remained in Pennsylvania. Pine Creek Gorge was dramatically changed. The population of wildlife had dropped tremendously, due to unregulated hunting
and trapping, the deforestation, and wildfires.
The Forest Grows Back
The forests have grown back since the early 1900s. White-tailed deer
, black bear
, river otter
have all returned to the forest surrounding the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Even the once endangered bald eagle
can once again be seen nesting in the gorge. Today the gorge is a largely wild area. It is home to a wide variety of trees, plants, and animals. The gorge provides recreation to thousands every year. Due to its unique terrain, and northern latitude, snow covers the forest floor well into the Spring months weeks after the last snows have fallen. During the fall the canyon is a very popular tourist destination when the leaves have turned, leaving tones of gold, red and evergreen for miles around.
Pine Creek Rail Trail
The Pine Creek Rail Trail
follows Pine Creek on the former railroad bed for 64 miles (103 km) from Ansonia
in Tioga County to Jersey Shore
in Lycoming County. The railroad opened in 1883 as the Jersey Shore, Pine Creek and Buffalo Railway
, passing into the control of the Fall Brook Coal Company
in 1884, and the New York Central Railroad
via a lease in 1899, with full integration into the NYC in 1914. Conrail
took over the line in 1976 and the last train ran through the gorge on October 7
In the 1880s and 1890s, the railroad carried timber to the sawmills in Tiadaghton, Cammal and Slate Run. By 1896, this rail line was carrying 7 million tons of freight and three passenger trains on daily runs from Wellsboro to Williamsport.
As of 2006, the former rail line has become part of Pennsylvania's extensive network of rail trails. Hikers and bikers have the chance to see waterfalls and rock formations as they travel the trail. There are opportunities to spot bald and golden eagles that have made their homes in the gorge. White-tailed deer, coyotes, ospreys, heron, river otter, black bear, and turkey can also be spotted within the walls of the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania.