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Backpacking 101

Reporter joins overnight campers at Chapman

Times Observer photo by Lorri Drumm Backpackers set off on an overnight adventure as they hike to their campsite.

Have you ever longed to get away from the rat race, unplug from technology, and even forfeit running water and toilets, but you just don’t know where to start?

Chapman State Park has just the opportunity you’ve been looking for.

About a dozen people, including this reporter, took part in “Intro to Backpacking” over the weekend. It was the first such event held within the park.

Some of those who attended had prior experience, but most had never packed a backpack full of all the supplies you need for an overnight trip. Jennifer Moore, the park’s environmental education specialist, guided the group through each step.

While two backpackers chose packs with external frames, the rest of the group chose internal-frame packs. It’s not just about picking a style or color. The pack needs to fit your body.

Tim Tomon, a forest pest management specialist at Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, examines insects gathered on sheets hung in the forest during the overnight adventure.

Everyone was measured for the appropriate pack. Once the straps were fastened around the chest and waist, the comfort level changed and some switching took place until it felt just right.

Each backpacker got an email prior to the event suggesting what to bring. The goal was to remember those vital must-haves without weighing down the pack.

Once the clothes and personal items were packed, there needed to be room for a sleeping bag, tent, stove, cookware, plates, and food. Moore told anyone carrying a tent to pack it close to their back to reduce strain.

With full packs, the group set out for a remote destination estimated at about two miles from the education center but within park property. After trudging through mud pits and overgrown foliage, the last part of the trek was all uphill.

The upward hike led to a location suitable for multiple tents and what was hoped to be a prime location to view not just fireflies, but also Photinus carolinus — the “Synchronous Firefly.”

A group taking part in a weekend adventure gather at the campsite in the forest.

Firefly Enthusiast Jeff Calta set up camp prior to the group’s arrival in order to scope out the location. He told the group that he was once like many people who think fireflies (which are not flies but beetles) come out just after dark and the show is over. As the sky darkened, different varieties of Firefly came out at different times, with just a limited amount of late-night visitors that appeared to flash for a longer period.

The synchronous firefly was identified and confirmed to be in the Allegheny National Forest during the summer of 2012. It is unique in that the males’ flash patterns are in synchrony with each other, so they appear to be like a string of Christmas lights hanging in the forest.

The Synchronous fireflies are in abundance throughout the Allegheny National Forest and can be seen in the ANF recreation areas starting mid-June through early July.

Starting around July 4 to the middle of August, the “Big Dipper”, Photinus pyralis, begin their displays in fields and yards all over northwestern Pa. They are described as putting on a natural fireworks show from dusk to about 9:45 pm.

After Calta passed along some of his firefly expertise, another lighted bug display took place. Tim Tomon, a forest pest management specialist at Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, set up an area that attracted all sorts of insects.

Tim Tomon, a forest pest management specialist at Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, hung sheets with ultraviolet lights in the forest during the overnight adventure. The sheets attracted a multitude of insects.

Tomon hung two white sheets from ropes and hung ultraviolet lights over the sheets. The lights were powered by batteries.

As the night darkened the forest, the sheets filled with multiple species that Tomon often identified immediately. He also referred to a book that he brought along for reference.

Near the bottom of one sheet, a large Io moth sat quietly for nighttime photos. It is distinctive because of its prominent hind wing eyespots.

The group then checked out the other sheet for more discoveries. As Tomon closely examined the sheet, never flinching at the hovering insects, a large creature fluttered back and forth, never actually landing. “Have you ever seen ‘Silence of the Lambs?'” he asked the group. He said the large moth was related to the one used in the movie.

The death’s-head hawkmoth gets its name from the sinister-looking skull shape on its back. In many cultures, it is thought to be an omen of death.

Diane Spivak tries an MRE as Jennifer Moore, the park’s environmental education specialist, holds the finished meal.

Throughout the night, the most sinister sounds seemed to come from owls. As the sun peeked through the trees in the morning, the food was brought back down from the rope that kept it hung out of bear reach and the little stoves heated water for breakfast.

A couple of campers who didn’t stay for the overnight left behind some MREs. A few backpackers decided to give them a try.

The Meal, Ready-to-Eat, commonly known as the MRE, is a self-contained, individual field ration in lightweight packaging bought by the U.S. Department of Defense for its service members for use in combat or other field conditions where organized food facilities are not available.

Moore read the directions and helped prepare the meal. Novice backpacker Diane Spivak gave it a try. Spivak gave the potato, egg, cheese mixture a thumbs up. Moore said she may try to include the military-style dishes in future adventures.

Times Observer photo by Lorri Drumm About a dozen people took part in “Intro to Backpacking” over the weekend at Chapman State Park. It was the first such event held within the park.

A firefly perches on a fern awaiting the time to ascend into the forest.

Backpackers built a campfire during their overnight adventure.

Backpackers try cooking an MRE beside a log during their overnight adventure.

A Io moth clung to a sheet hung in the forest during the overnight adventure.

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