Fruitful journey on commission trails

Robert Stanger

I have noticed that signs that there was once human habitation on land taken over by the Game Commission, other than perhaps mounds of earth where there were once the foundations for dwellings, are apple trees, now often rather large and gnarled but still producing an annual crop.

Such trees would supplement settler diets of limited ingredients with a tasty fruit high in fiber and vitamin C that could be easily stored for long periods.

Perhaps the area’s “apple heritage” could be linked to Johnny Appleseed (1774-1855), whose real name was John Chapman This follower of the Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg (“the life of religion is to do good”) traveled through much of the northern U.S. planting apple trees en route. He was born in Leominster, Mass., and died in Fort Wayne, Ind.

He is credited with introducing apples to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Ontario, Indiana and Illinois, as well as northern West Virginia. He established his first nursery 1798 locally, along the banks of Brokenstraw Creek west of Warren.

Apples in those days were primarily used to make hard cider.

There are a couple of very large old apple trees on what was obviously once a farm on Game Lands 86, which covers more than 14,000 running along the Allegheny River south of Warren. It surrounds our cabin at Althom.

This old farm is located at the end of a spur road which runs off the eastern portion of the segmented gated service road that runs from a parking lot off Davey Hill Road down to the river.

In addition to the huge old trees, this old site also includes the ruins of a home’s foundation, two small ponds and fields cultivated by the Game Commission on which some corn is planted as food for wild animals. There is also a thick stand of hemlocks on this property, and other plantings which probably date back to when the site was that of an operating farm

Some saplings on the property appear to have been planted by the Game Commission.

There is also a long string of bushes in the form of a hedgerow that runs down through the property, which slopes gently to the south. Paralleling the old hedgerow is a path through the high grass which covers most of the old farm. A sign posted in jest, but probably with some accuracy, identifies the path as “Bear Lane.”

I have visited this old property a number of times, but rather doubt that I will again. It is too far a round trip walk from the Davey Hill parking lot, and this same trip on an off-road bike is too arduous now for this rider.

The site is close to a dead-end road to the east which could provide another means of access. But there may be no place to park on this road.

Another location where I have noticed old apple trees that could be a sign of past settler residence is along the Game Commission service road which runs through Game Lands 29 and connects Chapman State Park and Dunham Siding on the Hearts Content road.

A Game Commission ranger once remarked to me that this game lands was one of the first such areas established and is considered one of the most scenic such areas.

This would indicate that the Commission has more of an interest in nature than just timbering its holdings and promoting the shooting of the wild animals that inhabit those places. State game lands cover 1.5 million acres in Pennsylvania.

Any settlers on the Game Lands 29 area would indeed have had very pleasant surroundings as the clear waters of the West Branch of Tionesta Creek (dammed by beavers at one location) run through the area’s wide, scenic valley.

Thankfully, an old oil well drilled along the creek hasn’t operated in many years, and its pump and tanks are now just rusted relics.

The third place where I have noticed old apple trees at the site of an old habitation was up Conklin Run, which enters the Allegheny River opposite the former Cloverleaf Campgrounds, located between Irvine and Tidioute on Route 62 where, for several years, we enjoyed our camper trailer parked just above the river.

I happened to walk down the very narrow Conklin Run gorge to the river one day after following an old road that ran down a slope into the gorge. Whoever had constructed a small home in the gorge and planted the apple trees next to it must have really sought seclusion.

I have never had much inclination to munch on the fruit of these old apple trees. The age of the trees has probably taken its toll on their quality, but they do provide food for deer and other wildlife.

One wild fruit that I have enjoyed consuming which I have picked in a couple of locations not far from our cabin are blackberries. The thorny patches that produce this fruit spring up after tree cover is removed by natural causes or by timbering. Such patches are short-lived, however, as the brambles are soon crowded out by resurgent tree saplings.

I’ve had two rather odd experiences while picking blackberries.

One happened while I was in a patch just east of Heart’s Content. There was a noticeable stirring in the patch as I plucked the fruit, and I thought that there was at least one other person in the patch besides me, but I couldn’t get an overview of thicket as the growth was too high

However, when I had finished my picking and stepped out onto the road where I had left my car, no other parked vehicle was in sight, which made me wonder as to the identity of my blackberry patch “companion.” If it had been a bear, the animal certainly hadn’t seemed much bothered by my presence. But I couldn’t come up with an alternative theory for the stirrings in the patch.

The other odd event occurred when I was picking berries along the lower portion of the segmented service road that runs through Game Lands 58.

I was startled when two obviously terrified deer ran toward me, crashing through the brush about as fast as they could move. Although they passed me so close that I could have reached out and touched one of them, they seemed oblivious to my presence.

When I stepped out onto the road and looked toward where the two deer had come from, there was no sign of any threat, human or otherwise.

Again, I suspected a bear (or, even perhaps a cougar). I doubt that a coyote would have frightened the deer as much as their behavior indicated.

Robert Stanger has lived seasonally for over 40 years along the Allegheny River and has the stories to tell about it.


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