DCNR invites residents, visitors to enjoy recreational opportunities along Clarion River corridor in Pennsylvania Wilds

DCNR Secretary Richard Allan this week stopped at the Millstone Township Canoe Access Area during a tour of the Clarion River corridor, where he highlighted the partnerships that have improved recreational opportunities on the river in Clarion, Elk, Forest and Jefferson counties.

“The Clarion River was once one of the most-polluted waterways in Pennsylvania, but today through hard work, partnerships and investments it offers residents and visitors alike tremendous opportunities for river-based recreation,” Allan said. “We are here to celebrate the success that can be achieved when some start-up dollars, local commitment and a wide range of partners work together.”

In addition to canoeing and kayaking, the corridor offers opportunities for picnicking, sightseeing, camping, watching wildlife, birding, fishing and hiking. The corridor is the southwestern gateway to 12 ½-county Pennsylvania Wilds region.

Overcoming some initial local reservations, the cooperation among various groups working in the corridor paved the way for 10 municipalities to create the Clarion River Municipal Partnership.

“The Pennsylvania Wilds initiative has provided a common focus that has brought a wide range of federal, state and local agencies together to work on mutual issues,” said Millstone Township Supervisor Eric Patton, partnership chairman. “It certainly helped spark the municipal partnership, whose work is important not only to help attract visitors to the region but also to foster pride in our local communities among residents.”

DCNR has invested heavily in the Clarion River corridor through its Pennsylvania Wilds initiative, which focuses on developing sustainable nature and heritage tourism in the area.

The department has provided more than $307,000 in grants through its Community Conservation Partnership Program for new visitor amenities like restrooms near river access points such as the one in Millstone Township; better signage and maps; additional fishing access; improvements to boat launches; and feasibility studies for communities like Ridgway and Johnsonburg to make closer connections to the river.

These investments have helped to leverage more than $2 million in other federal, state and private funding for the corridor.

More than 51 miles of the Clarion River are free-flowing and contain outstandingly remarkable scenic and recreational values. Since 1980, water quality in the Clarion River has steadily improved.

Much of the land in this part of the Pennsylvania Wilds is privately owned or a part of the Allegheny National Forest.

“The collaboration that is encouraged under the Pennsylvania Wilds effort has enabled staff at the Allegheny National Forest to get much more work done on the ground, providing diverse recreational opportunities, than we could ever have accomplished alone,” said ANF Supervisor Erin Connelly. “It has helped tremendously as we work to protect and improve the assets along the Clarion, which is a designated National Wild and Scenic River.”

Clear Creek and Cook Forest state parks are within the Clarion River corridor. The old-growth forest in Cook Forest State Park is a registered National Natural Landmark and adds significantly to the visual quality of the river corridor.

During his visit to the region, Allan also had a chance to tour and stay at the newly re-opened Inn at Cook Forest in the state park. Built around 1870, the inn was the home of the Cook family, whose long-term vision preserved the natural areas of Cook Forest State Park for future generations. The inn is now owned by DCNR and is being operated as a public-private partnership.

The nine-room inn is once again open for overnight stays. It features furniture from the Cook family collection. A full breakfast is provided. For more information or a reservation, call the inn at 814-744-8590.

This evening, Allan will attend the annual dinner of the Pennsylvania Wilds Planning Team. The event will feature an update on the regional initiative as well as the presentation of the Champion of the Pennsylvania Wilds Awards.

This year’s Great Places Award is being presented to Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County and park manager Jason Heasley for the recently-completed glass floor observation deck as an outstanding example of how partners can create a major new tourism destination while honoring the region’s history.

The Kinzua Viaduct, once known as the longest and tallest railroad structure, was partially destroyed by a tornado in 2003. In 2011, the engineering masterpiece was reinvented as a pedestrian walkway where visitors can stroll 600 feet out on the remaining support towers to view the Kinzua Gorge as well as peer down into the partial glass platform at the end of the walkway.

For more information about the Pennsylvania Wilds, go here.

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