Astoundingly, my wife and I just spent our 48th Valentine’s Day together. Not so amazing that we are old enough to have done that, but amazing that she has had the patience to put up with me for so many years. And over the years in the course of our life together, she has kind of figured out those things that I treasure and value.

My Valentine gift was indicative of that. She knows the things that I like, and she found a winner of a present for me. She gave me a membership in the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation (PPFF). Now, while that might not sound very exciting, or maybe not even romantic for most folks, it was the perfect gift for me, and she knew that. And here is the best part – the membership comes with the “Pennsylvania State Parks and State Forests Passport”.

The passport book is 140 pages of information on our state parks and forests, including recreational activities, views and vistas, waterfalls, flora and fauna, history, and people like Gifford Pinchot, who were instrumental in the establishment of our state park and forest system. And if you want to visit a state park, there are clear directions and contact information to each of the 121 state parks in the Commonwealth, and a description of each one as well.

We are so very fortunate to have seven of those parks within an hour’s drive of Gettysburg. Pine Grove Furnace, Caledonia, Mont Alto, Codorus, Gifford Pinchot, Kings Gap and Colonel Denning are all wonderful parks in their own right, with different activities, superb views and origins. Some feature hiking, others lakes and swimming, and some just offer some exceptional peace and quiet and history.

Pine Grove Furnace, which was featured in On the Trail in October, has all of the above. The Pine Grove Iron Works, which date back to the 1760s, are the focal point of the park, but two lakes — Fuller and Laurel — offer swimming and fishing. Hiking trails abound, and the Appalachian Trail Museum is a highlight.

Caledonia, featured in August along with Codorus, includes a swimming pool, miles of hiking trails, Totem Pole Playhouse, and lots of history. Codorus has swimming, boating, hiking, trails for horseback riding, and disc golf.

Kings Gap Environmental Center has a beautiful view looking north at the Cumberland Valley. There are 25 miles of hiking trails, and year-round environmental programs offered.

At Colonel Denning, a hike on the Flat Rock Trail provides arguably the best view of all, looking south across the Cumberland Valley. A nice lake provides a good place to spend a warm, sunny day.

Gifford Pinchot is a gem, surrounding Big Bass (Pinchot) lake. It is a great park for bird-watching, hiking, camping, swimming, and fishing. There are also two disc golf course that wind their way through the woods.

And Mont Alto, not known to many, is actually the oldest park in the state’s park system. Picnicking and quiet are featured, along with a historic carousel pavilion.

The passport book gives a nice description of all the parks, as well as the address, phone number, and location on a big map of the state.

In addition to the parks, there are 20 state forests in Pennsylvania. The one nearest to Adams County is of course Michaux State Forest. But not too far away are two other forests, Tuscarora and Buchanan. And for peak grabbers out there, the highest point in Pennsylvania, Mt. Davis at 3,213 feet, is just a short hike from a parking area in Forbes State Forest.

The passport encourages outdoor lovers of all ages to take in as many parks and forests as they can. Each site description in the book has an adjacent blank square, which can either be initialed when visited, or stamped with a passport stamp from the park office.

Champion Tags are available for those who go all in in their exploration of our state. If you visit 10 state parks or state forests designated in one of six Champion Tag categories (Deep Thoughts, Heroes, Mother Earth, Movement, Water, and I’m an Outdoor Kid), you can get a Champion Tag mailed to you. It is a fun way to see the state, get some exercise and get some credit for your travels.

In addition, there is a 798-mile state system of 18 hiking trails designated throughout the state by the Keystone Trails Association (KYA). If a hiker completes all of those trails, they receive a path and a certificate from the KTA, providing further motivation for the serious hiker. And the KTA trails don’t even include the 230 miles of the Appalachian Trail that pass through our state.

The PPFF Passport can be purchased for $12 from the store on the website www.paparksandforests.org. Membership in the PPFF is available for seniors and students for $20, and $25 for anyone else. Check out the website if you like our state parks and forests, and consider getting a passport to document your adventures!

Speaking of great views of the Cumberland Valley, a unique geological feature defines the area between Dillsburg and just north of Harrisburg, and is the reason for the scenic vistas.

What is essentially the northernmost end of the south-to-north Blue Ridge Mountains, South Mountain ends between Dillsburg and Boiling Springs. The Cumberland Valley then extends north to the southwest-to-northeast range on Blue Mountain. The valley between is essentially flat, with views of both ridges. When climbing trails on either side of the valley, amazing panoramic views can be seen looking both north from South Mountain, and looking south from Blue Mountain.

This past week I hiked on the Appalachian Trail from near where it crosses I-81 to the ridge that rises up from the valley to the Tuscorora Trail. I love the view from a rock bench just below the ridge of the Tuscorara, looking south across the valley. Similarly, the view looking north across the valley from Kings Gap is spectacular, and you can see across the 13-mile-wide valley from ridge to ridge.

We live in a beautiful area in a beautiful state. Outdoor enthusiasts can spend years getting around to all the amazing places in nature that Pennsylvania has to offer. The Pennsylvania Park and Forests Foundation is set up to get us out there to recreate, think, reflect, and appreciate Mother Nature. Now that’s romantic!

The next installment of On The Trail with Ed Riggs will appear in the March 7th edition of the Gettysburg Times.

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