Photo by: Alison Brownlee
Article by: Dale Luthringer
Environmental Education Specialist
Cook Forest State Park
Why is Cook Forest State Park a jewel in the crown of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania? There is no one answer to this question, but a myriad of attributes when added together make it a truly unique destination.
It all started with the foresight of the Cook Family, who if it wasn’t for efforts, the park would’ve been stripped long ago of its greatest asset, the tall and magnificent ancient trees. Cook Forest is home to over 2300 acres of various types of old growth forest. The vast majority of this old growth acreage is dominated by white pine & hemlock with many surpassing 350 years old.
Cook Forest has no close competitor in terms of hemlock & white pine compared to any other site in Pennsylvania, and not only just Pennsylvania, but the Northeastern U.S. as well. In fact, Cook Forest stands as THE best place to go north of the Great Smoky Mountains to observe big & tall white pine. Cook Forest has catalogued 30 pines that make it into the 160ft class. There are only 7 other pines known in the entire state that make it into this elite height range. Excluding the Pennsylvania trees, all the rest of the Northeastern states combined have tallied only 21 in the 160ft class. Cook Forest has three 170 footers, and one 180 footer. Only one other tree in the Northeast is known to currently be in the 170ft class, the stately Jake Swamp Pine in the Mohawk Trail State Forest of Massachusetts. Cook Forest by far takes the mantel for tall white pine in the Northeast.
Sadly, since the onslaught of hemlock woolly adelgid along the length of the Appalachians, Cook Forest now reigns supreme as the best place to see the greatest concentration of tall ancient living hemlocks in the entire Eastern U.S!
Don’t take my word for it, just look at the numbers. Members of the Native Tree Society have been busy over the last eighteen years documenting the ancient giants of a variety of species located here. Just to name a few:
- Longfellow Pine – The tallest known tree north of the Smoky Mountains stands at 11.2ft CBH (circumference breast height) x 184.5ft tall. That’s taller than an 18 story building!
- Seneca Pine – The Pennsylvania State Champ for Eastern white pine. It is the largest known pine by volume in the state of Pennsylvania, and the 2nd largest known in the entire Northeastern U.S. It stands at 12.6ft CBH x 174.5ft tall containing 966ft3 of wood. If all of that wood was marketable, it would hold roughly 11,600 board feet of timber. That’s enough to build a small home entirely out of wood!
- Seneca Hemlock – The tallest known Eastern hemlock in the Northeastern U.S., stands at 12.1ft CBH x 147.6ft high.
- Susquehannock Hemlock – The Pennsylvania State Champ for Eastern hemlock. It is not only the largest hemlock in the state of Pennsylvania, but also the largest known hemlock by volume in the entire Northeastern U.S. It has just slightly less wood in its trunk than the massive Seneca Pine. Its dimensions come in at a whopping 13.5ft CBH x 135ft tall and 940ft3 of wood, or nearly 11,300 board feet!
- Cook Forest is also home to the 1st & 2nd tallest known black cherries north of the Smoky’s at 11.6ft CBH x 138.7ft high and 8.8ft CBH x 140.7ft high. The Davies Black Cherry, at 138.7ft, is also the Pennsylvania State Champ.
- One would think the oldest known tree in the forest would be a conifer, but actual ring counts have shown that the stately cucumbertree takes the prize. At 440+ annual rings ( taken from the log 21ft from its base) it is actually the oldest known tree of its species anywhere in the world!
Yes, Cook Forest is known for its superlatives, but don’t forget about the National Wild & Scenic Clarion River. With recent land acquisitions, DCNR Lands now traverse 28 miles of the watershed. If you’re into birding, one can often catch the stately bald eagle & osprey hunting their quarry. Fishing isn’t just for the birds. The Clarion is one of Pennsylvania’s best kept secrets for smallmouth bass and trout. Even walleye are making a comeback. Don’t forget to take a drive down river road in the winter to try and catch an otter having its morning munch on carp & suckers. Fisher are back, so watch out for those “black panthers” on your hikes & hunts through the woods.
There’s just so much to see and do at Cook Forest, that there really is no excuse for being board. Leave those hand held gadgets at home. Come to a place to be free of those trappings if only for a day. Make your own discoveries at Cook Forest and start a family tradition. You don’t have to drive hours & hours to a fantastic vacation destination. You’ve got one right at your backdoor.
Find more information of Cook Forest online at VisitPAGO.com or call the PA Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau at (814) 849-5197.