The mountains of Central Pennsylvania are home to many superb trails. The Appalachian Trail runs into the central part of the state and then turns east just north of Harrisburg, and the Mid-State Trail allows travelers to traverse the entire state from north to south or vice versa. Many State Parks and State Forests dot the landscape and provide additional trails for all ages and skill levels.
One such State Forest provides visitors the opportunity to experience a bit of Pennsylvania history while at the same time enjoying some quality trail time in the woods. Weiser State Forest, specifically the Roaring Creek Tract part of the Forest, is home to four historic miner trails from the 19th century.
In the 1800s, coal mines were a main source of work for many Central Pennsylvania inhabitants, and the industry is a big part of the region’s history. At the time however, advanced road systems had not been invented. To get to work, miners in parts of today’s Columbia County would meet in the early hours of the morning and walk in groups up over the mountain on footpaths into the main production towns of Natalie and Wilburton. Each neighborhood had its own little meeting place in the morning – whether it was at someone’s house or just a tree on the edge of town. In the evening when the miners came home to their families, the wives and children would count the strings of helmet lights to make sure everyone came back safely from a hard day at work.
Eventually, with the invention of automobiles, a road system came into place. At the same time, as other industries rose and many of the coal mines slowly closed, these once vital paths for miners slowly disappeared into the obscurity of the forest.
In 2004, the Roaring Creek and Catawissa Valley Historical Study Group was reviewing old maps of the area, and noticed the old abandoned miner trails that seemed to transect the valley in a north to south direction. The group approached the Bureau of Forestry to seek permission to reestablish the trails and was granted authorization to do so.
With the assistance of local scouts and other interested individuals, the group worked diligently for many months to re-establish the trails. Many of the trees contained visible hash marks from past trailblazing so finding the trails was easy. Cleaning them to make the paths passable was the hard work. In 2005, the trails were completed and a night hike commemorated the project. A group of more than 200 people gathered to hike the trails and feel what it was like to be one of the miners that hiked to work in the early morning darkness on those trails almost 200 years prior.
Today there are four historic trails that are open for visitors to explore. They are referred to as Natalie #1 East, Natalie #1 West, Natalie #2 and Old Natalie Road. The four trails are approximately six miles in length. In total, Weiser State Forest, Roaring Creek Tract has around 40 miles of shared use trails for hiking, mountain biking and cross-country skiing.