Monday, April 30, 2012

Renewed Appreciation for French Creek State Park After Brushfire

Yesterday I went for a hike.

It was the first one I have gone on in awhile, but I walked the same trails through French Creek State Park that I have for over 15 years.

I grew up walking these trails. My family and I are fortunate enough to live in the woods on the border of French Creek State Park and state game lands. We have spent many a Sunday afternoon exploring the trails; from the Mill Creek Trail, a short walk up a hill from our backyard, to the Raccoon Trail, Buzzard Trail, and all the way over to the Lenape Trail by Hopewell Furnace. As we got older, all us neighborhood kids would hike back without our parents and venture off the marked paths, uncovering natural springs and sliding down boulders and steep hills (it truly is a miracle we all survived adolescence without a single broken bone among us).

Those woods were a huge part of my childhood. But as I've gotten older, I've taken it for granted that my backyard is literally one of the most beautiful parks in the state. My thought was that it's there, it will always be there, I can go for a hike on the trails any old day, there's no rush.

That all changed a few weeks ago, when a brushfire burned through 741 acres of the park and game lands. Once the initial shock and fright of having to evacuate my house had passed, I then tried to wrap my head around the fact that all those beautifully lush woods, places where bikers, families, hikers, and I go to escape everyday, hectic lives, were replaced by charred wood and ashes. 

But I couldn't. I had to see it in order to understand.

So, I set off on the beautiful Sunday afternoon, my feet taking me on the same paths as if I had just walked them the day before. When I reached the trails, I was my old 10 year-old self again, skipping and jumping from rock to rock, invigorated by all of the natural beauty around me. I followed Mill Creek to make my way to Miller's Point, passing by a few equally happy families and mountain bikers. I started wondering if  I would even see any of the damage...everything around me as far as I could see was green green green.

Then I noticed some dead and dry brush by my feet on the trail.

I walked a little farther and I saw a burnt and charred fallen tree.

After a few dozen yards, I had gone from all green and lush, to all burnt and dead.

I was stunned. 

See more video at

Above me, most of the canopy was still green and untouched...but the forest floor and underbrush, and even quite a few entire trees, were decimated.

My heart broke knowing that this was only a few out of 741 acres that were affected by the fire. These beautifully untouched woods where I and thousands of others have spent many a happy hour are now left scarred.

Remainder of Mill Creek Trail Marker

It only took a few short days to destroy what it took nature decades to create and build. 

But I was heartened to already see signs of new growth coming out of the ash. Yes, these beautiful woods were left damaged and devastated...but not destroyed, not beyond repair.

It was a harsh and brutal reminder,  but I received it loud and clear, and I'm hoping everyone else does too: Do not take the glorious landscape around you for granted. All of us who live in the area are fortunate to have such wonderful and natural beauty in our own backyard, but we expect it will always be there. The brush fire was a reminder that it can be taken away much faster than we can possibly imagine. 

A large portion of French Creek and the surrounding area was still left untouched. I encourage everyone to go there, even if for only a short walk. Or better yet, parents, take your children and use it as an example to teach them how precious and fleeting nature can be.

Don't forget to listen to Smokey the Bear!

And if you happen to pass by a girl with a blonde ponytail and a smile, don't forget to say Hi, because as long as they are there, I know I'll be spending a lot more Sunday afternoons on the trails, just like I did growing up.

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