Nature

Sideling Hill

One of the wonderful qualities of western Pennsylvania is that it offers out-of-the-way locations with varied landscape and terrain. The unique characteristics of each place are often the result of geology. One of these places is Sideling Hill Creek in southern Bedford County. The pristine waters of Sideling Hill Creek flow through narrow valleys with …

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You’re in ‘Steelie Country’

When summer gives way to early fall and warm days yield to cool nights, an annual obsession begins to surface on Lake Erie streams. Steelhead and those enamored of the silvery salmonid (Oncorhynchus mykiss) migrate en masse to dozens of tributaries in Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. Anglers wade knee-deep into the chilly, slate-blue water …

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White Rocks

One of the region’s most beautiful and diverse outdoor destinations is the Laurel Highlands. When people think of visiting the Laurel Highlands, they often focus on some of the best-known spots, such as Ohiopyle State Park, Fallingwater and Bear Run Nature Reserve, or the Ligonier Valley. But farther south are more remote parts of the …

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Raccoon Creek

In 1960, newspaper columnist max henrici recounted his first visit, 20 years prior, to Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve: “It was a revelation. My eyes were opened to a multitude of interesting things… It is not too much to say that my life was revolutionized by this experience….” Henrici became a great amateur botanist and author …

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Bear Run

Bear run, the stream that inspired Fallingwater, flows under the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house. In dramatic cascades, it drops in gradient 30 feet to provide the iconic waterfall view that we all know. But that familiar portion of the stream is just a part of Bear Run. More than five miles long, the stream …

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The Wild Side

In his Westmoreland County office, Scott Tomlinson displays a photo of four men with camouflage-painted faces and a pile of dead deer in their blue pickup truck. As a state wildlife conservation officer, Tomlinson has apprehended dozens of poachers over the years, and the image has come to symbolize the bravado he has encountered again …

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Along the River’s Edge

Thomas Lippert flicks his cigarette into the ashtray on his wooden kitchen table, its varnish worn away along the edge by years of wrists and elbows. Lippert starts each day here, waking early to supplement his nicotine with a quick breakfast. On the mustard-colored wall, a prominent image of Jesus watches over Lippert, who hasn’t …

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Wolf Creek Narrows

Near Slippery Rock, 45 minutes north of Pittsburgh, lies one of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s landscape gems: Wolf Creek Narrows. The property affords a hike with streamside views and, at times, beautiful wildflowers. Wolf Creek, the property’s centerpiece, begins to the north at Pine Swamp, which the conservancy acquired and protected, and flows down into …

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The Ligonier Valley

Located in the heart of the Laurel Highlands, the Ligonier Valley rests between the northern stretches of Chestnut Ridge and Laurel Ridge. Its pastoral scenic beauty includes productive farmland, historic farmhouses, and fields and woods crossed by the Loyalhanna, Indian and Tubmill creeks. The borough of Ligonier—site of a central battle of the French and …

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The Coast of Lake Erie

Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie coastline is a place of beauty, drama and hidden environmental treasures. The bluffs and beach along this shoreline and the nearby forested ravines and gorges, seasonal pools and interior tributaries, make a special destination for anyone intent on exploring Western Pennsylvania’s most interesting natural areas. The bluffs range from five to 90 …

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Rocks of Ages

The Laurel Highlands. The very name hints of a special place. Its boundaries lie in the eye of the beholder, but most agree that the Highlands are east and south of Pittsburgh in Somerset, Fayette and Westmoreland counties. Thousands of skiers, hunters, hikers and rafters enjoy this unique geography, but do they ever ponder how …

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Laurel Hill Creek

In Somerset County, the cold, clear waters of Laurel Hill Creek run through forests and farmland, state parks and backyards, joining the Casselman River and, just downstream, the Youghiogheny. This picturesque Laurel Highlands stream sustains native trout populations, the rare eastern hellbender salamander, and a way of life. Laurel Hill Creek draws locals and tourists …

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Fall Run Park

The verdancy of summer is best experienced in a narrow western Pennsylvania ravine. These places are particularly inviting after thundershowers wash the air crystal clear, polish the leaves to a glistening shine, and fill streams with roiling water. After the rain, the rising petrichor fills the valleys and tempts us to explore corridors winding under bowed …

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Great Allegheny Passage

On May 21, 1975, a small train rolled out of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Station in Pittsburgh. At the head was a yellow, red and blue Chessie System locomotive, #6600 with asleeping kitten on the side. It was followed by a gleaming stainless steel Amtrak Silver Dome, #9401, and a vintage blue, white, red …

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Staying Close to the Plow

Outside Neal’s Harness and Tack Shop in northern Lawrence County, cars and pickup trucks park alongside Amish horse-drawn buggies. A row of gasoline-powered washing machines, a sideline of Neal’s business, squat in a row beside the entrance. Inside, the smell of leather pervades. Harnesses, saddles, reins, tack and sleigh bells on straps hang from the …

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Zoo View

As creative director and volunteer photographer of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Paul A. Selvaggio has photographed animals for the past 17 years. But it’s not quite a matter of point and click. Unlike Annie Leibovitz, when Selvaggio photographs his subjects, he has to worry about becoming their lunch. The animals’ keepers have been …

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The Origin of Spring

My benchmark for the onset of spring follows neither the facts of planetary motion, nor the predictions of a rodent. In my mind, spring starts when the daily average high temperature begins to increase after bottoming out in late January. By using this ruler, my favorite part of the year, spring, is lengthened. That magic day …

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Crystal Clear Designs

Winter slows the primal routines of nature. Trees shed delicate, food-factory leaves before they freeze. Forests subsist on sugar hived in roots protected from the cold by the consistently above-freezing deep soils. Tender wildflowers abandon all life above ground. Small creatures build their own larders — caches of autumn’s bounty gathered and stashed underground out of …

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The Perfect Snow

I’m both amused and dismayed by media weatherspeak. I’m amused by the hyperbole of Storm Watcher Central and Severe Weather Tracker.  You’ve seen the flashing alerts across the screen. The messengers and their moving maps presume to provide detailed information absolutely needed to save family and property from harm in the face of imminent and sure …

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Row Your Boat

You should see Pittsburgh from down here, with nothing but a shell of wood and a few threads of spandex between you and the Allegheny, the water slapping at your elbows and the skyscrapers jutting like exclamation points at the end of the river. Pittsburgh is a city more often looked down onto, as from …

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Farewell to a Summer Love

August afternoons resemble the blazing passion of new love: intense and torrid. August evenings are the antithesis: gentle and serene. They are a mature experience that is like a long, tender embrace. On August walks I avoid the blistering, high-sky sun of midday and seek shelter in shaded, cool, stream-cut ravines. The forest umbrella blocks the …

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The Dead of Winter

I have often tried to find the beauty in a frigid day. I have frequently searched for loveliness in a meadow swept bare and brown by icy winds. I have repeatedly tried to uncover elegance in snow-wrapped woodlands. My pursuits have always failed. I will always no more than tolerate winter. Each time I make …

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