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The Earth Science Center connects a walking laboratory to the community

By Staff | Aug 31, 2010

Steven Petro from Montoursville enjoys working and learning about horticulture at the Earth Science Center. He is seen clearing a bog plant on the smaller pond next to the building near the main entrance. Petro hopes to open his own landscaping business after graduation.

ALLENWOOD – A hands-on outdoor natural laboratory has been created by horticulture students at Penn College’s Herman T. Schneebeli Earth Science Center located in Allenwood for the public to enjoy. Designated self-guided trails have been established as part of a project to complete the curriculum in the School of Natural Resources Management. It is designed for the students to have an opportunity to complete an associate degree in Landscape/Nursery Technology and Forest Technology.

To enhance the trail system and as a graduation project, Forest Technology students from the class of 2008 put together a booklet of a four trail system to follow.

The system has developed over the past 38 years as many changes have been made by the students to complete their various projects for the course. Along each trail are a variety of designated interest points plus each trail is color coordinated.

A large pond is one of the main features and was built and designed by the students for recreational, environmental, and wildlife preservation purposes.

Spanning 180 acres the outdoor trail system is open to the public during the business hours and public tours are always welcome according to Dr. Mary Sullivan, Dean of the School of Natural Resources Management. Now that the students have started classes, the trails will be maintained and overgrowth removed for easier access and walking. “It is a true outdoor natural lab, a stewardship,” said Dennis Ringling, instructor of Forest Technology. “There are about 3 miles worth of trails on the property. Changes vary every year from man to Mother Nature,” added Ringling. This can include new pests, sign-age or storm damage.

Students survey the Pavilion Pond for any obstructions that was built for research and biological purposes. Birds, fish, water and other data can be collected and taken back to the classroom for further study. The man made pond is approximately 20 ft. deep. Nesting boxes were placed for mallards and geese.

The students also keep the grounds fresh, raise and cultivate the annuals, identify and plant seasonal flowers and plants. Herbaceous and cultural requirements of evergreens and perennials are also part of lab work, as well as landscape and design.

During the winter months they are busy planning, planting and cultivating plant life for architectural design and landscaping.

The Trail System

There are 4 different trails highlighting different aspects in the environment. The 100 acre Earth Science trail system was initially developed in 1974 and has been maintained by the forestry students ever since. Each year in conjunction with their Forest Recreation class, they develop a new brochure as one of their requirements for the course. “It is an excellent opportunity for them to utilize their forestry skills,” said Dr. Sullivan.

Beginning with the white trail, ten posts are stationed to dispel information about the surrounding grounds throughout the nature trails surrounded by hundreds of ornamentals. For example, post 1 will identify a Rhododendron at the start of the trail system and relates it to Pennsylvania’s state flower, the Mountain Laurel. Post 2 points out a shelter wood cut and a deer fence. Post 10 will lead to the Red trail which has 11 identifying post markers.

This trail points out great wildlife, mature Beech trees, hardwoods, Scotch pines, red maples and even a natural spring. The trail ends in a Christmas tree plantation.

The blue trail leads to a vista that is particularly enjoyable in the fall with White Deer Mountain in the background and Bald Eagle Mountain in the foreground. Post 7 on the blue trail identifies the Hemlock, Pennsylvania’s state tree.

Finally the yellow trail reveals 13 posts, a picnic pavillion, a pond used for research and wildlife and a field full of landscape activities. Post 13, the final interest point, is where woodsmen practice and compete for events such as archery, chain-saws, axe throwing, or cross-cutting.

Along the way, a brief history of the property is given showing where the land was originally used for potato farming, and 168 acres of the grounds were acquired from Allenwood’s Federal Penitentiary.

To schedule a tour or visit to learn more about Penn College’s trail system, call the School of Natural Resources Management at 570-320-8038. The trail system is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors will need to stop in the main office upon arrival and also when departing. The trail guide booklet will be given to help navigate any or all of the four trails available.

The Earth Science Center encourages students from the public schools to come for tours, especially during Environmental Day in the spring. Educational tours can be set up for landowners and garden clubs as well. Carl Bower, an instructor for the horticulture program does some public speaking for garden clubs and has done some nice work with bonsai gardens.