Disappearing forests and an urge to preserve history gave rise to one of the largest state park systems in the country.
By the late 1800s, Pennsylvania, or Penn’s Woods, were rapidly becoming depleted by the demand for railroad crossties, the growing mining industry and the oil boom launched in Titusville, Pennsylvania. This led to the creation in 1886 of the Pennsylvania Forestry Association.
Around the same time, the country was becoming more familiar with the idea of setting aside land for public use, a concept that gained popularity after Yellowstone was designated as the first National Park in the United States in 1865.
On May 1893, Gov. Robert E. Pattison signed two bills within days of each other that had a lasting effect on public lands in Pennsylvania. One established the Pennsylvania Forestry Commission, and the other established Valley Forge as a state park while creating a committee charged with purchasing more land and building facilities.
Forty-four state parks were created by the time Maurice K. Goddard, who proposed building a state park within 25 miles of every state resident, was appointed director of the Department of Parks and Forests in 1955. Two years later, a report to the General Assembly identified 175 potential state parks.
By the time he retired in 1979, Goddard had overseen the addition of 45 state parks to the system, creating as many parks in 24 years as had been created in the previous half century.
Now, there are 121 state parks and conservation areas, of which five are located at least in part in Cumberland County. Key points in their histories are offered at the DCNR website.
Colonel Denning State Park
Colonel Denning wasn’t a colonel at all.
William Denning served during the American Revolution as a sergeant from March 1778 to April 1780. He made wrought iron cannons for the army at Washingtonburg Forge, which is now known as the Carlisle Barracks.
Following his military service, he settled near Newville and is buried in the Big Spring Presbyterian Church Cemetery.
No one knows when or who added “Colonel” to his name.
The area now known as Colonel Denning State Park was designated a state recreational area around 1930, but the Civilian Conservation Corps did the work to develop the park in 1936. The work was done by Camp S-111, Sundy Place, which was located near Blain in Perry County.
King’s Gap Environmental Education Center
The newest of the state parks in the county, King’s Gap became a state park in 1973 when the state worked with the Nature Conservancy to buy the Cameron-Masland mansion and 1,430 acres of surrounding land. An additional 1,077 adjoining acres were acquired in 2011.
James McCormick Cameron, grandson of U.S. Sen. Simon Cameron, built the 32-room mansion at Kings Gap of Antietam quartzite stone that was quarried on site.
C.H. Masland and Son bought the mansion and 1,430 acres after Cameron’s death in 1949. The mansion then became known as the Masland Guest House, and was used to house potential clients as well as to host training events. Carpeting in the mansion’s bedrooms was changed frequently to showcase the company’s current line of products.
The mansion fell out of use as more hotels were built in the Carlisle area, leading to the company’s decision to sell the property.
Pine Grove Furnace State Park
In 1782, Michael Ege bought an iron works that had been established about two decades previously and dubbed the Pine Grove Iron Works. The iron works made ten plate stoves, fireplace blacks and iron kettles. It may have even made munitions during the American revolution.
The iron works changed hands, was renamed, expanded, went bankrupt and reopened through the 1800s until new technologies put it out of business for the last time in 1895 after 131 years of production.
The 17,000-acre iron works was sold to the state in 1913 to become part of the new Forest Reserve system. Part of the property became Pine Grove Furnace State Park, and the rest became Michaux State Forest.
Fuller Lake, a popular destination for park visitors today, was originally an iron ore quarry that had filled with groundwater when the mining stopped. Laurel Lake acted as a source for waterpower for the forge.
Like other area parks, the facilities at the park were improved through the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1933 to 1941.
Pine Grove Iron Works was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
Michaux State Forest
Formed from part of the state’s purchase of the old Pine Grove Iron Works, Michaux State Forest is named after a French botanist. French royalty sent Michaux to the newly independent United States in 1785 to gather plants for the royal gardens. Along the way, he discovered and named a host of plants.
The forest was the site of the state’s first forest tree nursery, its first wooden fire tower and first steel fire tower. It was also the home of the Pennsylvania State Forest Academy.
Tuscarora State Forest
Pennsylvania bought 7,608 acres at the sum of $1.72 per acre in 1902 to create what was originally known as the Rothrock Forest Reserve. The reserve later merged with the Pennypacker and McClure reserves to create the Tuscarora State Forest.
Large lumbering companies started logging the area in the early 1900s, and the business continued until 1930.
In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps built roads, trails and bridges as well as picnic areas and scenic overlooks. The forest was home to six camps for workers.