A good project for a non-caving year is a surface map. An even better project is a mapping project that we get paid for. The MAKC had the benefit, in this non-caving year (we hope our last), of being asked to do a surface map of hiking trails on the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve at Saint Vincent College, Latrobe, where I work. There are no caves on the preserve, but we were able to map the surface trails in a weekend project. A grant paid for our services. Our volunteers, Allison Comfort, Kerry Speelman, Mike Kern, the Metzgars, John L. Long, and Mike Schirato, made contributions to the MAKC totalling more than $750, after travel and meal expenses were paid for through the grant. As a bonus, the volunteers’ names are listed on the map as well as the MAKC website. The trail map and descriptions will also be on the nature reserve’s website: wpnr.org. Winnie Palmer, for those who do not know, is the late first wife of Latrobe golfing great Arnie Palmer.
WINNIE PALMER NATURE RESERVE TRAIL SYSTEM
Currently, there are ten crushed gravel trails in the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve, offering everything from a short loop to the historic Lochry Blockhouse, to longer loops close to the perimeter of the reserve. The ten trails on the reserve property total 8942 feet or 1.7 miles. Walkers can increase their mileage to 2.1 by also hiking along both entrance driveways.
Two parking areas provide access to the reserve.
• From Route 981, between Monastery Drive and Route 30, look for the Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve sign on the west side of the road, just opposite the Dairy Queen. Turn onto Old Route 981 at the sign. After 500 feet, turn at a second WPNR sign. Follow a gravel driveway, Walzer Way, lined with post and rail fence, for 1872 feet to the Barn, where parking is available. Several pull-off areas allow for drivers to linger along the drive and view the Saint Vincent campus and its Archabbey Basilica.
• From Route 30, turn onto Saint Vincent Drive and look for a gravel driveway on the east (right) side of the road. This leads to an eighteen-car park and walk lot. This parking area has a restroom area with a water fountain designed for use by visitors when Barn facilities are not open.
Plants and trees observed on the reserve include swamp milkweed, butterflyweed, New England aster, New York aster, false blue indigo, thousand flowered aster, turtlehead, purple coneflower, Joe pye weed, hyssop leaved boneset, boneset, sneezeweed, thin leaved sunflower, woodland sunflower, false sunflower, dwarf gayfeather, gayfeather, great blue lobelia, wild bergamot, sundrops, Jacob’s ladder, green headed coneflower, blackeyed Susan, wild petunia, Virginia cup plant, bluestem goldenrod, Pennsylvania spiderwort, blue verbain, upland ironweed, New York ironweed, golden Alexanders, switchgrass, little bluestem, Indiangrass, white spruce, lowbush blueberry, elderberry, paw paw, Allegheny serviceberry, cranberry viburnum, black gum, trumpet vine and trumpet honeysuckle, spicebush, white wood aster, foamflower, blackhaw viburnum, ironweed, wild bergamot, false sunflower, blackeyed Susan, switchgrass, purple coneflower. Herbs include sorrel, fennel, lovage, oregano, burnet, chives, rosemary, lavender and sage.
The Blockhouse Trail is a short 840 foot gravel path from the Barn to the Lochry Blockhouse that loops back to the Thicket Trail and ends near the Butterfly Garden.
From the patio behind the Barn, head west along the gravel path. Trailwalkers will see the western parking lot and restroom facility and a sign for the Cattail Trail. Continuing along the Blockhouse Trail, hikers cross a small bridge just a few dozen feet from the Blockhouse. A monument and inscription on the south side of the bridge tell the story of Archibald Lochry and the building that bears his name. Check the WPNR website to see when the Blockhouse is open for visitation.
To go back to the Barn, head east, crossing a grassy expanse of lawn which eventually turns into a gravel path. About 250 feet, or halfway back to the Barn from the Blockhouse is the terminus of the Thicket Trail. Continue east to the junction with the other end of the Thicket Trail, near the Butterfly Garden in front of the Barn.
The 365 foot long Butterfly Loop connects the eastern entrance driveway with the Meadow Trail 535 feet from the start of the entrance driveway and 215 feet from the Garden Path. It forks providing two routes to the Meadow Trail.
The Cattail Trail begins near the end of the 400 foot long western entrance driveway to the reserve. It loops from the entrance driveway to the west, then turns south before meeting the Blockhouse Trail about 90 feet east of the Lochry Blockhouse. There is also a short connector trail to the restroom facility at the entrance driveway. It is 450 feet long.
This Deer Trail begins just beyond the observation trail along the Thicket Trail. It continues west for about 400 feet before bending to the north, where it intersects with Woods Way. The Deer Trail makes a sharp bend to the west, where, after about 60 feet an intermittent stream crosses the trail (beware in wet weather). This section heads northwest for nearly 500 feet where it meets with the other end of Woods Way, which is 490 feet long. From this intersection it is 260 feet to the junction with the Blockhouse Trail, and nearly equidistant to the Lochry Blockhouse and the start of the Thicket Trail near the Barn.
The Deer Trail, for a short distance, parallels nearby Route 30 and offers one of the best views of the Barn. It is 1110 feet long.
The Garden Path Trail, 1060 feet long, begins at the Monastery Garden 170 feet from the eastern entrance driveway off Old Route 981. At the fence break, this 950 foot long trail crosses a grassy area by the gardens, where a gravel pathway begins under a grove of pine trees. A children’s play and explore area, north of this pine grove, was developed in 2009.
Trending north, then east through the grove, the Garden Path forks after 350 feet. A short 200 foot branch returns to the entrance driveway, only 150 feet west of the start of the trail. The main trail extends another 400 feet to meet the Tall Grass Trail just south of the walkway entering the reserve from the main Saint Vincent campus along Saint Vincent Drive.
The 1270 foot long Meadow Trail begins on the east side of the Butterfly Garden at the Barn. It heads east for 420 feet, paralleling the entrance road, and passing several bat houses, to where it intersects with the Thicket Trail. The pathway turns northeast for 670 feet where it meets the south branch of the Butterfly Loop. Seventy-five feet later it meets the east branch of the Butterfly Loop, before continuing another 180 feet to its terminus at the end of the eastern entrance driveway and near the Monastic Gardens.
The Pond Trail is a short 250 foot loop accessed from the Thicket Trail on the southeastern portion of the reserve. A spring on the north side of the trail feeds a pond that was under construction in the summer of 2009. It loops back to the Thicket Trail. Distance from the end of the Spring Loop to the site of the future pond, through the woods to the Thicket Trail is 360 feet.
TALL GRASS TRAIL
The 1295 foot long Tall Grass Trail enters the nature reserve along Saint Vincent Drive just south of the main Saint Vincent campus. Trending east for 300 feet, it meets the western end of the Garden Path. It heads south for 585 feet, before turning east for 250 feet and meeting the western entrance driveway off Saint Vincent Drive. Just before the trail turns east to meet the Cattail Trail, a short 100 foot extension affords a view of the back patio and access to the barn. Another short extension, added in 2009, cuts through a patch of woods behind the Barn and ends up at a gate on the east side of the Barn.
Just south of the Butterfly Garden, across a small intermittent stream, a sign marks the start of The Thicket Trail, which is 1762 feet long, or just a little over three-tenths of a mile. The first leg, which trends to the south, passes the pond and leads gently upslope for 120 yards to an observation deck, where visitors can enjoy another panorama of the Saint Vincent campus. Continuing along the trail, a “T” intersection is encountered. The left or eastern branch of the “T” is a continuation of the Thicket Trail which eventually meets the Meadow Trail. The right or western branch of the “T” is the Deer Trail, which connects to the Blockhouse Trail after 844 feet.
Just beyond the observation deck, at the intersection of Deer Trail and Thicket Trail, the pathway heads east along the southeastern boundary of the reserve for 574 feet, before turning to the north and intersecting the Spring Trail. A spring emerges from the ground on the north side of the pathway, which is 256 feet long. Its waters feed the pond that was constructed in summer of 2009. From the juncture with the Spring Trail, the Thicket Trail goes another 270 feet to where it meets the Meadow Trail.
The entrance driveway on the east side of the reserve is known as Walzer Way. It is 1872 feet long, or .35 miles. Several pull-offs along the drive allow visitors to stop and view the grounds of the Saint Vincent campus, with especially nice views of the Archabbey Basilica and the Fred Rogers Center.
The western entrance driveway is accessed from Saint Vincent Drive and is 400 feet long.
Woods Way is a 490 pathway accessed from the Deer Trail. It provides an alternate route to the Deer Trail through a small patch of woods. About midway along the trail the intermittent stream that crosses the Deer Trail occasionally overflows and washes out a small portion of this pathway. Be careful here in winter as well, due to ice.
By Kim Metzgar