PA Outdoor Corps in the Highlands

Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps member Kayla Snyder writes about this season’s work in the Highlands at Pine Grove Furnace State Park.

After three long months inside during stay-at-home Covid-19 protocol, the Harrisburg Student Conservation Association (SCA) was finally going to Pine Grove Furnace State Park! In PA, it is also called the Pennsylvania Outdoor Corps (PAOC), giving young adults experience working with DCNR to improve state parks and forests for recreation and conservation. Various teams work all over the state in state parks and forests building/ maintaining trails, tending to invasive plant control, and building/ fixing visitor-use structures. The Student Conservation Association brings a diverse group of people together who all have a love of nature to promote conservation.

Growing up a local to Pine Grove Furnace, makes it a special place in my heart. I grew up eight minutes from Pine Grove Furnace exploring the trail system, swimming in the lakes, and getting to know its history. My dad took me fishing in the creek and lake, hiking up the popular Pole Steeple, and biking the peaceful path between Laurel and Fuller Lakes. This park kept alive special memories and helped me cope with getting older. Returning to do work with SCA, I hoped the work I did with the Harrisburg team would enhance visitors’ experiences and keep the park healthy for years to come. For the first time since March the Harrisburg team headed to a state park, and what better one than a very familiar park!

The Harrisburg team was at Pine Grove Furnace for two weeks. During those two weeks, we worked with Andre, the Friends of Pine Grove Furnace leader.  We tackled invasive barberry plants, cleared a walking path and drainage area, cleared two pavilion concrete pads of woody debris, started to build a new trail, and learned a lot of local history.  Pine Grove Furnace has numerous historical sites because it once served as an assimilation school for local Native Americans to indoctrinate them in the ways of “white” people.  Before that, it was an old iron furnace.  Near the old swimming pool, we helped clear the site and created a new path by pulling barberry from its giant yellow roots. On the Mountain Creek Trail, we cleared woody debris that was causing water retention on the trail.  To do this we laid down stone so the water could flow through and then topped the stone with mulch; the result was a better walking experience. The large concrete sites were cleared using chainsaws to remove large trees and then were washed to show how big one of the previous camp sites was. The last project we worked on was creating a new trail from the Furnace Lot to the Fuller Lake Lot, to get to the office and the other side of the park for events. We got to learn a lot as we worked because in the soil there were pieces of history; in a lot of the park there were iron deposits creating slag. As we were building the new trail, we would come across broken old china or glassware. It was interesting to see this stuff still around and learn more about the park that is so close to home.

Harrisburg PA Outdoors Corps create a new trail between Furnace Lot and Fuller Lake Lot.

The work that the Student Conservation Association PA Outdoor Corps is doing can be directly linked to the Highlands Conservation Act. This program makes it possible for our teams to continue to bring conservation, protection and recreation to natural areas. People depend on the health and resilience of land, water and wildlife resources. Conservation of these resources provides clean drinking water and clean air, recreational opportunities, and supports local communities and economies. As our season has progressed, we have learned more about how the Highlands Conservation Act is weaved into what we and park staff do. For example, stewardship goals for this program include clean water and timber. We actively got to learn about and participate in stream studies for water health and learned about the forest and the importance of timber and sales. The work done by SCA and the PAOC is so valuable to programs like this; we directly affect the nature surrounding us by promoting our love of conservation and giving back to our communities.

My hope is that visitors can enjoy these areas for years and years to come and can appreciate Pine Grove Furnace State Park as much as my team did while we worked. I hope to return soon as a visitor to reap the benefits of our work and will feel proud of where I started.

Written by Kayla Snyder, Harrisburg Team, PA Outdoors Corps

The Pennsylvania Highlands is a 1.4 million acre region that encompasses parts of 13 counties and boasts unique ecological and cultural resources that contribute to the economic and aesthetic value of the area, as well as provides opportunities for outdoor recreation and enjoyment. To learn more, visit