The Big Trestle Trail at Susquehannock State Forest near Cross Fork, Pennsylvania is a moderate 4-mile hike that includes historical points of interests in the mountains that surround Ole Bull State Park. This outing to this remote corner of Potter County adds to the Spook Hollow & Ole Bull Vista Loop orientation with more trail opportunities available here in the purlieus of the Ole Bull Castle site.
This hike follows several named trails and roads in order: Susquehannock Trail System aka STS Spook Hollow (orange blazes), Snowmobile Trail (red blazes), Big Trestle Trail (red blazes), finishing on the STS Big Spring Branch Trail (orange blazes) back to Twelve Mile Rd.
This hike begins along Twelve Mile Rd - just south of where the STS heads east from the road. Hikers will need to head northeast along Twelve Mile Road for less than 0.1-miles to reach the STS trailhead. Hikers will note the number "23" on the STS sign before hiking downhill from the road - this is mile marker 23 for the STS. The STS follows orange blazes downhill for about 0.2-miles before reaching the Spook Hollow Shelter. The Spook Hollow Shelter along the STS is a great spot to setup camp.
Spook Hollow Pine Forest
Around mile 0.4, hikers will reach the entrance to Spook Hollow, with a sign that's labeled "Spook Hollow". This section of the hike is the first main attraction as the STS cuts through a spooky evergreen forest with a mix of red pine, Norway spruce, and possibly some white spruce.
This portion of the hike is a down-valley slope journey through an impressive stand of old-growth pines at the bottom of spook hollow. Likely these pines were the reforestation plantings done by the Camp Ole Bull Civilian Conservation Corps which is further highlighted under the Historical Points of Interest of this hiker's write-up.
Snowmobile Trail to Big Trestle Trailhead
Once the hiker exits Spook Hollow, they'll find themselves in a clear-cut pipeline area. This is where the Snowmobile Trail turns left at the Big Spring Branch Trailhead and heads northeast, following red blazes. The portion of hike, is a short one-quarter-of-a-mile and is a fairly easy uphill climb on the wide open Snowmobile Trail as it runs to Big Trestle Trailhead marked with the number "21".
The Big Trestle Trails
this track cuts through the woods for three-quarters-of-a-mile between the Snowmobile Trail and goes over the ridgeline into the Big Trestle Hollow to reach a scenic open field vista, which is likely an old farmstead pastureland. From that point, the hiker turns right and goes down-valley a short distance. The hiker then turns right on the pipeline and hikes on the gas well access road that runs uphill and back over the ridgeline back into the Big Spring Branch Hollow following the access road which bears to left at the bottom of the hill on the Big Spring Branch side of the ridgeline.
At this point of the hike, the hiker will encounter an intersection of trails at the Big Spring Road junction with the gas well access road. The Big Trestle Trail/NLT trail (blazed red) continues to the southeast at the Big Spring Road junction. The STS (blazed orange) runs north and south just past the Big Spring Road junction.
Big Spring Branch Trail
On this hike, instead of following the Big Trestle Trail/NLT trails to the south, the hiker treks to the north on the STS Big Spring Trail (orange blazes) through the southern boundary of the CCC pine tree plantation back into Spook Hollow on the STS and to Twelve Mile Rd.
During this part of the hike, the hiker will come across the remains of an railroad embankment with near-by pre-defined STS campsite. Further along, or about a quarter-of-a-mile north of the STS campsite at the railroad embankment, there are some private cabins (cottages). One of cabins has an accessible springhouse with a large flowing water source. This perhaps this is the eponymous namesake of this hollow.
Hiking Out from Big Spring Hollow
From Big Spring Hollow, hikers will follow the orange blazes of the STS north to head back toward Twelve Mile Road. One the way, there's one more pipeline crossing where the continuation of the STS is uphill toward the east, located across from a gas well (as of November 2021). After re-entering the STS at the pipeline is similar to Spook Hollow where most of the forest is made up of mixed evergreens. Hikers will then reach one more pipeline crossing - at the STS Spook Hollow and Snowmobile Trail junction. Here, continue on the STS north to reach the parking area to complete the hike.
A Crime Scene (circa 11/14/2021)
Before beginning the hike, the hikers came upon a crime scene that had been taped off at the parking turnout. What deplorable event had occurred here? It appeared to be a timber theft. A large Red Oak had been cut down, an apparent illegal harvest. The logs used for timber production had been removed. There were more of these crime scenes along the Twelve Mile Rd. toward the intersection with State Route 44 to the east. The slashings were left at the forest edge from these cuttings.
As a result, we all lose. Besides the monetary value of the stolen timber and the loss of natural beauty, trees help regulate the temperature of the planet. The processes of photosynthesis and respiration in trees capture carbon and release oxygen. If the stolen oak trees were about 60 years old, they sequester 23 lbs. pounds of carbon from the atmosphere each year per tree. Hope that the crooks are caught.
Hikers will find a large parking turnout near a yellow gate by the coordinates provided. The turnout is large enough for about 5 vehicles or more without blocking the gate. Do not block the yellow service gate.
These trails are dog-friendly and their waste should be carried out by the hiker.
Biking is allowed along all of these multi-use trails and roads in the area except for the STS or the Big Trestle Trail. Additionally, horses are not allowed along the STS or the Big Trestle Trail. .
Camping and Backpacking
Camping is allowed along these trails where state forest rules permit backcountry / dispersed / primitive camping. The Spook Hollow Shelter is by far the best place to camp along this hike; and there was another pre-defined campsite on this hike along the Big Spring Branch about 1-3/4 miles south of the Spook Hollow Shelter on the STS. The STC builds and maintains the shelters. The shelters on the STS are placed with preference toward and to give a comfortable stay for those thru-hikers doing an end-to-end hike.
History and Historical Points of Interest
Castle Vista Trail Ole Bornemann Bull (1810 - 1880), a once-famous Norwegian violinist, relocated a colony of fellow Norwegians near the site in September 1852. From this vantage point (Nordjeuskald), Ole Bull started to build his castle, but this large wooden cabin was never completed. All that remains today is the foundation and a stone retaining wall along the mountainside. The colony disbanded and moved west after a year of severe hardships.
Dense forests of magnificent white pine, hemlock and hardwoods grew here in Potter County for many decades. In the late 1800's and early 1900's, industrial saw mills, tanneries, and chemical plants were established, using wood or bark as raw materials which brought rapid population increases. As the hillsides became barren, the population spiraled downward with much of the deforested timberland abandoned, Before than, Native Americans had passed through the forested wilderness.
Ole Bull State Park was established in 1920. Civilian Conservation Corps Camp Ole Bull S-87-PA located in the Kettle Creek watershed was opened in the 1933 . Its servicemen constructed picnic shelters, dammed the creek for swimming, and assisted local foresters in fire control and reforestation of the land. The Camp Ole Bull closed in 1941.
Lumbering Era Railroad Embankment (NOT a Trestle)
A point of interest in this hike is the earthen embankment made to avoid a change in grade over a the Big Spring Branch on the route, located at about 1-mile south from the Big Spring Branch trailhead. This earthwork spans at least 200-foot-long above the creek below. The structure appears to be about 15 feet at it's tallest point. An interesting feature of embankment is the railroad crossties remains which can be seen with careful observation. Railroad crosstie spacing was approximately 19 inches for wood ties. This spacing was found, by looking carefully at the fallen leaves that had filled in the slight indentations between the flats on the top of remains of the ties which were more exposed but covered by moss. A repeating pattern of fallen leaves and mossy ground appeared across the top of this old earthen railroad embarkment found in Big Spring Branch hollow.
Impson Hollow CCC-Era Dynamite Storage Shed
Two additional historically point of interest were also found in the area, but located closer to Ole Bull State Park. In Impson Hollow, there is a brick and mortar building with a heavy iron door sitting along the Impson Hollow Branch of Joerg Run near the trailhead on the Joerg Road. This old building is located along the trail, several hundred feet upstream of the lower end of of access trail and has been substantially damaged from being impacted by a large tree blowdown hitting on it's wooden roof with metal roofing. The access trail is an unmarked, abandon roadway, that is grown in somewhat with brush and smaller trees. The access trail follows along the Impson Hollow Branch of Joerg Run starting near the trailhead on the Joerg Road and continues upstream to the where the STS passes through the upper end of Impson Hollow. It is believed that this structure, based on research done by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Historian John Eastlake, was the dynamite storage building for CCC Camp S-87-PA at Ole Bull. In the early CCC program, the camps did not have bulldozers or other heavy equipment, so they used dynamite to break up stumps and rocks into pieces small enough to move out of the way with muscle power and hand tools. Dynamite storage facilities were always located at a safe distance from the CCC camps. The Ole Bull Camp was located near Kettle Creek at the intersection of Joerg Road and Ole Bull Road, about a mile away from the dynamite shed.
CCC-Era Stone and Brick Oven
Near to the intersection of Joerg Road and Ole Bull Road, about a mile away from the dynamite shed is a CCC-Era Stone and Brick Oven, likely used by the Ole Bull CCC camp for meal preparation. This structure is located just off of the Joerg Road, and can be seen from the public roadway.
Seasonal Wild Plants of Interest
Ground Pine: These small tree-like perennial forest plants stay green all winter and are often used for Christmas wreath decorations.
Turkey Tail Mushroom: This common forest mushroom (nonedible) grows on downed branches, and adds a bit of Thanksgiving motif to the late-fall forest floor.
Autumn Leaves and Winter Is Coming In
The Big Trestle Trail hike searched for any ruins left behind in these parts from earlier times and found some to explore on this day. With that, it is important to remember, my hiking friends, we are all like the falling leaves in the autumn wind or perhaps mere snow flakes in the coming winter furry. We only get brief time to make our journey through this space. So, be sure to make the best of it.