Time for the yearly climb to the top of Bald Mountain and the forest of wind turbines.
By Bob Quarteroni
“I was told it was called Bald Mountain because in the past they would burn the top off – making it appear bald – so the blueberry bushes would thrive,” said Charlene Wildes, North Branch Land Trust volunteer naturalist.
And thrive they have, a low, sprawling counterpoint to the gigantic alien-looking wind turbines that make up the Bear Creek Wind Farm at the very top of Bald Mountain in Bear Creek Township.
A unique combination of the natural – and a view of technology that harnesses the natural to provide clean energy — greeted trekkers on Sunday’s hike of Bald Mountain, a unique nature preserve.
The hillside preserve stretches from Bear Creek Camp to near the top of the mountain, where the privately owned Bear Creek turbines spin, and which is privately owned and not open to hikers or sightseers. But looking at the turbines even from a distance makes you realize just how massive these whirring sentinels are.
Seventeen hardy souls took on the three-mile hike that was sponsored by the North Branch Land Trust, which is helping to keep Bald Mountain pristine by preserving a large tract of it.
Starting in 2011, NBLT worked with the landowners and others to preserve the property. They secured $850,00 in funding for the purchase from a Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Program Grant and in 2013 the 385-acre Bald Mountain Preserve on the East Mountain came into being.
“North Branch Land Trust conserved a 385-acre portion of Bald Mountain in 2013 and transferred the property to Natural Lands Trust that same year,” said Paul Lumia, NBLT Executive Director. “Bald Mountain is a unique natural area in that it straddles two significate watersheds, the Delaware watershed to the east and the Susquehanna watershed to the west. The mountain also harbors a globally rare scrub oak barrens habitat that is invaluable to wildlife at local and landscape scales.”
So now, Lumia said, “When you’re driving on the Cross-Valley Expressway and you look up at the windmills, you know all that property below the windmills is protected.”
The rugged terrain of this mountain is largely forested. Dominant species include red oak, white oak, and red maple. Two state-designated “high quality” streams flow through the property, bordered by native hemlocks and aspens.
And the trail abuts a large glacial bog that is home to several rare and carnivorous plants.
Wildlife abounds, from the chattering of migratory songbirds – such as scarlet tanagers, Eastern towhees and hermit thrushes — to black bears, bald eagles and the red eft (salamander) that charmed folks on Sunday.
The walk left hikers feeling inspired.
Sue Lenahan of Penn Lake said that “it’s very exciting to have opportunities to explore wonderful new places like this. I’m very happy NBLT is sponsoring these hikes.”
“Today was a reminder of how fortunate we are to live in this area,” said Debb Krysicki, also of Penn Lake. “The hike with good people and company, the size of the turbines and the picturesque view of the nearby towns in the distance provided a great experience.”
Like many of Natural Lands Trust’s other nature preserves, Bald Mountain Preserve eventually will be open — free-of-charge — to visitors for passive recreation. Since its founding in 1953, Natural Lands Trust has protected more than 100,000 acres of land, including 42 nature preserves that it owns and manages in 13 counties.