Little Gems are great local sites for birdwatching. Often overlooked, they can provide unique outdoor opportunities.
Little Gem 1: North side of Buzzard Swamp, Allegheny National Forest
by Ron Montgomery
Map: Pick up the Buzzard Swamp folder at the ANF Ranger Station.
Getting there: If you go north to Marienville on route 66, turn right at the main intersection in Marienville and go directly east on Lamonaville Road. Lamonaville Road is the intersection just before the Uni-Mart. Don’t turn sharply right, which will take you south toward Loleta. Marienville is 28 miles from the Clarion Court House.
Description: This Little Gem walk is a 2.7 mile loop if you have two cars or 3.7 miles if you have one car. Of course shorter walks can be taken if one chooses. For the first mile, Lamonaville Road is paved, then turns into a good-quality dirt road. The hiking trails are wide, clear and dry, but there is some high grass, which can be wet with dew in the morning. There is a convenient place to rest and snack about half-way around the loop. The trail involves only very modest hills. Plan 3 to 4 hours for a casual birding walk around the 2.7 mile path.
The area is quite primitive. Public rest rooms are available during office hours at the Ranger Station (814-927-6628) which is a couple of miles north of Marienville. There is a new convenience store/gas station along this road also, offering coffee, snacks, and facilities. A good stop for lunch or dinner is Bettina's Italian Restaurant (814-927-7888) in Marienville on the west side of Route 66, just a little north of the Lamonaville intersection. The Bucktail Coffee Shop and Restaurant at the main intersection in Marienville is now open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Details: Drive 3.2 miles east on Lamonaville Road to well-marked trail head # 377 on the right. Leave one car there and drive another mile (4.2 miles from Marienville) to trail head # 157 on the right to park the other car. The first part of Trail 157 involves a 1.8 mile, well-marked, wide, grassy path that goes past several small fish-filled wooded lakes. Bird sightings will vary with the seasons, but the birding is good.
The path then comes upon a crossing. Take the left hand trail about 100 feet to sit on some rocks while you rest and snack. Take the right turn, a high-quality dirt path (suitable for cycling), to return to trail head #377 where you left your first car. This walk goes through an upland forest and presents different birding opportunities than the first part of the walk.
This path is good for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the winter.