Wildcat Run

Wildcat Run in the Allegheny National Forest.

Today's edition of “The Evening Campfire” marks the 500th appearance of my outdoors articles in The Herald and The Allied News. Next spring, on April 30th, 2020, if the powers that be continue to support the work, I will celebrate my 20th anniversary as your outdoors correspondent.

I say “correspondent” rather than “columnist” for a reason. Most newspaper columns, whether they’re about sports or politics or advice for the lovelorn, focus on the writer’s informed opinion and strong views about matters relating to his or her subject. I write those columns, too, on occasion; for example, recently I expressed my views in support of Sunday deer hunting and against a Saturday opener for antlered deer rifle season.

But the majority of my “The Evening Campfire” topics have not served to argue one way or the other on a given issue. To me the only two issues in the outdoors are the preservation of its beautiful places and magnificent creatures and the appreciation of being out there among them.

I was introduced to small-game hunting while following well-trained beagle dogs through the fields, woodlots, and thickets of Mercer County by my father and two brothers, and I first experienced stocked trout fishing and minnow-fishing for crappies with my Uncle Bud in places like Pymatuning Reservoir in Crawford County and Pine Creek and Pithole Creek in Venango County.

These venues were fine, and the experiences were wonderful, and the learning unforgettable but, as youngsters, my brothers and I always yearned for something more. We had heard from friends about the mysterious “hidden wilderness areas” that existed in Pennsylvania and provided public grounds, not posted land, to hunt the deep hollows and steep hillsides for untamed mountain deer, and to walk miles of beautiful wild native brook trout streams surrounded by rich hemlocks and large boulders and waterfalls and deep pools that held beautiful wild fish born and raised in the stream by the thousands. That’s where we wanted to go, where we could hunt and fish and live and learn about the outdoors in that great hidden wilderness land.

For various reasons, this did not happen to us for a long time. But in 1985, well into my 30s, I married into a family that had kept a rustic camp on the Middle Allegheny River in remote Warren County since 1945, on the border of 14,000 acres of State Game Lands and across the river from the Allegheny Naional Forest, comprising 500,000 acres of forests and fields, remote mountainsides, and one huge reservoir. In 1986, I bought my own place up there and named it Camp F-Troop. Since then we have filled 3 huge loose-leaf notebooks with thousands of written entries and photographs to preserve the memories of hidden wilderness experiences at camp.

Readers often tell me that “I take them with me there” while describing my outdoors excursions in the big woods or on small streams, and I suppose that’s true. I often write that I walk up a forest trail at 5 am toward a pre-selected boulder that rests on a saddle overlooking a deer trail to spend my day searching the woods for a buck. Or, more often, how I search out a promising little stream, spring-fed, clean and cold, full of riffles and waterfalls, and I hike up it until I reach the first good-sized plunge-pool with undercut banks or mid-stream rocks and crevices for trout cover. I pause for a moment and study the stream, its shallow riffles and deep pools and currents and slackwaters, how it curves downstream on the mountainside, splashes over granite boulders and fallen hemlocks, with sweet-smelling hay-scented fern on the ground and melodic birdsong in the branches. I wait 2 or 3 minutes until I feel I have assimilated into the forest, and the rocks and earth and plants and animals and I are one. Then, I toss in my lure.

DON FEIGERT is the outdoors writer for The Herald and Allied News. His latest book, The F-Troop Camp Chronicles, and his earlier books are available by contacting Don at 724-931-1699 or dfeigert@verizon.net. Visit his website at donfeigert.com. Or visit Leana’s Books at the mall or Grove City Outlets.

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