The Little Drummer Historical Pathway is a journey through managed wildlife habitats consisting of two loops. The short loop is 1.3 miles, and the longer loop is 3.1 miles.
The pathway is located within the Owls Nest Ecosystem Management Demonstration Area of the Allegheny National Forest. You will hike through one of the areas on the Forest managed for a roadless environment, but at the same time you will learn of the importance of the historical means of transportation in the development of this area around the turn of the century. The area is also a Watchable Wildlife Area.
The pathway was named for the breeding grouse (called "drummers") living in this area and for the extensive number of historic railroads, pipelines, and camps located there.
The interior portion (away from the road) of the area is managed to provide habitat for wildlife species associated with early successional stages of forest habitat, such as ruffed grouse, woodcock, common yellowthroats, chestnut-sided warblers, and young turkey. Through this management we also expect to produce high quality wood fiber.
The portion of the area near the road is managed to provide habitat for wildlife species associated with mature hardwood forests, such as turkey, bear, and cavity-nesting birds and mammals. Through this management we also expect to enhance scenic quality and provide recreation opportunities.
The habitat management you will learn about as you hike the Little Drummer Historical Pathway was funded by the Ruffed Grouse Society and the National Wild Turkey Federation through their fund-raising banquets. The trailhead and pathway improvements were funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation through the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act. This brochure was funded by the Eastern National Forest Interpretive Association.
Stops by Map:
Stop 1: Welcome Welcome to the Little Drummer Historical Pathway. This pathway will show you some of the forest and wildlife habitat management techniques that are not obvious to the casual observer. The Forest Service has a role in ecosystem management to Care for the Land and Serve People.
Stop 2: Railroads Were Here The right fork follows the old railroad grade once operated in the early 1900s by the Tionesta Valley Railroad to move lumber. The left fork provides access to Cole Run Pond, constructed in the 1960s to improve habitat for waterfowl, such as ducks and geese. Take the left fork.
Stop 3: Planting Shrubs For Wildlife The white tubes you see protect seedlings that produce fruit-bearing shrubs that hold their fruit throughout the winter. A primary weakness for wildlife in this area is shortage of winter foods. The tubes insure that the shrubs survive to fruit-bearing age.
Stop 4: Planting Trees For Jobs This spruce planting was done by the Work Projects Administration crews prior to WW II. Spruce are conifers, or needle-bearing trees.
Conifers provide habitat for some migratory songbirds and small mammals such as red squirrels. Songbirds that spend their summers in North America and migrate to South America in winter are called neotropical migrants.
The Bluebird box was built by volunteers to provide a nesting box next to an open area. Bluebird boxes have a small size hole to prevent predators from entering the nest box.
Stop 5: Providing Sunlight For Shrubs The trees lying on the ground were felled for a reason; they were blocking out the sun to the shrubs in the understory. This release allows more sunlight so the shrubs can produce a greater amount of seeds and fruit for wildlife to eat in the fall and winter.
The grassy pathway you also see here goes to an opening created in the woods for wildlife. This opening provides a change in habitats, for more biodiversity.
Stop 6: Providing Winter Cover Off the pathway approximately 20 feet to the west (left) you can see how the larger trees were removed to "release" the conifers. They will grow better now that they have more sunlight. Conifers are good for winter thermal cover because they provide a place for wildlife to get away from the wind and cold.
Stop 7: Gas For Your Home The pathway has now intersected with the National Fuel Gas (NFG) transmission line. This is a primary artery to transport gas to a pump station so it can be distributed to your home for heat and cooking. This grassy area also increases edge habitat for wildlife.
Stop 8: Clearcutting Encourages Aspen This young aspen was regenerated by cutting all the old aspen; the new aspen developed from the roots of the old aspen. This is called "suckering" and is one of the best ways to get young aspen to start growing. Aspen will not regenerate unless the young aspen is exposed to full sunlight.
This type of aspen is called "quaking aspen" because the leaves quake in the slightest breeze.
All of the wildlife habitat improvements that you have seen so far on this pathway were funded by the Ruffed Grouse Society. Their mission is to "improve the environment for ruffed grouse and other forest wildlife".
Stop 9: Soils Need Protection To better protect the soil and water, we have moved the pathway up here away from the pond. The railroad grade by the pond is wet and would erode easily from foot traffic. It is important that we conserve our soil and water resources.
Directions: You can take this pathway here at Stop 9, and go around the pond in about 2.1 miles. This is the long loop. Go to Stop 18 if you take the long loop. Or, you can go down to the pond, and enjoy the water's edge, and then come back up to Stop 10 which will take you back to the Little Drummer Trailhead Parking Lot. It is about another 1/2 mile back to the parking lot.
Stop 10: Aspen Provides Wildlife Habitat This aspen clearcut provides excellent food and cover for grouse, woodcock, deer, and rabbits, and will be used by the beaver in maintenance of their dam, and for food, in the winter.
Stop 11: Release Helps Shrubs On the east side of the pathway, a release has been performed. Larger, older trees that had overtopped blue beech, Juneberry, nannyberry, and ironwood have been removed to increase the production of food crops for wildlife. On the west side of the pathway, no work has been done. (Can you see the difference?)
Stop 12: Openings Provide Another Wildlife Habitat This opening is important for small mammals and birds that require sunlight and low dense vegetation. This opening promotes high insect populations that are important food for turkey and grouse broods. Typical birds that nest here are vesper sparrows and bluebirds.
Stop 13: Conifers Provide Another Wildlife Habitat These trees provide winter thermal cover. Younger evergreens provide habitat for songbirds, such as magnolia warbler, and snowshoe hare, a larger version of the familiar cottontail rabbit that turns white in the winter.
Stop 14: Brush Provides Habitat, Too This brush pile could provide winter cover for cottontails, mice, and voles, and might even provide a home for a weasel.
This National Fuel Gas transmission line that you are crossing is the same transmission line that you crossed earlier on the pathway.
Stop 15: Regeneration Of The Forest Deciduous trees typically lose their leaves every year, and are sometimes called hardwoods. These hardwood trees were regenerated by cutting the old trees to allow the seeds in the soil the sunlight they need to germinate, or sprout up through the soil.
Stop 16: Dead Trees Provide Food This snag was man-made. Notice the girdling, or cut line, all the way around the tree. This cut line interrupted the flow of sugars and sap. This tree has been used by downy woodpeckers and hairy woodpeckers (round holes) to feed on insects. Pileated woodpeckers make square holes.
Stop 17: Humans Affect The Ecosystem We hope you have enjoyed the Little Drummer Historical Pathway. We also hope you have a better appreciation of the parts of our ecosystem, and how we, as humans, can affect our ecosystem. Ecosystem management for the Forest Service means Caring for the Land and Serving People.
Stops Along the Long Loop
Stop 18: Skidding Logs With Horses You are at this stop if you decided to walk around the pond. You are on an old skid trail from the historic logging operations. Skid trails got their names because logs were "skidded" with horses. Once skidded to a central point, the logs were either shipped on narrow railroads or dumped into rivers for transportation to sawmills.
The use of railroads in this area was in its heyday from 1920 to about 1925. A spark from a narrow gauge railroad near Bear Creek in 1923 sparked the largest, hottest forest fire in this area. Blackened stumps can still be found. The nutrients in the soils were consumed by fire, and 70 years later, the soils still lack nutrients.
Stop 19: Tionesta Valley Railroad Grade You are now on the historic, narrow gauge, Tionesta Valley RR grade that traveled north and south through this area. The boardwalk was built to protect the fragile soils and vegetation from being trampled.
Notice the sphagnum moss - this is the light green, feathery, low growing plant that you see. Sphagnum moss holds large amounts of water, even when the weather gets hot and dry. Sphagnum can do this because its cells are hollow and suck up water much like a sponge.
Stop 20: Man-Made Duck Nests Note the wood-duck nest box on the post in the pond. The Pennsylvania Game Commission and Forest Service have erected many woodduck boxes across Pennsylvania to encourage nesting. These boxes are maintained by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Island Run Sportsmen of Ridgway.
Stop 21: Riparian - Land And Water Meet Notice how wet the soils are right down to the water's edge. This area of land in between high, dry land and the water's edge has a name - it is called riparian lands. Common vegetation here is dewberry, sphagnum, Juneberry, and bracken fern.
Old timber is buried underneath the pathway as the Tionesta Valley Railroad used timber to support their railroad tracks in areas where the soils were wet, such as this area.
Stop 22: Ponds Need Shallow Water These shallow water areas tend to heat up faster, and plants grow better. Insects feed on the plants. Larger fish feed on the insects and small fish. And finally, fish-eating birds (such as king fishers and great blue herons), otters, and man feed on the larger fish. This chain of events where one animal eats another is called the food chain.
The old railroad grade that you have been traveling on will become wet for several hundred yards. We will be moving onto an old skid trail. The grass here is called poverty grass. The seeds that cling to your socks are from this grass.
Stop 23: CCCs Planted These Larch Larch is one of only a few conifers (needle-bearing trees) that actually loses its needles every year. These larch were planted by the Civilian Conservation Corp. The young men of the 1930s that were enrolled in the Civilian Conservation Corps did many conservation projects such as building dams, roads, campgrounds, and planting trees.
These larch had not been thinned for decades, therefore we thinned this stand to promote better growth on the trees that are left. Thinning allows the sunlight to be shared by the trees so that overcrowding doesn't stress the trees.
Stop 24: Blueberries And Fires Note the low bush blueberry plants. The hot fires of yesteryear kept this area open and allowed the blueberries to grow in open sunlight.
Shortly, you will turn to go back onto the historic Railroad grade.
Stop 25: Habitat For Bluebirds This bluebird box was installed by members of the Island Run Sportsmen. The abundant insects, open water, and field-type habitat make this a good spot for nesting bluebirds.
The railroad grade now runs directly north and south. Note as you walk that you are on an uneven surface. The wooden railroad ties have decomposed and the dirt deposits that accumulated between the ties remain, creating an uneven walking surface. The decomposing railroad ties are feeding nutrients (nitrogen and carbon) into the soil.
Stop 26: Historic Logging Site This open field is what remains of a temporary logging camp on this site.
Stop 27: Historic Gas Line The historic Railroad grade continues north, and the path-way turns east. This gas line supplied the Borough of Ridgway from area wells. The line is now "dead" meaning that gas is no longer transported in this pipeline. This line was initially constructed using crews of 40 men that hand dug 400 feet of line per day.
Stop 28: Restoring Native Shrubs Mountain ash are in these tubes. It has been replanted here because over time deer have eaten most of the original shrubs. Mountain ash provides both fall and winter foods for wildlife because the berries hang on the stems throughout the fall and winter.
Look out through the forest. There is a lack of mast trees and understory shrubs that produce fruit. Mast is nuts, seeds, and fruit. For many years, native shrubs such as Juneberry, hobblebush, and viburnums have been eaten by deer. The Forest Service is trying to reestablish these native species.
Stop 29: Regeneration For Biodiversity The pathway now departs the National Fuel Gas pipeline and travels to the east side of the pond. The trees felled here are to regenerate the hardwood trees, creating young trees adjacent to an opening and older trees - more biodiversity for wildlife.
Look for more of this activity as you travel this pathway.
Stop 30: Historic Log Landing Site This open field produces an excellent spot for young turkeys, called poults, to look for insects. An old logging road came through the field ahead of you, and trees were stacked there. Heavy use compacted the soils. Trees could not grow back into the opening. That opening then became the field that you see today.
With today's modern equipment and understanding of ecosystems, this type of abuse seldom occurs. But, even though the soils were damaged many years ago, and have not yet recovered, the field is not a loss to the eco-system. The grasses and low vegetation provide insect life for young turkeys and grouse (called chicks).
Stop 31: Historical Plantings You are walking through a larch stand planted by the Work Projects Administration crews prior to World War II. These were planted before the Forest Service knew the value of working with native species. Today, if we were going to replant, we would use native conifers such as white pine and hemlock.
Stop 32: Small Animals Do Big Work Notice the many "Animal Inns" (ant hills). Observe, but please preserve this animal habitat. Ants help break up logs into smaller pieces that eventually decay back to the soil.
This site has benches for a rest stop, and a fire ring. If you build a fire here, make certain your fire is out! Smokey Bear says "Only you can prevent forest fires!". This rest area provides a good view of the pond during the fall and spring seasons.
Stop 33: Historic Boundary This linear opening used to be the boundary for the waterfowl propagation area around the pond once protected by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Evidence of the old fence still remains in certain areas.
Mountain ash and viburnums planted in the tubes were planted on this higher, drier site because they provide winter food for wildlife. This plantation of winter foods occurs between the larch which provide thick cover and the pond, which provides water.
Stop 34: Listen To The Pond Life In summer, you may hear the buzz of a large black and white insect that is a dragonfly. Also, you may see a brilliant blue insect called a damselfly. Listen for the honks of geese and the whistling wings of wood ducks. Young Canada geese are called goslings.
Stop 35: Miniature Wetland The soils have remained saturated with water long enough to establish true wet-land vegetation in this area. The vegetation that looks like grass with spikes on the end is called rushes.
Stop 36: Winter Cover For Wildlife Below the dam are cedar shrubs planted to provide winter thermal cover. Trees planted in these lower, wet areas are less prone to wind drafts and drifting snow. This plantation was particularly intended to benefit turkey, and the work was funded by the National Wild Turkey Federation.
All of the wildlife habitat improvements that you have seen so far on this side of the pond were funded by the National Wild Turkey Federation. Their mission is to "support the restoration and conservation of the American wild turkey".
Stop 37: Flowers For Wildlife The bright yellow flowers, apparent in summer, on the bank of the dam are birds-foot trefoil. The seeds of these flowers provide excellent food for wildlife such as grouse, turkey, birds, and small mammals. Milkweed also grows here.
Stop 38: Beaver-Created Wetlands Look to the south. These wetlands provide homes for aquatic vegetation, insects, birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians that we would not see elsewhere. Can you see the beaver lodge?
Stop 39: "Beaver-Proof" Outflow In the past, the beaver blocked this outflow so the water level of the pond was higher than normal. But, in 1995, the Pennsylvania Game Commission installed a new "beaver-proof" outlet that should keep the pond at normal water level.
Stop 40: Wetlands An extensive series of old beaver dams and wetlands follows the Cole Run drainage south of here. These wetlands are a unique part of the ecosystem. Enjoy their unique wildlife, but protect their sensitive resources.
Directions: Go to Stops 10 through 17 if you are walking back to the Trailhead at the Little Drummer Historical Pathway on the old railroad grade.
Check out the Triplog.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.