For the past two years, the Watershed Alliance of Adams County, together with the county Conservation District, has arranged and participated in planting thousands of trees – trees to trap stormwater runoff (or at least slow it down), to provide shade to keep our streams cool enough for fish and other critters to live, filter dust from the air and trap and store carbon within their skeletons.

Imagine my surprise last summer when I arrived at Long Pine Run Reservoir, in Michaux State Forest, and discovered a large piece of lakeside forest had been cut down, roughly matching the parking area and boat launch ramp the newly deforested area abutted. My nature-loving mind envisioned several “improvements” in the offing, none of which I thought welcome.

Assistant District Forester Michelle Blevins told me this week the parking area will, indeed, be made a little larger when work is done, possibly late next summer.

“It’s not going to increase that much with parking,” she said, adding the plan is to make the site “more user friendly.”

The boat launch ramp already has been improved a bit, primarily with a better defined semi-circular path that naturally guides vehicles to and away from the concrete ramp. The site will remain a dirt and gravel surface; the project is to be paid with Department of Conservation and Natural Resources funds, which do not include paved surfaces – which is why all roads and parking areas within Michaux State Forest are dirt-surfaced.

The biggest improvement for the lake’s user is to be a concrete two-holer so those in need are not forced to “go” in the surrounding woods or travel at least two miles to find more modern facilities. (Though a sign at Caledonia State Park says its public toilets are closed for the winter.)

“They’re still outhouses, but a little bit bigger and easier to clean,” Blevins said.

“We’re not trying to make it so that more people can use the site,” Blevins said. “We’re just trying to make the experience a little bit better.”

I submit there is good reason, beyond funding, to limit improvements to the site. Part of the draw of the reservoir for kayakers, hikers and bicyclists is the relative solitude at the end of a mile and a half of dirt road. The parking area self-limits visitors. Swimming is not allowed, and likely never will be. Long Pine Run Reservoir, the only reservoir in Adams County, is a major water source for the Borough of Chambersburg.

Even without the planned improvements, the 151-acre reservoir becomes crowded on almost any sunny summer Sunday.

National and state parks across the nation have experienced, especially during the past year-and-a-half of the Covid pandemic, record numbers of visitors who follow the pavement to a parking area where they, well, park. There have been numerous reports from various parks telling of the damage to specific areas caused by concentrations of people wanting to get outdoors, but who, absent familiarity with the outdoors, limit their travels to those places accessible by paved roads and equipped with modern indoor conveniences.

If the new-cut timber at Long Pine Run Reservoir is an indication, the upgraded parking area will be about twice the size of the existing parking. There are at least dozens of trails in the nearly 100,000 acres of Michaux State Forest. If the improvements to the Long Pine parking and boat launch area invite people to leave the paved road to experience the sounds, sights and smells of more of those trails, the experience will be wonderful for all of us.

Watch this space.

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