New Castle News

Life

September 6, 2011

Mercer County park offers recreation and wildlife

NEW CASTLE — A 45-minute road trip to northern Mercer County took Cruisin’ to the quaint boroughs of Sandy Lake and Stoneboro.

There are two lakes in the area — the glacier-formed Sandy Lake and Lake Wilhelm in Maurice K. Goddard State Park.

For outdoor enthusiasts, the park is like opening a treasure chest of activities. There are places for ice skating and sledding, a snowmobile and cross-country ski trail, and paved, multi-purpose and self-guiding trails. Hiking encompasses a 12-mile loop. A picnic area and pavilion are great for dining al fresco. And the marina and boat launch allows for a quiet day on the water.

At the start of the park is the dam built in 1971, which is above Sandy Creek. A small group of teens was hoping luck would greet them at angling.

Part of the enjoyment is traversing the byway indicated by blue markers. The real fun begins when the road goes from asphalt to gravel, reminding me of roads lumberjacks use, although I can’t recall being on any of those lately.

What makes the ride a treat is a view of the shoreline at all times. It is the Pennsylvania Scenic Byway — the only one of its kind in Pennsylvania. The bike trail is on both sides of the shore but the North Shore, according to the map, has some steep, sharp inclines for bikers.

Lake Wilhelm is named for a former Mercer County Commissioner, and Goddard State Park is named for Maurice K. Goddard, who once served as state Secretary of the Bureau of Forests and Water.

The park occupies 2,856 acres and 1,860 of those is Lake Wilhelm, which makes it very popular for those who fish. Commons species are bass, walleye, northern pike, bluegill, crappie, catfish and perch. Ice fishing accounts for many of the larger fish caught.

The lake, along with abundant wetlands, old fields and mature forests, provides various habitats for wildlife, especially waterfowl including loon, teal, merganser and bufflehead, eagles and osprey. A brochure notes that winter is a good time to see the many woodpeckers.

Summer brings turtles to the marina, and the wetland across from the marina entrance is the best spot to see osprey and beaver. There are four boat launches, a marina building and a fueling station, and there are  rowboats, pedal boats, canoes and kayaks for rent.

The red, white and blue eastern bluebird loves its home at Goddard, too. Volunteers maintain about 90 bluebird nesting boxes in old fields, meadows, farm fields and recreation areas.

At the observation deck, we almost had a close encounter with the bald eagle who flew to a tree. Despite patience and persistence to get a closer-up view, the eagle was more persistent and chose to remain in safe territory.

The park offers a wide variety of interpretative and educational programs, and is noted in this area for outdoor recreation.

Here wildlife is wild and the cost to enjoy it all is free.

(To contribute a Cruisin’ idea, contact Lugene Hudson at lhudson@ncnewsonline.com or (724) 654-6651, extension 620.)

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