Undiscovered America #1: Allegheny
March 28, 2017
The Allegheny region, located across seven counties, five in northwestern Pennsylvania and two in southwestern New York, is one of the most bypassed sections of the eastern United States. Unlike much of the east, this area has no major cities, battlefields, or popular historic sites, so the natural environment remains similar to the way the first settlers would have experienced it.
The nearly one-million acres of land that make up the Allegheny are defined as a dissected plateau, which consists of steep hills and valleys but this plateau is unique for not resulting from glaciation. The dynamic terrain, only found here, is the work of the hundreds of waterways that carved their way through these forested mountains. During autumn the thick, tall trees found on these hills glow in reds, oranges, and yellows that rival any fall foliage in the country. The forest also gives a sharp contrast to better-known places like New England, where the changing leaves are almost always seen alongside farms and paved roads.
Allegheny has long been a destination for hikers, as those visiting the region can experience a number of changes in terrain, including impressive sections of old growth forest and towering rock cliffs. While hundreds of miles of trails exist, the most prominent is The North Country National Scenic Trail of which over 100 miles passes through Allegheny. The trail begins in New York and stretches approximately 4,600 miles through seven states before terminating in North Dakota.
The region is also home to local hero Howard Zahniser who conceived of what would become the Wilderness Act of 1964, setting aside millions of acres of land across America as roadless areas that can never be altered from their natural state. Although the Allegheny region gave birth to the idea of Wilderness preservation in the US, almost none of the Allegheny Plateau is protected in this manner. National Parks currently protect only 13% of all federal lands, but within those lands are 40% of all Wilderness areas. It’s strange that the land that inspired the Wilderness Act would not have the benefit of its protection, but creating an Allegheny National Park would both honor Zahniser’s legacy and establish the first National Park in the Mid-Atlantic region.