Sunday July 27th
Up for toast and coffee with Dad for the last time this year at The Property. Pack up, hook up the Mobile Studio, and down the road to the Corps of Engineers Seven Points Campground on Raystown Lake. Again, the drive through the Southern Tier of Western New York State and Central Pennsylvania's mountains was spectacular. With simply no way to do justice to it with photographs taken through the windshield of a moving car. You'll just have to come and see for yourselves!
The State of Pennsylvania has a remarkable visitors and tourism program. It seems to be active throughout the state. Here, for example, is a display from a relatively new facility they've built, in memory of Senator John Heinz. This Visitor's Center is huge, with permanent displays, like our friend here at the right, representing the logging and lumbering heritage of Pennsylvania. Rotating exhibits well worth seeing. And an information center staffed with knowledgeable and helpful personnel. Granted, this particular center is unusual. But others I stopped at were nearly as elaborate.
Here's the Mobile Studio and tow vehicle waiting in the parking lot, anxious to get under way.
But the view of the nearby dam and lake from the rear balcony of the Visitor's Center simply demanded more attention. You can see why from this snapshot.
Prudence eventually won out, and I was back on the road in less than an hour. It would have been easy to spend at least a day at this one facility alone.
Pennsylvania's roads, even its high-speed interstate highways, provide view after view that cry out to be photographed. My Grandmother, who was born and raised there, used to say that in Pennsylvania the mountains come right down to the edge of the roads. She had a point. As you can see in this photo on the left.
Arrival at Seven Points Campground, Raystown Lake, PA
The Seven Points Campground check-in area had only limited parking for RVs and tow vehicles. So there was quite a line of campers waiting to pull in. After circling around one time I was able to find a spot and stand in line for tags and instructions. It was obvious from the very beginning that this is a busy, popular campground. And not just for locals. There were license plates from several states on the impatient line of waiting rigs.
Seven Points is quite a large facility with what must be over 200 camping sites nicely laid out, as shown in the map to the left. There's the usual mix of electric/water and primitive sites. All arranged to take best advantage of the surrounding terrain. Which is hilly. As many as possible are quite near the shore of the lake.
The hilly terrain makes for nice scenery in nearly every direction. But as shown in this photo on the right, it made construction of the camp sites more difficult. Many of the sites are terraced, with up to three levels to provide space for an RV, a cooking and fire pit area, and a sitting area. Every site I saw in the campground was as well maintained, or better maintained, than the one in the photo. It must take a lot of work.
Here's the Mobile Studio parked on site # 247 in the Senoia Camp Section. Not much of a view of the lake, which can be glimpsed here through the trees. But it was a beautiful site. Perfectly level, and not a scrap of paper anywhere to be seen.
I don't recall when this campground was established. But the facilities are far from new. Here's a picture of the nearest bath house that shows its age. Older facilities naturally require more maintenance. And Seven Points' facilities regularly receive the extra attention. A contract maintenance crew cleaned the showers and restrooms at least twice daily while I was there. And did a fine job.
It was nearly time for dinner once I'd found site # 247 and set up. So, I drove out to find up groceries and necessary supplies. The small mini-mart just outside the Park gate didn't have what I needed. So I ended up backtracking up Route 26 a few miles to a WalMart SuperCenter. It looked quite new, and had everything in abundance, including groceries.
Monday July 28th
The clear Pennsylvania mountain air pulled me out of bed well before daylight on Monday, the 28th, two weeks in to the Great Northern Expedition for 2008. By the time I'd returned from a shower at the bath house, a beautiful dawn had broken over the lake. The lake is just visible from the hill leading back up to the campsite. Quite a sight.
After a hearty grill-cooked breakfast, I spent the rest of the day walking and driving around the campground. There's plenty to see. The impressive Visitor's Center pictured on the left was the first stop. I was surprised to discover that it is managed by the State of Pennsylvania Visitor's Bureau, not the Corps of Engineers.
This Seven Points Visitor's Center was nearly as elaborate as the one I stopped at on the way down. They maintain several exhibits.
This collection of stuffed wildlife representing that found in the Park attracts a lot of attention. Especially the stuffed bear pictured at the right. They also have a large number of mounted fish displayed in the stairway leading to the lower level of the facility. Some of them huge. All caught in Raystown Lake. The exhibit most interesting to me, though, was that devoted to the history of the region, from earliest times onward, and the creation of Raystown Lake by the Corps of Engineers water projects in the 1930s and 1970s. The anthropological exhibit devoted to Native Americans was most informative.
Ms. Vicky at the main desk provided a lot more information about the Park and the area. She's a native, and has been answering the questions of curious visitors for a good while. She and her husband are keen canoe paddlers, and she provided valuable advice for tomorrow's planned kayak outing on the lake.
The Visitor's Center building has a viewing deck that extends the full length of the building at the back. It gives one of the best views of Raystown Lake around the Seven Points Marina.
The birds at the left are buzzards! As seen from the Visitor's Center viewing deck. There were around a dozen of them lazily drifting in the updrafts. Much more beautiful in the air at a distance than they are on the ground! I sat and watched them for some time.
Then on to have a closer look at the shore of the lake. In preparation for a good long kayak expedition there tomorrow. In addition to the Seven Points Marina, operated as a concession by a private corporation, the Campground maintains several public access boat ramps. They charge a minimal service fee to launch.
The boat ramps are convenient. But really are unnecessary for my inflatable kayak. It launches easily from any shoreline with reasonably shallow water and a nearby parking place for the car.
After wandering around the lake area of the Campground for a while longer the hot sun drove me back to the air conditioned Aliner at around 5:00 p.m. for some writing and reading. Then early to bed after a nice grilled steak for dinner. A splendid day at Raystone Lake, with lots to think about.
Tuesday, July 29th
Up early again this morning, around 3:30 a.m., anticipating a cool paddle around Raystown Lake. However, even at that hour it was a surprising 69 degrees. The cool pre-dawn morning was ideal for a light breakfast and some long overdue writing on the computer. This elderly laptop has performed flawlessly throughout the trip.
Paddling Raystown Lake
Since the sky seemed cloudy, I waited until around 6:00 a.m. to head for the lakeside picnic area down near the boat ramp to inflate and float the kayak. And was in the water by 6:45 a.m.
There was only a slight breeze, not even enough to ruffle the water in the more protected areas of the lake, and off I went.
On a slow circular tour of the lake around the Sheep Rock Cliffs and the inlet just beyond the Marina that took 3 hours and 45 minutes. Covering, according to the Garmin GPS, 7.6 miles.
Raystown Lake, especially early on a summer morning, is a beautiful sight. Especially from a kayak. It would be hard not to stop and enjoy the scenery from time to time. Both natural and social scenery.
Those with foresight adequate to make early reservations at the Seven Points Campground can reserve campsites right on the shore of the lake. With posts provided on the site to tie up boats. Here's what one section of those sites looks like from the water. Boats of every kind are tied up there, from houseboats to small inflatable kayaks and canoes.
In some ways, Raystown Lake reminds me of Lake Wateree in South Carolina. At least the shoreline, as seen here. I even saw one great blue heron, a bird quite common along the shores of South Carolina's lakes. Surprisingly, though, that was about the only wildlife I saw during the whole kayak trip.
The sign in the photo to the right identifies the "Old Loggers Trail." Parts of this trail, which now is maintained by the Campground staff, earlier on was the Sheep Rock trail. More on Sheep Rock in a moment.
The most impressive site by far in the part of the lake I paddled this morning was that around the Sheep Rock Cliffs. Again, these photos don't do justice to the view one gets of this natural formation from the water.
They are red Chemung shale. Layer after layer of that red shale. Interspersed with white layers of iron sulphate. These white layers earlier on were thought to be salt. Earlier Indian inhabitants were thought to mine that salt, giving the area the name "Salt Cliffs."
James Filmore, founder of Jim's Anchorage and Anchorage Enterprises, describes these cliffs in some detail in an interesting pamphlet, "Sheep Rock: An Indian Campsite." The pamphlet, I believe, is based upon Mr. Filmore's MA thesis at Penn State. More on Mr. Filmore and his relationship to Raystown Lake in a moment
The Cliffs now rise 150 feet above water level. But before construction of the second Corps of Engineers Dam on the lake, they were 750 feet high. And included one of the most important archeological sites in Pennsylvania. Mr. Filmore encouraged excavation of the site by trained archeologists from Penn State and Juniata College.
The dig, now under water, of course, focused on a fairly large cave created by the overhang of the layers of shale on the cliff. According to Filmore's pamphlet, Indians had used the site as a campground from at least the Paleo-Indian Epoch, 16,000-6,000 BC. The rock overhang and difficulty of access protected the site so that layer upon layer of occupation over thousands of years remained undisturbed. This allowed the investigators to date their finds with confidence. Unusual in a dig of this sort. They uncovered and cataloged lots of spear points, animal bones, human bones, pottery, and even some cordage and textile fragments from the later strata. All now carefully preserved in Pennsylvania State museums.
The rest of the paddle around Raystown Lake went as planned. Around "Marty's Island," where a number of house boats had anchored for the night, back past the Seven Points Marina, with its row of luxury house boats sprouting one and sometimes two satellite dishes from their roofs, past the roped-in swimming area and back.
By around 9:00 a.m. the sun was up and it was getting hot. Sun block, a sun-shielding long-sleeved shirt, and what may be the most peculiar-looking sun hat in America, made the sun bearable, though.
So, back to the put-in site and the car. I couldn't resist sitting for a while in the shade on a conveniently-placed bench to eat a snack and finish off the liter of water I'd brought along for hydration during the paddle.
Entrepreneurship at Raystown Lake
I visited the Seven Points Marina briefly yesterday. Taking the opportunity to talk with two young fellows hired for the summer as gate attendants. Both were born and raised in the area. And described for me what it was like to grow up there. Lots of beautiful scenery. But, as I experienced "OverHome," very little economic opportunity. Not really much to do to make a living in an area that anyone would be reluctant to leave. Ah, an old story, unfortunately.
Today, though, I had a bit more time, and returned to the Marina to take an afternoon Boat Tour on the big "Princess" tour boat. That's the Princess pictured at the right. With its capable tour guide and Mate, Ms. Sis Fisher, returning for more supplies.
The 90-minute Princess tour, unfortunately,covered much of the water I'd kayaked in the morning. But it was well worth the modest admission fee to hear Ms. Fisher describe the area in more detail. And to explain the development of the Raystown Lake area. She's a native, and an avid booster of the region. She also suggested that I buy two very useful books authored by Jim Filson that describe the Sheep Rock archeological dig and the development of Raystown Lake. I bought both, and read them cover-to-cover that night..
The description of the Sheep Rock Cliff dig was fascinating. I won't try to describe that here. Anyone interested should search the internet for descriptions of the discoveries and photos of the artifacts. But as fascinating was a copy of "Raystown Dam ... Days Gone By," also authored by Jim Filson. This photo magazine format publication describes Raystown Lake before the new dam was constructed by the Corps of Engineers. Featuring, of course, the Filson family's role in developing and promoting recreation opportunities on the Lake. That's a story almost as interesting as the description of the Sheep Rock Cliff archeological dig!
As with all such projects, the Corps' decision to build a new dam to replace the 1911 facility, a project that would enlarge the 575-acre existing lake and solve serious flooding problems, displaced many people and business surrounding the original lake. Filson and his family owned Jim's Anchorage on the original lake. Developed from a modest boat rental into a successful business that promoted recreational opportunities on the lake by hosting water ski competitions, boat races, and all manner of exciting spectator sports. They too were washed out, of course.
But when the Corps of Engineers announced their decision in the 1970s to expand the dam considerably, and create a much larger and deeper lake, Filson moved his boat business to higher ground. To a site on Piney Ridge. And waited for the lake to rise. He then submitted the winning bid to create a new marina on the expanded lake, which he developed into an even larger comprehensive water recreation facility.
Pictured on the left is the front of the building that houses the main office and store. Selling everything from ice and live bait to hand-painted commemorative glassware and tee shirts.
This Marina is an impressive operation. Not only for what it offers in the way of water-based recreation. But because it represents economic success in a part of the country that has very little economic success.
Raystown Lake is a nice lake. A beautiful lake, in fact. But Pennsylvania has lots of beautiful lakes. That alone is insufficient to account for the success of this operation.
The Marina now stores boats in dry dock, provides berths for quite a few boats in the water, operates a couple of restaurants, as well as "The Oar House" that I visited.
Every facet of the operation is designed to generate cash flow. The Oar House even sells dog food by the scoop to visitors who wish to feed the carp pictured here begging for lunch! The number of carp waiting to be fed and their size testify to the success of that particular aspect of the operation!
At the Oar House store I talked to Mr. Nolan at the counter, a retired high school math teacher who now teaches from his perch at the Marina counter. And to Mr. Jack Clark, who tends the marine gas pumps out on the dock. As well as a petite lady at the cash register that I instantly recognized as one of the teenagers pictured in the Raystown Lake promotional magazine in a water ski pyramid exhibition. Quite a few years ago!
They all were polite, and willing to answer my intrusive questions about the history of the Marina and how it was developed. And allowed me to take photographs. Mr. Clark, it turned out -- who's likely older than I am -- just recently took another degree at nearby Juniata College. In art history! Just for the heck of it. He spent a long career doing interesting work in Washington.
For me, this opportunity to visit the Seven Points Marina was a lesson in entrepreneurship. A lesson that illustrates the importance of individual initiative in creating economic opportunity. Where blessed little opportunity presents itself. From Jim Filson's efforts to promote water-based recreation on the original little Raystown Lake, to his response to the Corps of Engineers' decision to expand the lake and flood what he'd spent decades creating, to creation of the current Anchorage Enterprises, including the Seven Points Marina. Quite a story.
Wednesday July 30th
My last day at Raystown Lake. And last day in beautiful Pennsylvania. The campsites here are so clean that I had to spend extra time going over every square inch of site # 247 to make sure no scrap of paper or refuse had escaped the Aliner. After packing, I hooked up and swung around the campground on a long loop that took me back through the Marina. Then out the gate, up over Piney Ridge, and onto Route 26 South, headed for the Corps of Engineers' campground at Sutton Lake. The Great Northern Expedition continues.
Seven Points Camp
Raystone Lake, PA