As the hyper-partisan political landscape leaves the moderate among us wandering around hoping not to set off a landmine, there are moments that bring us back to zero, back to a sense of sanity, back to the reality that not all in the world is doom and gloom.

For me, those moments come in Penn’s Woods, hiking the trails anywhere from a short ride away to an hour’s ride away.

The Loyalsock, Bald Eagle and Tiadaghton State forests boast hundreds of miles of hiking trails and all feature some of Pennsylvania’s most glorious and often overlooked assets.

Saturday morning, my trek took me deep into Loyalsock State Forest near the border of Sullivan County in northern Lycoming County. It was a chilly 16 degrees, but there was no wind and the sun was just coming up over the ridgeline, which offered a steep and rocky challenge, more than enough to get the blood flowing and fend off the chill in the air.

With each peaceful, quiet step, my heart raced while my mind paused, as if it were recharging in nature’s bounty.

We are truly blessed with some wonderful opportunities afforded us by our forefathers, who saw it wise to preserve such land for public use, and the people at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, who continue to maintain it. Best of all, it comes free of admission charge. All that’s needed for hours of enjoyment is a little willpower, and some sturdy shoes.

On Saturday, the trail was bursting with hemlock trees, all of which are endangered due to the woolly adelgid. During a November hike in the stunningly gorgeous Pisgah National Forest in western North Carolina, I learned the eastern hemlock once peppered those forests but has since been completely wiped out by the adelgid, which to date can only be wiped out by successive cold snaps featuring temps in the below-zero range.

They are endangered here, too, as those cold snaps have become more and more rare. Losing the hemlock — our state tree — would truly be a shame and not only to people like me, who enjoy their unique qualities, but also animals large and small which rely on the towering hemlocks for cover, bedding and more.

Also noticeable in the absence of lush greenery, was the thickets of mountain laurel, which burst with color in the early summer, and beds of moss taking full advantage of the abundance of rocks and boulders that gave the Rough Hill Trail its name.

As much as I enjoy the tranquility that comes with my treks in Penn’s Woods, I also walk through our woods wishing more people could see and enjoy the natural beauty so prevalent in this state.

If you’ve never taken an opportunity to get lost on some of our well-blazed trails, take some time to explore what our great commonwealth has provided her citizens in terms of outdoor recreation.

Your heart and mind will thank you.

Chris Brady is managing editor at The Standard-Journal. He can be reached at chris@standard-journal.com.

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