Pitt-Johnstown has several popular trails as part of some 630 acres of recreational land on campus. There’s a rolling 5-kilometer cross-country trail that zigzags across lawns and along treelines near the athletic fields. Mountain biking and ski trails can be found behind the sports center.
The most rustic trails, however, are in the 40-acre Rocky Run Nature Area, accessible via a trailhead hidden behind tall grass, just a short walk from the athletic fields.
At the trailhead, a large map board shows a network of trails and a dedication to Henry J. Idzkowsky, who was instrumental in developing the pathways. The campus dedicated the nature area to the UPJ professor emeritus of biology and natural sciences upon his retirement in 1974. Idzkowsky died in 1999 at the age of 91.
“It’s incredible what he built,” said campus historian George Hancock, pointing out sections of stone stairs that Idzkowksy and his students built on the narrow footpath that drops sharply to the bottom of a picturesque wooded gorge.
However, the nature trails, which stretch toward the southern boundaries of campus, are not maintained, and in some spots fallen trees block the way. Deer, turkey, coyotes and an occasional copperhead or bear have been spotted, although on a recent morning, visitors found only chipmunks and songbirds on the path.
The trail passes a seasonal waterfall as it descends to an unnamed stream that feeds the Little Paint Creek. At the bottom are more remnants of Idzkowsky’s handiwork: a low dam, now breached, that once held back the stream to form a small pond.
The charred ashes of a small campfire and remnants of a spiral-bound notebook offer evidence that at least a few people use the quiet creekside spot for study and relaxation.
Hancock, who works in the UPJ business office, offers “outback walking tours” of the seldom-seen stretches of campus through the community education and outreach office. His presentations are filled with tidbits of history related to the campus and the farms that preceded it.
Trekking the rough trails requires sturdy boots but Hancock is developing a virtual tour option for the less sure-footed. He is spending spare time this summer shooting photos of the highlights that otherwise would require several hours of cross-campus trekking. He plans to offer an indoor “couch potato” PowerPoint tour of the trails in the upcoming academic year.
via University Times