Jennings Environmental Education Center
There’s something for everyone at Jennings Environmental Education Center! In addition to over 300 acres of forest, Jennings is home to the only public and protected prairie in the Commonwealth.
Jennings Environmental Education Center was chosen by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and its Bureau of Parks as one of “Twenty Must-See Pennsylvania State Parks”.
Jennings Environmental Education Center was named in honor of renowned Pennsylvania botanist Otto Emery Jennings, who discovered the prairie in 1905. Dr. Jennings was instrumental in the purchase and protection of the land. Today, the 20-acre relict prairie is the pièce de résistance of the park.
A prairie is a climax ecosystem, it remains grassland and does not become forest as a result of natural fire and low rainfall.
Changing climate patterns and glacial melting led to the formation of the prairie, which incidentally, may have been sustained by the Seneca Nation of the Iroquois Confederation, who used fire to clear the land and plant crops. Prairie soil consists of a thick layer of impermeable clay covered by a shallow layer of dirt. This combination, along with fluctuating periods of drought and saturation, is enough to prevent most trees from growing.
Prairie is French for “meadow” and consists of an equal mixture of native wildflowers and grasses.
The shingle oak is one of the few tree species capable of surviving on the prairie. Its specialized roots, bark and leaves tolerate the poor soil and temperate climate.
In late summer, the prairie is bursting with butterflies and other insects. Eastern tiger swallowtail and viceroy reign the prairie.
Jennings was the first state park established to protect an endangered plant species. Visitors to the prairie in late July or early August will find blazing star in bloom.
Dragonflies and clearwing hummingbird moths enjoy the park too.
The prairie at Jennings Environmental Education Center is also home to the endangered massasauga rattlesnake. The massasauga rattlesnake is one of three poisonous snake species found in Pennsylvania. The most elusive of the three species, this snake measures 20 to 30 inches in length. Jennings offers an ideal environment for these snakes, who prefer old fields and meadows with low-lying wet-spots with higher ground nearby. This ecosystem is rare in Pennsylvania.
Aside from a glimpse of deer, we did not meet any other wildlife during our visit, although is not uncommon to spot red efts, least weasels, white crayfish or bog lemmings.
Jennings has over 5 miles of hiking trails and we are proud to say that we’ve done most of them! Trails range from easy to moderate, some are even part of the North Country National Scenic Trail, which spans from New York to North Dakota.
Wetlands are mixed into the forest.
Honeybees are kept under observation.
Several passive treatment system ponds are found in the park. The purpose of these ponds is to eliminate coal mine drainage.
Big Run, a tributary to Slippery Rock Creek, flows through the park. Small waterfalls cascade next to the sawmill ruins.
If you are planning a visit to Jennings, keep in mind that the prairie is a wide open sunny field. It is hot and has little shade, dress comfortably!