Maurice K. Goddard State Park, a haven for hikers who enjoy scenic views and picturesque landscapes, is located seventy five miles north of Pittsburgh. Although the park encompasses 2,856-acres, over half of its acreage lies under the surface of Lake Wilhelm.
The park is named after cabinet officer Maurice K. Goddard, who in his term as Secretary of the Department of Forests and Waters, added 45 state parks and 130,000 acres of additional park land.
The stream that travels through the park, Sandy Creek, was first documented by George Washington during his trip to Fort LeBoeuf in 1753. Prone to recurring flooding, Sandy Creek was dammed in 1971, to create Lake Wilhelm, named after Mercer County Commissioner, Lawrence J. Wilhelm, who provided leadership in the park’s development from 1959 until his death in 1968.
After completion of the dam, Maurice K. Goddard State Park opened to the public in 1972. Today, it receives over 200,000 visitors per year.
Although the park is narrow, Goddard has a multitude of recreational opportunities and habitats to explore. 1,860-acre Lake Wilhelm is a popular warm water fishery for both largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, muskellunge, bluegill, crappie, catfish, perch and sunfish.
Boat rentals are available at the park marina.
Fourteen miles of hiking trails pass through wetlands, old fields and mature forests. The most frequented trail is a 12 mile loop that encircles Lake Wilhelm. Paved along its entire length, this multi-use trail is perfect for biking and hiking. In favor of the road less traveled, we skipped this trail.
The Falling Run Nature Trail is a 0.7 mile loop that follows the path of old logging roads through the hemlock forested Falling Run Ravine. Highlights of this trail include small waterfalls and signs of the pioneer settlement of the George Y. Stright family. The spring house, log cabin chimney and mill-pond lie shortly beyond the trailhead.
Although this hike is short-lived, it offers unique scenery and an opportunity to meet the park’s wildlife .
In fact, I almost stepped on this frog, causing him to jump into the water and latch on to a nearby branch!
Dragonfly buzz around the lake.
Even the groundhogs aren’t camera-shy!
Sandy Creek spills out of the lake on the left, at the breast of the dam.
Across the spillway is the Goddard McKeever Trail, a 1.25 mile connector that links Maurice K. Goddard to McKeever Environmental Learning Center. Although this out-and-back trail is considered difficult because of its steepness, hikers in average physical condition are unlikely to encounter any problems.
A sealed coal mine shaft lies just before the crest of Coal Hill. As the trail winds through the forest, lush ferns give a prehistoric feel. In the depth of summer, the path is overgrown and filled with stinging nettle.
After crossing a public road, the trail continues and leaves the boundaries of the park. Ironically, I pointed out how tall the grass had become and what that usually indicates. Sure enough, lo and behold!
As you exit the park and enter the meadow, the trails of McKeever Environmental Learning Center take you deeper into the woods.
A sanctuary for birds of many habitats, the fields and forests of Goddard are filled with woodcocks, nighthawks, snipes and warblers. Bluebirds, pheasants, and purple martin reign the meadows. Loons, osprey, common teal, goldeneye, merganser and bufflehead can be spotted within the waterfowl viewing area. Although bald eagles are not known to nest in the park, it’s not uncommon to spot them here, as they live in adjacent State Game Lands 270.
Although the state has made tremendous use of its resources at Goddard, it does not own the mineral rights to the land. As a result, Pennsylvania officials are powerless to stop the owners from participating in the Marcellus Shale gas well drilling boom that has proliferated through our state for the past five years. It’s difficult to imagine that the very land that the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has fought so hard to protect could be privy to such a threat.