by Kathleen Walls
An American Bald Eagle is etched on an azure sky. He carves a circle in the spring air then descends with a swoop to his nest at the peak of the tree line crowning the softly rolling Pennsylvania mountain landscape. Whether you are relaxing at your campsite or boating on the lake, you understand why Lake Raystown rates the nickname, "The Crown Jewel of Pennsylvania."
In Huntington County, history, prehistory and unsurpassed natural beauty have collided, providing a unique vacation adventure. The lake you will visit today is relatively new but the history goes back into antiquity. Long before man dreamed of hydroelectric plants and powerboats, primitive people enjoyed the hospitality of the area. At that time, Sheep Rock Shelter was a wide overhanging ledge on the Juniata River. It offered protection from the elements for many groups of Native Americans. Some kept sheep there, thus the name. Pennsylvania’s earliest human remains, the skull and some bones of a woman who lived 6,000 years ago, were excavated there.
Around the turn of the century, people were requiring more and more electricity and the dream of a dam to generate hydroelectric power became reality in 1911 when the original dam was built, creating a shallow lake. The newly formed lake provided recreation as well and people flocked to build cottages nearby. In 1946, an enterprising young man named Jim Filson built Jim’s Anchorage to provide visitors with a place to rent boats.
In the 1970s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the current dam creating a 8,300-acre lake. Jim’s Anchorage evolved into Anchorage Enterprises, Inc., the owners of Seven Points Marina Concession on the new lake. The marina is the largest in the state and the hub of the watery-based fun on the north side of the lake.
For the visitor, it’s easy to forget the lake is about anything but fun even though it was constructed to control floods and provide electricity. There are more than 500 campsites. You can choose from one of the seven Corps of Engineer campgrounds, ranging from primitive Nancy’s Camp to Seven Points Bay Campground, perched on the edge of the lake. If you relish luxury on the road, you can camp at the Lake Raystown Resort, which offers electric, water, fire rings, picnic tables, TV cable, access to beach, a boat launch and a dump station. Both these and most other area facilities welcome your pet in the campgrounds; however, Pennsylvania state parks do not.
Both Seven Points and Lake Raystown Resort offer a marina with rentals of watercraft ranging from fishing boats to luxury houseboats complete with hot tub. The Proud Mary, a .Mississippi River Paddle Wheeler docked at the resort, entertains you with dinner-show cruises.At Seven Points Marina, The Princess is the newest addition.You can enjoy a scrumptious meal as you circle more than 45 miles of shoreline viewing the scenery and, if you’re lucky, get a glimpse of baby eaglets in their nest.
For those days you don’t feel like cooking, you can dine at either the Eatery Restaurant overlooking the bay at Seven Points or at the Marina Cafe at Lake Raystown Resort. For chocoholics dining at the resort, I recommend you try "Dirt." It’s a flower-topped concoction made of Oreo cookie crumbles over a delicious chocolate mousse, with a dab of whipped cream served in a clay flowerpot. If you are just in the mood for fast food, the resort also has a snack bar.
Be sure to stop in at the visitor center store and gift shop and see the unique etched glass paperweights celebrating the eagles as well as numerous other gifts and souvenirs.
While the eagles are certainly the most majestic bird around the lake, they are not the only one you will spot. Ravens still abound and hold a special place in area history. It was while hiking on the south shore, in what is now Trough Creek State Park, that Edgar Allan Poe was inspired by the ebony bird to compose his most famous work,The Raven.
Since this is a natural avian.crossroad for migrating birds, you are likely to see birds like the Canada goose, tundra swan and common loon as well as native species such as wild turkeys, ducks, hawks, chickadees, cardinals and mockingbirds. A birding checklist is available from the Raystown Country Visitor Bureau.
Lots of other wildlife are seen in the woodlands around the lake: deer, raccoon, squirrels, beaver and others. Fish are fun on two levels. For the angler, this is heaven. You can catch small and large mouth bass, stripers, carp, perch, lake trout, Atlantic salmon or crappies. If the thought of a fish on a hook makes you queasy, you may want to feed the carp that wait just under the surface near Seven Points dock. Toss in a handful of food and the feeding frenzy begins. The huge fish almost take it from your hand as they churn the previously still water.
Hiking here is an opportunity for you to combine exercise with nature or heritage. You can amble along the Hillside Nature Trail at Seven Points accompanied by a symphony of bird song. You can seek out more wildlife on the Riverside Nature Trail just below the dam. For the hardy soul who wants to pit his endurance against the mountain, try the grueling 18-mile Terrace Mountain Trail. The Old Loggers Trail allows you to seek out clues to the area’s logging past. For a real step into history, experience The Thousand Steps. These slabs of stone ascend Jacks Mountain to an altitude of almost a thousand feet.
In the 1930s, workers at the Harbison-Walker Refractories Company struggled to the top of these steps every morning before they began their daily tasks of gathering the silica-rich rocks known as ganister, used in the making of bricks to line the steel, iron and glass furnaces in service at the peak of the industrial age. At the end of the day they trudged wearily down the steps to their homes at the base of the mountain.
Heritage is a big attraction here. Sure, the camping and the lake are great, but save a few days to soak up the history of Huntington and surrounding counties. Within an hour’s ride of the lake you can find places such as Gallitzin Tunnels Park, where you can view the reconstructed Allegheny Tunnel and the 1904 Gallitzin Tunnel. Learn all you want to know about trains from volunteers like Dr. Art Julian and Ed Eckeniode as you visit the 1942 caboose and museum. See the unique method of moving canal boats by train at the Allegheny Portage Railroad Site and visit the historic Lemon House, a typical tavern of the early 1900’s.
Another must see is the Railroaders Memorial Museum in Altoona. This museum concentrates on the people that made the railroads run. It is crammed with interesting and fun exhibits. Coal mines, iron foundries, lumber and, of course, railroads formed the culture of this area and it is abundantly present in the museums and reconstructed or preserved sites in Historic Huntington and the surrounding area.
Whatever your vacation interest. You will be richly rewarded