In Search of a Loop
by Jennifer Schlick
Through-hikes are fine when you have a friend and two vehicles and the patience to spot cars. Sometimes, though, you just want a loop.
I had searched for this one once before on a sunny fall day with only dogs for companions. They weren’t much help. And I, distracted by the beauty of it all and confused by a trail that needed some TLC, I got lost. Not lost-lost… just temporarily misplaced. I finally found my way back to the car, though not by the route that looked so clear and easy on the topo.
For my second attempt, I take a human buddy, as well as the dogs. We pick winter when the foliage is gone, eliminating bright-white sun-spots on the bark that look like blazes. We opt to tackle the most confusing part of the trail first while we are fresh – the opposite way around the loop than my first attempt. Besides, Coon Run Road isn’t plowed up to the where the FLT crosses.
This “loop” is actually one half FLT, maintained by some of the best trail stewards ever, and one half Tuscarora Fire Tower, maintained by Allegany State Park. An unfortunate combination of events – strong winds, tree falls, and a cut to State Park funding – made for the difficulties on the ASP portion.
Shortly into the Tuscarora trail, we lose the blazes near a tree fall, puzzle our way past it, and continue along what appears to be a trail. When it ends abruptly we take it as a sign that it’s time for coffee and regrouping. The dogs aren’t ready for a break so soon and romp impatiently in the snow. We check the topo, figure out where we are and plan our strategy. After coffee we retrace our steps to the fallen tree and investigate. Sure enough there are blazes in amongst the tangle of branches.
Back on track, the trail begins its climb – gentle in some spots, steeper in others. I know the effort will be worth it. I love the views from the summit. Through the upper canopy you can see over the valley to the distant hills on the other side. I’m ready this time for the confusing bit where the loop takes its hairpin turn – I’ll enjoy the views without getting too distracted by the beauty of it all!
Our stomachs growl as we enjoy the view, but we opt to follow the FLT and put off lunch until we reach the lean-to at Willis Creek. After lunch we hike from the shelter to Coon Run Road, then take the road back to the truck where after-hike beers await. We did it! I’m sure we’ll try this loop again.
Trail Update: I took this hike in January of 2013. A friend who works in the park tells me that he spent two long days on the Tuscarora this summer (2014) to open it up. He also says that people interested in volunteering should call and ask to speak to the park managers. The number is at Allegany State Park is (716) 354-9121.
- Birthday Hike: when I first tried to find the loop:
- Amazing Allegany Park Topo Map: