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Great Outdoors: Places to Make a Splash in Central PA

by on July 11, 2019 5:00 AM

As summer temperatures – and the electric bills for air conditioning – continue to climb, it’s the perfect time to check out the many bodies of water in Centre County and nearby that are safe for swimming or otherwise cooling off.

For Lillian Glunt, a Centre County resident, the lake at Bald Eagle State Park is her go-to on a hot summer day.

“Nothing beats the beautiful mountain scenery over the water,” she says.

Burrowed in 5,900 acres of forests that make up the state park, the man-made reservoir, called F.J. Sayers Lake, was created in 1971 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the dam in Bald Eagle Creek to prevent flooding and improve water quality. Located in Howard, the lake is 1,730 acres and is a haven to fish, crayfish, turtles, osprey, and great blue heron.

Another favorite for her and her dog, Macklin, to play in is Spring Creek Park in State College. The creek begins in the mountains about five miles east of State College and ends in Milesburg. According to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boating Commission, years ago, numerous pollutants flowing through the creek killed off fish and aquatic insects, but a serious effort in the county to clean the stream has been hugely beneficial and it is now one of the most popular locations for trout fishing in the state because it’s such a healthy waterway.

“I feel very safe swimming in water in Centre County,” says Jay Stauffer, distinguished professor of ichthyology in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State. “There really aren’t any pollutants or anything else in the water to be afraid of here.”

Stauffer, who is currently studying the bacteria bilharzia (which effects some 200 million people in tropical regions of the world) in Lake Malawi in east Africa, says his favorite places to swim in the county are also Bald Eagle and Spring Creek, along with Black Moshannon Lake, which covers 250 acres in Black Moshannon State Park. There are more than 43,000 acres of forest surrounding the park and lake, so the temperatures are a little cooler and there is lots of land to hike, bike, and picnic on before or after a cool dip in the lake.

Stauffer adds that almost every body of water has a myriad of fish; that makes it even more fun to get into the water to see the different kinds of fish in the region, between the warm-water and cold-water systems, he says.

Heath Sprout grew up in Bellefonte and now lives in Blanchard. He loves swimming, floating, and fishing all around Centre County and further south on the Susquehanna River. He and his two yellow labs, Sidney and Crosby, are often outside in the water – in Centre and Clinton counties.

“We are truly blessed here in central, PA,” Sprout says of all of the clean bodies of water in the area. “Snakes, water levels, and the occasional fall are all we really have to deal with in our local waterways. We have truly beautiful, tranquil waters.”

Sprout grew up swimming and climbing the rock walls with his father and friends in the Bellefonte Limestone Quarry swimming hole. Since it’s no longer legal to swim there, he utilizes all of the other swimming and floating opportunities around him.

“People in Centre County that use the waterways are absolutely wonderful and caring,” Sprout says. “It’s great because the wildlife we’ve seen on the water isn’t being harmed. We’ve seen turtles on logs basking in the sun, snakes, bald eagles, and a wide variety of fish. Blue gill, bass, fall fish, pickerel, crappy, perch, rainbow and brown trout. I could go on about the wildlife we’ve seen.”

Another popular swimming location is Whipple Dam State Park. The 22-acre, man-made lake was created in the late 1800s. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the lake was built by Osgood Whipple, who constructed a saw mill on the land that was powered by waters of the lake formed by the dam he constructed. Today, sandy beaches align the lake and blue heron, osprey, muskrats, and beavers can be seen while swimming.

A smaller, lesser-known lake in Rothrock State Forest, called Penn Roosevelt Lake, is at the confluence of Sassafras Run and Standing Stone Creek. At just 3.5 acres, this little lake offers a great place for cooling off your feet and letting your dog take a dip after hiking through Rothrock.

Poe Lake in Poe Valley State Park is a man-made, 25-acre lake near Bald Eagle State Forest. While it’s a popular fishing destination, canoeing, kayaking, floating, and swimming are encouraged.

Colyer Lake, just off of 322 in Centre Hall, was revitalized in recent years and is back to its 77-acre capacity after safety issues were discovered in 2013. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boating Commission, Wildlife for Everyone Foundation, Save Colyer Lake Inc., and local representatives worked to recreate the lake. A popular boating and fishing spot, hiking trails around the lake and foot bridges offer another place for visitors to cool off their feet or let their four-legged friends swim.

While Sprout just loves being in any kind of water, he says rivers – specifically the Susquehanna – are his favorite for summer swimming.

“It’s so vast and the terrain it covers across the middle of the state is unrivaled,” he says. “It’s truly beautiful, tranquil waters. The best part is there is absolutely nobody else out there with you. I do utilize all of the streams in Centre County; I just have a soft spot for the Susquehanna.”


Rebekka Coakley is a freelance writer.

Rebekka Coakley is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia.
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