Written by Danielle Taylor | Header photo by Kyle Yates
People have valued the Cook Forest area as a truly special place for centuries due to its old-growth trees, picturesque river, and natural atmosphere of serenity. In the 90 years since the state purchased this property to create a public park, its stewards have worked diligently to protect its natural resources while simultaneously welcoming the public to enjoy them, and generations of families have spent memorable vacations deep in these woods. In 2018, the Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation recognized Cook Forest State Park as the commonwealth’s Park of the Year “for its exemplary and innovative work in customer service, education, programming, recreation, stewardship of the natural, cultural, historic assets, and accommodation of special needs of visitors.”
Over the past several hundred years, Cook Forest has gone from Iroquois possession to English purchase to private ownership to public rights, and through it all, the core of the old-growth hemlock and white pine forest has remained intact. Many of the trees growing in Cook Forest today sprouted in the 1600s and 1700s before the appearance of Europeans and American colonists.
The Cook family, which arrived in 1826, established a successful lumber business in the region, and they could have made a fortune by felling and selling the massive trees central to Cook Forest’s notoriety. Fortunately, they recognized what a special place it was, and for the first few decades of the early 1900s, they worked with local advocates and state legislators to turn the area into a protected public park so everyone could enjoy its exceptionality forever.
In December 1928, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania took title to the area as the state’s first land acquisition for the purpose of preserving a natural area for public benefit. The Civilian Conservation Corps provided invaluable labor during the early days of the park in the 1930s, and they built many of the park’s iconic log cabins and structures still standing there today. In December 1967, the National Park Service designated the park’s Forest Cathedral a National Natural Landmark, and in October 1996, 51.7 miles of the Clarion River, including the section that passes through Cook Forest State Park, were designated as scenic and recreational under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, bringing national recognition to these Pennsylvania treasures. The park also contains the northeastern United States’ tallest tree, the Longfellow Pine, which stands just shy of 185 feet.
In her remarks at the 12th Annual Parks and Forests Awards Banquet, Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation President Marci Mowery named Cook Forest State Park as one of Pennsylvania’s “most unique and magnificent natural treasures,” and she commended park staff for the high-quality visitor experience they provide as they protect and share the park’s world-class outdoor assets.
In her comments behind PPFF’s decision to award Cook Forest State Park with the 2018 Park of the Year honor, Mowery noted several in-progress park improvement projects undertaken with visitor interests in mind. The park is currently building new visitor orientation and administrative offices and working toward rehabilitating the River Cabins and Log Cabin Inn, and last year, the Friends of Cook Forest group collaborated with park staff to repair and restore the canoe launch.
Furthermore, Mowery highlighted many of the park’s noteworthy annual events, including the French and Indian War Encampment and Children’s Fishing Rodeo in June, the Western PA CARES for Kids Duathlon in July, and the Woodsy Owl Workday in October. She also recognized the value of the park’s Sawmill Center for the Arts, which offers classes, community theater performances, and art and crafts for sale by local creators within the Wilds Cooperative of Pennsylvania network.
“The commitment of the award winners to the stewardship of our public lands for generations to come inspires and engenders a continued commitment to these precious resources,” Mowery said.
To learn more about Cook Forest State Park, go to VisitPAGO.com/listings/Cook-Forest-State-Park or DCNR.PA.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/CookForestStatePark. To check out the wide variety of lodging listings in the area, from cozy cabins to luxurious lodges to family campgrounds, go to VisitPAGO.com/lodging and filter the destination for “Cook Forest.”
To learn about other exciting places, events, people, and more in the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region, go to VisitPAGO.com or call (814) 849-5197.
This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of GO magazine, which contains feature articles, photos, travel tips, upcoming events, lodging listings, and more information on Jefferson, Elk, Clarion, Forest, and Cameron Counties in northwestern Pennsylvania. To get your FREE copy of this or any other publication by the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau, click here and enter your information or call (814) 849-5197.