2010-07-29 / Front Page

Every Day An Adventure At Cowans Gap State Park

State park is local staycation destination
By Chanin Rotz-Mountz
STAFF WRITER

A floundering economy and exceptionally hot weather have made Cowans Gap State Park a destination for staycationers this summer. The paddle boats are just one of many activities offered at the county’s popular recreation spot. A floundering economy and exceptionally hot weather have made Cowans Gap State Park a destination for staycationers this summer. The paddle boats are just one of many activities offered at the county’s popular recreation spot. Cowans Gap State Park is the spot to be in Fulton County, according to park manager Steve Behe.

Having logged almost 30 years with the state in the areas of forestry and parks, Behe is certainly an expert on touting the luxuries as well as the ins and outs of Pennsylvania’s state parks, which have been proclaimed the best park system in the nation for the years 2009 through 2011.

Recently given the National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management by the American Academy for Parks and Recreation Administration in conjunction with the National Recreation and Park Association, Cowans Gap’s award is proudly displayed outside the main office just off Aughwick Road as a tribute to the park’s hardworking staff that deal with education, law enforcement, maintenance and administration. The award combined with the park’s amenities and longtime staffers undoubtedly make Cowans Gap State Park one of Fulton County’s best staycation destinations this summer.

Cowans Gap State Park manager Steve Behe shows off the park’s National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management awarded recently by the American Academy for Parks and Recreation Administration in conjunction with the National Recreation and Park Association. Cowans Gap State Park manager Steve Behe shows off the park’s National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management awarded recently by the American Academy for Parks and Recreation Administration in conjunction with the National Recreation and Park Association. Topping the list of mostsought after services at the Gap is camping, which ranges from 201 modern campsites and organized group tent camping for nonprofit groups to rustic cabins that sleep up to four. Affordability goes hand in hand with camping at the state park where in-state residents only pay $23 per night on Fridays and Saturdays for modern camping without electricity.

“Sixty to 70 percent of the campsites provide electricity, and sites two through 30 are pet friendly,” noted Behe, who added certain restrictions are placed on pets such as being leashed or in a cage or camper. Campers are also required to clean up after their pets while at the park.

With numerous enhancements made in recent years to the Gap’s existing 10 rustic cabins that were constructed during the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Behe pointed out the cabins are available during the summer season for weekly rentals or during the off-season for the week or overnight stays.

“People love coming here due to the remoteness and to get away from cellphones and computers,” Behe said. “...What people want is a clean, secure and rustic outdoor setting.”

Even though the rehabilitation of the cabins and handicapped accessible bathhouses complete with skylights and tile floors and walls was among the park’s newest enhancement projects, there are not any new projects in the foreseeable future at Cowans Gap due to lack of funding.

“We are in a bad budget situation,” Behe stated of the ongoing budget crisis that has had a huge impact on state money given to the Department of Conservation of Natural Resources and its various branches. In fact, even while operating the park with far fewer employees than what they are normally accustomed to, park administrators are continually striving to maintain their current facility as a clean and secure vacation spot.

“This is the spot to be in Fulton County,” Behe reiterated. “... Every day is an adventure at Cowans Gap.”

However, Cowans Gap wouldn’t be what it is today without those little certain extras, including 10 miles of hiking trails and a 5 miles of biking trails that previously served as a collection of logging trails.

“It’s pretty tough riding for a while,” said Behe, a cycling enthusiast. “... Some people prefer a terrain with rocks and roots to ride over, but we don’t have that here.”

Hikers can partake in a leisurely 1-1/2 mile stroll on the Lakeside Trail that encompasses the 42-acre lake. While there are several rough spots to be encountered along the way, the hike is also primarily accessible by wheelchair and bicycle. Trails offering a more rugged terrain include the Horseshoe and Cameron trails.

After taking a walk or bike ride, visitors are encouraged to stop by the concession or souvenir stands operated by Burnt Cabins residents Nick and Shannon Brown. Following a tradition previously established by his father “Nook” Brown, Nick also offers a variety of nonmotorized, water activities such as single and doublerider kayaks, rowboats and paddleboats.

Cowans Gap is moving forward with its open swim policy that was enacted by the state in 2008. Behe noted at the time he was concerned with the policy that eliminated lifeguards from the park’s 500 feet of sandy beaches. However, after seeing parents in action monitoring their little ones, the park has been able to open up the adjoining swim areas that typically reach depths of more than five feet.

Behe encourages swimmers to refrain from swimming beyond the roped areas even to retrieve balls or various water toys due to the depth of water and any debris that could be lurking beneath the surface. Beach hours are sunup to sundown, and the water is warm and inviting, said Behe, who concluded early morning and evening hours are the best time to beat the crowds and enjoy the quiet.

Reservations can be made online by visiting the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Web site at www.dcnr.state.pa.us. Information can also be obtained by contacting the Cowans Gap State Park main office at 717-485-3948.

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