A little History…
Nittany Mountain has been an important part of the history and traditions of Penn State University since it’s founding. In 1945, the landowners who held rights to Nittany Mountain were preparing to sell the property and timber rights to a logging operation. Rather than see their beloved mountain stripped of all it’s trees for profit, local Penn State Lion’s Paw Alumni Association (LPAA) scrambled to buy the land. By 1946 they had raised enough money to purchase 525 acres encompassing the Nittany Mountain ridge and surrounding area. In 1981, LPAA formed the Mount Nittany Conservancy (MNC) in order to acquire additional land. With community and alumni support, the Conservancy has acquired an additional 300 acres. The MNC vigilantly continues to maintain and protect the trails and ecosystem of their beloved mountain.
A Local Landmark…
As the most prominent ridge situated between Nittany Valley and Penns Valley, Mount Nittany has been a landmark with it’s own set of legends and traditions since long before European settlement in the area. Though little more than a hill at less than 1,000 ft above the valley floor, Mount Nittany is still a looming presence and visual landmark in State College and the surrounding area. The Juniata maintained a tribal legend about the formation of the mountain involving the death of a young Brave named Lion’s Paw and his heart-broken maiden named Nit-A-Nee, the obvious namesake of the mountain and adjacent valley. Penn State University’s mascot and athletic teams, the Nittany Lions, are also derived from this same legend. These local legends have been intricately woven into the traditions of Penn State University since the school’s founding in 1855.
Nittany Mountain (also called Mount Nittany locally) is a significant ridge in the Ridge-and-Valley Province of the Appalachians. The Ridge-and-Valley Province is a section of geology literally squeezed between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Plateau. The present formations are remnants of sedimentary structures that have been folded westward and eroded. The ridges are merely areas that have resisted erosion due to veins of the more durable Bald Eagle Sandstone. The Ridge-and Valley Appalachians stretch from southeastern New York through Western Pennsylvania and south to Alabama.
We had promised Jason we would go hiking while we were in town. We had looked at some options but, not knowing the area very well, we opted for the most recognizable and easy to get to trail in the area: Mount Nittany Trail. My fiancé, Merelyn, and I were in Pennsylvania for her 20 year High School reunion and visiting with family in State College before and after a trip to Erie for the reunion. The day before we picked up her nephew Jason for a hike up Mt. Nittany, we had hiked up a new road blazed up the mountain on her parent’s property in Centre Hall. The hike took us to the ridgeline above their home, the same ridge (we later realized) that terminates at Mt. Nittany.
We picked up Jason from swim practice early in the morning and drove out to the trailhead in Lamont. Jason had hiked here before and was able to help direct us to the trailhead. Access winds through a few neighborhoods to a small parking area along the side of the road. The trailhead itself if marked with a large map and directions and there are small maps available to take with you. Jason was pretty tired from swimming so we opted for a short tour of trails. We’d hike up the main trail to the first overlook at Mt. Nittany proper, overlooking Penn State then see if we could talk Jason in to doing more.
The trail is very rocky, as is most of this part of Pennsylvania. Though steep, the trail is well-worn and popular with the locals. Blue and white paint markers on the trees guide you along the trail system to make it easier to track which part of the trail you’re on. We followed the blue markers up the steep trail, feeling old and out of shape huffing and puffing next to the 12-year-old casually walking up the trail next to us.
Hiking this trail in summer provides a thick, green canopy offering plenty of shade. Once you’ve reached the ridge, the trail changes character slightly and narrows as the vegetation presses in. Just after reaching the ridge you come to the main overlook, the reason, I’m sure, that the trail exists…the view of Penn State. Named the Mike Lynch Overlook, the trees open up to a small landing at the head of Nittany Mountain offering an open view to State College and the Penn State Campus below. It would seem, and Jason confirmed, that most people hike to this overlook for the view of Penn State and then turn back. There is considerably less traffic on the rest of the trail system.
After a short rest and some pictures, Jason was content to head back to the car. We prodded him to continue on and let us see some more of the mountain. He agreed to put in a little more trail time to get to the next overlook. Almost half a mile further down the trail we reached the next clearing, an opening with a view out over Boalsburg and the Mt. Nittany Middle School. This is also a great spot to stop and just soak in the view. I commented to Merelyn that this would be a nice place to hammock for the afternoon, several of the trees were perfectly placed for a good hang.
Though Merelyn and I wanted to explore further, we were running out of time and Jason was running out of steam. So we headed back, happily hiking along under the thick green canopy and visiting with Jason. We picked up speed on the steep section toward the trailhead and Jason enjoyed keeping up with me as we finished the trail in a strong running pace on a narrow single track side trail in the trees. We finished strong, downed some water and hopped in the car so we could get Jason back in time for his other teenage summer break obligations (which seem to keep him very busy).
There are about 8 miles or so worth of trails in the Conservancy and the full perimeter loop is nearly 5 miles. Hopefully, next time we’re out in Pennsylvania we can find the time to at least do the full loop and maybe even explore some of the inner trails as well. It’s a beautiful area, I’m looking forward to seeing more.
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