“Born to Be Wild,” that old Steppenwolf tune from 1968, wasn’t written about the Allegheny National Forest. But if you’re “lookin’ for adventure, and whatever comes our way” you can certainly find “wild” on that huge chunk of federal land.
Robert Hilliard did. He got the crazy idea to seek adventure there and write a book about it. Over the course of a year he took every opportunity to investigate the ANF, and discovered just how much adventure its half-million-plus acres can offer. The result was A Season on the Allegheny. Through its pages a reader can experience Hilliard’s exploits in a vicarious way, but that’s only the beginning.
If Hilliard had set out to write a creative guidebook on the ANF, he could not have done better. Woven into the work are clues to planning your own adventure there, but one of the greater values of A Season on the Allegheny is the way Hilliard spells out the history of this national forest treasure and what distinguishes it from others. He doesn’t make that history interesting, he reveals it as interesting.
Why do we even have the ANF? Why does it grow so much valuable black cherry timber? Why don’t we have forest fires of the devastating kind we read of in the west? What about the hunting camps and the taverns and other private properties that dot the forest and add character to its culture?
And what about the impact of conservation organizations across the forest, including the National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the Quality Deer Management Association? A Season on the Allegheny is a picture of what conservationists are really doing to benefit the wildlife, the land and the public that uses it.
What is the relationship between the land and its most popular product, the whitetail deer? What about snowshoe hares, black bears, wild turkeys, ringneck pheasants, Canada geese and myriad duck species? They’re all here, and more, because the ANF has such a diverse landscape. Virtually every sort of habitat from soggy swamps to the great Kinzua Allegheny Reservoir to old growth forest are all available for a wide variety of year-round recreation. Ongoing oil, gas and timber production not only bring in dollars to the region, but those endeavors make the land more accessible.
The ANF is a place where wealth has been won and lost, leading to intrigue and political infighting. It’s a place that revitalized the local area during the Great Depression. The history of the ANF is our history, yet it’s a place many locals take for granted and fail to understand. A Season on the Allegheny is a huge step to remedying that lack.
Who knew the Allegheny National Forest could be so interesting? Hilliard did, and thanks to him you can, too. Go with Hilliard on his exploits and you’ll laugh, learn, and never be bored.
I see A Season on the Allegheny as a guidebook to the ANF, but also much more. It’s a template for your own exploration of any nearby public land. Though none are as large, many invite the same kind of adventure. More than 90% of the northern border of the ANF is shared with New York’s Allegany State Park, a big slice of land itself. And what about New York’s Wildlife Management Areas, Pennsylvania’s State Game Lands, and other state parks and forest lands?
Those of us who live in northern Pennsylvania and southern New York have a great many public properties available to us. One of the great values of A Season on the Allegheny is that Hilliard’s adventures can inspire others to take up exploration of the various public lands in our vicinity and see what adventures are in store.
Finally, don’t forget an especially valuable benefit – when you set foot on these lands, you don’t need to worry that some landowner might chase you down and run you off his property. These lands are your lands. You have no excuse for not getting to know them. A Season on the Allegheny will help.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, writing about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. Contact him at EverydayHunter@gmail.com, and read more of his thoughts about hunting at www.jamestowngazette.com.