Camping in Southeast Pennsylvania: French Creek State Park
Camp Pennsylvania: I’m talking with Eric today. He’s the Park Manager at French Creek State Park in Pennsylvania. How about you get us started today with about how long French Creek State Park has been there and how it got started?
Eric: Well, French Creek was part of the vast Civilian Conservation Core initiative that was begun in the ’30s under President Roosevelt, which was a result of the Great Depression. Put a lot of young people to work. Most of the facilities that were here were either built or updated, which also includes the Hopewell Furnace National Historical site. The area was very important to the Revolutionary War aspect in the fact that the furnace was here, so they made cannonballs, cannons, and that sort of thing.
Camp Pennsylvania: Wow.
Eric: Maybe some ammunitions. The whole area is rich in minerals with iron. So, that was taken over. It was a bass land area under the iron master there. So, the Federal Government came in, took it over, did a lot of the improvements, built up some of the lakes and everything, and that’s why we have such a large land mass to this very day.
Camp Pennsylvania: Okay. And what types of camping do you offer there?
Eric: We have, well, both primitive camping, but we also have electric sites. We have modern washhouses. Two hundred sites. And we have dump stations available for people. But we also provide two yurts, which is like a modern-walled tent. The only thing it doesn’t have it an indoor restroom. You have to use the washhouse up in the campground. And we also have three cottages, which basically is one room that you can setup. Both do have electricity.
Camp Pennsylvania: Are the yurts pretty popular with the guests?
Eric: Yeah, they actually are very popular with guests. They really seem to enjoy them.
Camp Pennsylvania: They sort of fall into that new glamping phenomenon that seems to be sweeping the country.
Eric: I would say so, yeah. We had them in here for about six years now, and they’ve been popular since day one.
Camp Pennsylvania: Very cool.
Eric: We also have ten modern cabins, which have full amenities.
Camp Pennsylvania: Oh, okay, like kitchen and everything.
Eric: Yeah, everything. Yeah.
Camp Pennsylvania: Wow, okay.
Eric: Master bedroom. Supplemental bedroom. Dining room. Dining area. That sort of thing.
Camp Pennsylvania: So, all the way from someone who wants to rough it to totally absolutely not roughing it.
Eric: That’s right.
Camp Pennsylvania: Pretty nice. What are the most popular activities for guests there?
Eric: Well, hiking I would say would be number one. We have 36 miles of trails just here within the Park, but we also connect to – the Park is about eight thousand acres, but we have 15 thousand (Unclear 2:43.1) sakers of State Municipal and Lands Trust land around here. The Horseshoe Trail traverses the Park, which starts in the north of Harrisburg and goes all the way to Valley Forge National Historic Park, and that goes right through the Park here, and Hopewell Furnace as well. So, that along with fishing and hunting I would say are probably some of the more popular ones, although you can never discount bird watching. It just seems like more and more people are interested in that any time of the year.
Camp Pennsylvania: Okay. Now, what are some of your favorite attractions around that area outside of the Park?
Eric: Well, outside the Park, I’d say the National Park Service holding that we completely envelop the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. That’s really what was restored very completely by the Civilian Conservation Core. It has a lot of historical components to it. It goes. It takes you all the way back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Most of the other furnaces around here – there’s Joanna Furnace that’s not too far from here; is very interesting to go and see, and then you also have Valley Forge, which is just a short drive down the turnpike, going towards Philadelphia. And we all know the historical significance of that.
Camp Pennsylvania: Absolutely. Describe furnace – what that means – for some of our listeners who might not understand that term.
Eric: Well, what they did was it was iron one melting and forming it into useful products such as stoves and rifles perhaps. Cannonballs. That sort of thing.
Camp Pennsylvania: Okay, and are they still standing, or is it just a historical site?
Eric: No, they’re still very much standing. In fact, at Hopewell Furnace, the iron master’s mansion is there. Most of the supporting structures – I mean these were like little villages housed around this industry. Slaves’ quarters. They would have housing for their entire staff.
Camp Pennsylvania: Wow.
Eric: And you know, the landmass to feed them from farming, and also the charcoal aspect of it. They owned most of French Creek at the time, so they could cut the trees down and make charcoal out of them in order to operate the furnace.
Camp Pennsylvania: Oh, okay, very interesting. Just two more questions for you, Eric. If you could spend just one hour in French Creek State Park, how would you spend your time there?
Camp Pennsylvania: Cool.
Eric: You don’t see anything quite like this, this far southeast in Pennsylvania. It’s actually the largest contiguous block of forestland between Washington, D.C. and New York City.
Camp Pennsylvania: Okay. And if you could spend just one night at French Creek State Park, which specific site would you stay at and why?
Eric: Oh, I’d stay anywhere up in the campground. You don’t realize how high up you are here. I mean for the east coast, for this part in Pennsylvania at least, you’re at about 800-foot in elevation. You’re up there pretty high. And it just gives you kind of a good perspective of the surrounding countryside and everything. And you have access to the turnpike. You have access to 422. All the major arteries. It’s like this huge oasis amidst. Anywhere you want to go. You can go to Philadelphia. You can get to Redding and some of the cultural arts things, and enjoy some of the farm markets and also the historic sites, which abound in the area.
Camp Pennsylvania: Okay, very cool. Sounds like a pretty amazing place to hang out. Lot of different activities in and around there for just about everybody. Eric, thank you so much for taking a little bit of time out of your day to explain some of the features of the Park and to chat with us today about French Creek State Park in Pennsylvania.