Tucked in the southwestern corner of Beaver County just a few miles north of Burgettstown, Raccoon Creek State Park is one of the gems of the Pennsylvania State Parks and Forests system.
A park with something for everyone, Raccoon Creek celebrated a record year in 2012, drawing over 1 million visitors for the first time and showing that Pennsylvanians still want to get in touch with nature.
“Last spring was warm and sunny early,” said Kelly Klasnick, assistant park manager. “We had good attendance in March, April and May. Sometimes, that’s a little hit and miss because of the weather.
“Most people who come to the park, come to take in the sights. They’ll take a pleasure drive through the park, maybe stop and look at the beach, the lake, do some sightseeing. That’s really the No. 1 visitor we get, the day visitor.”
And with a location close not far off of Route 22, Raccoon Creek is truly a regional park.
“We draw a lot of people from Pittsburgh; a lot from Ohio and West Virginia,” said Klasnick. “If you drive through the parking lots here on the weekend, you’ll see license plates from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.”
On this day, most of the people here are locals, fishing and boating in the in the 101-acre lake that is the centerpiece of sorts for the 7,572-acre park.
That’s right, just a small portion of the park is actually the lake. The rest is covered with forested campgrounds and trails used for hiking, horseback and bike riding that offer not only an outstanding opportunity to witness nature, but some history as well.
In the 1930s, the National Park Service created the Racoon Creek Naitonal Recreation Demonstration Area, with men from the Civilian Conservation Corps and Work Progress Administration constructing the facilities and doing conservation work within the park.
In 1945, the land was transferred to Pennsylvania, with the state adding the lake in 1948, the swimming area in 1950, a campground in 1958 and modern cabins in the 1980s.
The park is also home to Frankfort Mineral Springs, a once-famous resort complex in the late 1800s that attracted vistors who believed the springs had healing qualities. King’s Creek Cemetary is also located on park land and contains the burial plots of many of the first settlers in the area.
“The historical part of the park is the (western) side,” said Klasnick. “That was the original land acquisition. This is the 80th anniversary of the Civilian Conservation Corps. We’ll be highlighting some of the educational things relating to that anniversary with our staff.
“We still maintain over 100 buildings that were built in the ‘30s that are available for public use.”
The CCC built many of the cabins and camps to house the workers who helped maintain the park in those early years. Originally built to last 30 years, they still stand today thanks to hard work of the staff at Raccoon Creek park.
While history buffs might enjoy looking at those facilties, there are other things that appear on a yearly basis that will interest nature lovers.
Wildflowers are abundant throughout the park and there is a 314-acre wildflower reserve on the eastern most tip below the spillway to the dam that offers viewers more than 700 species of plants. Peak wildflower blooms are in late April and August.
As for the lake itself, it has bounced back nicely since being drained back in the mid-1990s after a gate on the dam failed.
The lake is around five feet deep in the upper end, dropping to depth of 30 feet in the main bowl near the dam. Boat rentals are available.
The deeper depths allow Raccoon Lake to hold good populations of walleye and saugeye in addition to largemouth bass, stocked trout and some tiger musky.
Crappie are also available, though not yet at the levels as before the lake was drained in 1995.
There is also a nice eight-acre pond above the lake that holds a nice population of largemouth bass, bluegill and carp for those looking to fish on a smaller waterway.
Anglers who travel to the park now will notice a new addition. The Pa. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources installed floating wetlands there last week.
“They’ve done it in two or three other parks as kind of a project program,” said Klasnick. “It’s habitat improvement for the lake. There are nutrients that produce algae and other undesireable affects. These floating islands will help reduce those nutrients. And at the same time, the plants growing on the islands will have roots hanging below that will provide shelter and cover for small fish. It’s going to add some beauty to the lake as well. We’re going to have a variety of plants. We’re excited about that.”
Those wishing to learn more about Raccoon Creek State Park or learn about programs available there can do so by visiting visitpaparks.com.
Outdoors Editor F. Dale Lolley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org