Forbes State Forest was named in honor of General John Forbes. It includes 20 separate tracts of land and covers over 50,000 acres (20,230 ha) that stretch across Fayette, Somerset, and Westmoreland Counties. The designated forest tracts generally follow one of the area's dominant terrain features, Laurel Ridge, part of the Laurel Highlands. In addition to the state forest lands, District #4 includes Allegheny, Greene, and Washington Counties.
Gen. John Forbes, in 1758, ordered the construction of a road from Bedford to Fort Pitt for the British Army's attack on Fort Duquesne. The forest comprises 15 tracts totaling almost 59,000 acres in Fayette, Somerset, and Westmoreland counties. Forbes spreads across the high ridges of the Laurel Highlands, including the 3,213-ft. Mt. Davis, the highest point in PA.
Dawn to Dusk.
(Note: Many places fill to capacity on busy, nice weather days, especially holiday weekends. Please call ahead or visit the official website to get the most up-to-date information before visiting.)
Hiking, Horseback Riding, Mountain Biking, All-Terrain Vehicle Riding, Cross-Country Skiing, Snowmobiling, Snowshoeing, Sightseeing, Picnicking, Camping, Hunting, Fishing
In 1909, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania made the first purchase of state forest land in the Ohio River Watershed, from the Byers Allen Lumber Company. This purchase, in the present Laurel Mountain tracts of Forbes State Forest, contained an easement to the Pittsburgh, Westmoreland and Somerset (PW&S) Railroad. The first forester assigned to the district in 1909 in a description of the forest wrote that “…the timber consisted of such hardwoods as oak, chestnut, maple, tulip, locust, hickory, beech, and also hemlock. Almost everything merchantable was removed. The small amount of timber left standing is either scattered or in places so rough as to be inaccessible for lumbering.”
Forbes State Forest today is heavily forested with high quality oak, cherry, and other species. Because of its proximity to large population centers, there has been and will continue to be heavy recreational use of the Forbes State Forest. Many visitors to the Laurel Mountain tract unknowingly hike, bike, and drive on the old grade of the PW&S railroad, as well as many of it spurs.
Lumber from the Kooser tract was probably used to rebuild the nearby Borough of Somerset after the town burned to the ground in the years 1833, 1872, and 1876. Several miles of old railroad grades from the Indian Creek Valley Railroad exist in this tract, and serve as part of the present day road and trail system. The first and largest purchase of land in this area was in 1922.
The original forests of the Braddock tracts in southern Fayette County were rapidly depleted in the early to middle 1800’s, when tremendous amounts of wood were converted to charcoal to fuel the iron furnaces. Wharton Iron Furnace, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is located within this tract. Heavy logging to meet the demand for charcoal, lumber and mine timbers in the late 1800's and early 1900's virtually eliminated the original forest. When the second-growth timber that replaced it reached merchantable size, the Braddock tracts were harvested again in the late 1930’s before being acquired as state forest land in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
The Blue Hole tract lies in the heart of the Laurel Highlands close to Laurel Hill State Park. Much of the land in this tract was purchased in 1931. Much of the land in the surrounding area was cleared for farming before the turn of the 20th century. Most of the Blue Hole timber fell before the crosscut saw of the commercial lumberman, rather than the ax of the pioneer settler. Early settlers used the timber for home building and fuel. Later, trees were cut for charcoal, lumber, mine props, fence posts, and railroad ties. The maple sugar and syrup industry was also important then, as it is now. One year after the Commonwealth made the first purchase of land in this tract, a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp was established. The camp was built for a capacity of 200 men and included a forester’s cabin, pump house, blacksmith shop, tool shed, bathhouse, officer’s quarter, recreation hall, dining hall, garage and barracks. Today, only one of these buildings remains. The CCC constructed many forest roads and trails, planted many acres of trees, developed springs such as nearby Patterson Spring, and conducted forest stand improvement.
Mount Davis, the highest point in Pennsylvania is found in the Negro Mountain tract of the Forbes State Forest. Most of this land was purchased in 1929, with smaller acquisitions later. Pioneer farmers began settling this area in the early 1800's. The foundation of an old pine tar kiln can be found close to the High Point. It is believed to have been abandoned around 1835. Pine tar was extracted from pine knots at this site, and used as wagon grease, for marking sheep, and as a cure for distemper in horses. One of the most striking geologic features around the high point is the interesting pattern made by loose rocks on the surface of the ground. Several of these polygons, 25 to 30 feet in diameter, can be seen from the observation tower. The Forest Maintenance Headquarters is located on the former site of CCC camp S-97. The camp was in operation until July 1937.
Firsts for the Forbes
1909 – first purchase of land, from Byers-Allen Lumber Company
1909 – first District Forester, John R. Williams
1910 – first trees planted (white pine)
1911 – first Game Preserve established, near Grove Run
1921 – first known fire tower, Sugar Loaf, erected
1921 – first Public Camps (Adam Falls and Laurel Summit) designated
1927 – first Trout Nursery established in what is now Linn Run State Park
1933 – first CCC camp established