Buchanan ranger to keep eye on visitors

June 02, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

Merl Waltz, district forester at the 77,000-acre Buchanan State Forest, said the hiring of Shawn Lynn as the forest's first forest ranger last month will mean an increase in citations to those who violate the rules of the forest, especially all-terrain vehicle riders.

Lynn's presence in the forest will mean a more watchful eye on everyone who uses it, Waltz said.

His main duty will be assisting forest visitors - from giving directions to trails, hunting and fishing areas and picnic grounds, to helping with vehicle breakdowns and the like, Waltz said.

Buchanan State Forest, five principal tracts covering more than 77,000 acres in Franklin, Fulton and Bedford counties, is growing in popularity for hikers, ATV and snowmobilers, mountain bikers, (motorcycles are banned) horseback riders, picnickers and those who come just for the peace and quiet.


"More and more people are using the forest every year in all categories," Waltz said. "Use has more than doubled in the 10 years that I've been working here."

Lynn's presence will include night time and weekend patrols, Waltz said.

Prior to Lynn's hiring, state forest officers, who have limited arrest powers, issued less than 10 citations a year, he said. Most were for ATV use violations, especially for riding off of designated trails, Waltz said.

Last week alone Lynn said he issued citations to six ATV users.

"We'd prefer not to find any violations," Waltz said. "We're hoping his presence will cut down on the violations once people know he's on the job.

"We want people to enjoy the forest as long as they follow the rules."

When ATVs go off designated trails, they tear up the ground and cause soil erosion, Waltz said. "We also don't want them in areas where they can ruin the peace and quiet of hikers," he said.

A first-offense fine for an ATV violation ranges from $50 to $200 plus $80 in costs. Fines for a second offense go to $300. There is an automatic $300 fine for driving an ATV that has not been registered in Pennsylvania, no matter in which state the owner lives, Lynn said.

Trail maps for all users can be obtained at the forest headquarters at 440 Buchanan Trail in McConnellsburg or by calling the office at 1-717-485-3148.

Lynn, 38, lives in Three Springs, Pa., in Huntingdon County, a half-hour's drive from the McConnellsburg headquarters. He was a park ranger at Cowan's Gap State Park in Fulton County for seven years before he applied for the forest ranger's job.

He has the same powers of arrest as a municipal police officer in Pennsylvania, but only on state forest land. He has jurisdiction over violations of the state's criminal and vehicle codes, he said. The state police would be called in the event of a serious crime like murder, he said.

State forest officers at Buchanan State Forest protected the forest before Lynn came on board, but they have limited police powers and are not armed, Waltz said. Lynn carries a pistol.

Lynn said he applied for the job because it offers more opportunity for advancement and more territory than his job did at Cowan's Gap.

"Working in the state park was like working in a city. There's a lot more wilderness to cover here," he said.

Various-sized parts of three state forests are in Franklin County. They include the 85,000-acre Michaux State Forest in the county's eastern regions, the 91,000-acre Tuscarora State Forest in the north, and Buchanan State Forest in the west.

According to Waltz, about 10,000 acres of Buchanan State forest are in Franklin County and 30,000 acres are in Fulton County.

Altogether, there are about 40,000 acres of state forest land in Franklin County, he said.

The state bought the land for the Buchanan State Forest between 1904 and the early 1930s. The average price for the mostly cut-over forest land was $2 an acre. Today second- and third-growth trees are producing lumber again in managed harvesting operations at a rate of 2.7 million board-feet of lumber and a half-million cubic feet of plywood every year.

The forest was named after James Buchanan, the 15th president of the United States, who was born in Mercersburg, Pa.

William Beyers was the first district forester in Buchanan, Waltz said. He was in the first graduation class in the Pennsylvania Forestry School in Mont Alto, Pa., which today is the Mont Alto Campus of Penn State University.

"He used to do his job on horseback," Waltz said.

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