Miller Mountain, the last privately owned, freestanding mountain in Pennsylvania, will not be a ski resort or junkyard. Nor will it carry a bypass around the Susquehanna River town of Tunkhannock, which it has long watched over.
In late December, Gifford Pinchot State Forest took ownership of the 2,500 acres of mostly forested land and opened them for hiking, camping, photographic vistas, mountain biking, hunting, wildlife management and other passive recreational uses that are the mission of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. As with other state forests, sustainable timber harvesting will also be allowed.
Part of the vast Appalachian Mountains, Miller Mountain is the highest peak in the area, at 2,216 feet. Just west of the Pocono Plateau, it serves as the eastern gateway to the state’s Endless Mountains and can be seen from almost anywhere in the region.
The mountain stands out because it is not attached to any ridge. “I feel its biggest attraction is it’s a landscape level acquisition. It’s not half a mountain. It’s like a sugar bowl sitting on its own,” said Nicholas Lylo, district forester of Gifford Pinchot State Forest.
And, added Timothy Latz, assistant district forester, it’s “one-stop shopping” for a wide variety of habitats.
“I really think it can be just a premier hiking and outdoors destination,” is the verdict of nearby resident Jeff Mitchell, a former Wyoming County district attorney who has written four popular hiking and backpacking guides to Pennsylvania.
“The mountain is just beautiful and it has these great views and streams and gorges and a lot of meadows and fields.”
Already, Mitchell and others are forming a Friends of Miller Mountain group to aid the state and explore possible trails to the mountain’s natural treasures.
Logging roads, ski slope openings, farm roads, informal all-terrain vehicle paths and a gas pipeline right-of-way give forest managers and grassroots planners a large and varied canvas to work with.
For decades, the fate of the mountain kept area residents ill at ease.
In the late 1960s, a developer from Philadelphia bought the mountain and began planning a ski resort. With a vertical drop of 1,300 feet in the proposed ski area, it would have had the steepest slopes in the state. Sleepy Tunkhannock, built on the river’s edge to accommodate lumbering, shad fishing and farming, could be transformed into a ski town.
But a problem developed when Eaton Township, a “dry” municipality where the mountain is located, refused to grant a special exception for the resort. Undeterred and apparently defiant, according to local officials, the developer, who had timbering rights on the property, began cutting down trees.
“You could look up there and see ski trails take shape,”…