Mt. Nittany Conservancy looks to protect, preserve iconic feature of Centre County

This is the first installment in a weekly series that highlights the organizations or people behind one of the Foundation’s funds

Most people think of Sunday as a day of rest and relaxation. But when John Hook and his wife have some extra time to kill on a Sunday, their first instinct isn’t to lie on the couch watching TV. It’s to climb Mt. Nittany. And when John asks his wife what she’d like to do on her birthday, the answer is simple: climb Mt. Nittany.

Guessing how many times he’s climbed the mountain is hard for John, but he thinks 100 sounds about right.

But Mr. Hook’s love of the mountain goes beyond climbing it. He is also president of the Mt. Nittany Conservancy.

“The idea is to conserve Mt. Nittany for public use and keep it out of the hands of any developers, so that it will always be there and always be pristine and undeveloped,” Hooks said. “The more land that we can get our hands on, the less land there is out there for development.”

The organization’s origins go back to the 1940s, when rumors spread that a timber company was going to purchase hundreds of acres of land that make up Mt. Nittany. To prevent this from happening to their precious mountain, members of the Penn State Lion’s Paw Alumni Association bought about 500 acres of Mt. Nittany land. To continue these efforts, the Mt. Nittany Conservancy was formed in 1981.

To Hook, it’s obvious why the mountain is so important to locals.

“When people think of Happy Valley, they think of the Nittany Lions,” he said. “The reason for the existence of anything in the area is Penn State. And their mascot is the Nittany Lion, and that comes from Mt. Nittany. It is the symbol.”

Since the Conservancy has no paid staff, financial assistance from supporters like the Centre County Community Foundation is vital to the organization.

A recent grant from the Foundation gave the Conservancy the chance to make the mountain’s trails safer and more accessible to the public by making it possible for the group to put sign posts on the trails. For decades, trees were periodically spray painted to mark different paths. But a few years ago, after a woman and her small children got lost on the mountain and were temporarily stranded there waiting for assistance, Conservancy members decided action needed to be taken to prevent this problem in the future.

“There are signs on the trail now, where each sign has a map of the trail system and they clearly explain to you where you are and where you’re going,” Hook said, adding that the Conservancy noticed a big increase in the number of hikers coming to the mountain after the signs went up.

“We think that those trail signs were a huge benefit to allow people who normally don’t hike to be able to feel like ‘I’m not gonna get lost in the woods,’ ” he said.

So now, with spring finally starting to push winter weather aside, and with Earth Day fast approaching, John said it’s the perfect time to enjoy the scenic beauty of Central Pennsylvania with an invigorating hike up Mt. Nittany!

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