Mount Nittany and Joab Thomas

I’ve been spending some time recently on scanning and digitizing a few boxes worth of early Mount Nittany Conservancy archives that Ben Novak provided to me. As the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s founder and first president, Ben was instrumental not only in the organization’s major land preservation and fundraising efforts throughout the 1980s and early 1990s that we covered in Conserving Mount Nittany, but also in creating and promoting the distinctive “Square Inch” Life Estate Deeds, which provide a true, legal square inch of Mount Nittany for the life of the donor—recorded with the Centre County Recorder of Deeds—in exchange for a beautiful, framed deed certificate.

Over the course of these scanning and archival efforts, a number of prominent Penn Staters and State College names appear, including Dr. Joab Thomas and his wife. Dr. Thomas was Penn State’s president from 1990-1995, and he and his wife ordered their Square Inch in the early 1990s:



Mount Nittany’s hiking stations

When I was on Mount Nittany over Arts Fest weekend in July, I pulled out my iPhone to check Google Maps at one point when we had been walking for a while. We had left the Mike Lynch Overlook- Station 3, and were heading toward the site of the Deeded Square Inches between Stations 5 and 6. But there were a lot of us in tow, and some were leery about the distance, and about getting back down the Mountain to eat at Cafe Lemont before breakfast time was over.

I noticed at the time that only three of the 11 hiking stations were listed on Google Maps, and that the site of the Square Inches was missing, too. Worse, my cousin arrived late to the Mountain with her friends, because Google Maps listed “Mount Nittany” a few miles to the east of where the trailhead and parking are located. So I spent some time last week adding the missing stations, the Square Inches, and the trailhead location to Google Maps. They’re now listed:

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I also updated the GPS coordinates for “Mount Nittany” on Google Maps, which apparently pulls from Wikipedia. We’ll see if it’s updated; until it is, I suspect many would-be hikers are deterred after driving for miles without figuring out how to get themselves to the trailhead.

Mount Nittany Conservancy makes these trail maps and guides available on their site, but I suspect a lot of people go straight to Google Maps or an equivalent.

Mount Nittany Conservancy refresh

Shortly before the release of Conserving Mount Nittany a few years ago, I volunteered to refresh the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s website.

It was a somewhat cumbersome refresh, because I was moving lots of content (100+ posts and dozens of pages) from a manually created HTML/FTP context to a more flexible and self-hosted WordPress context. The site we launched is the fourth below—each of the first four screenshots below is courtesy of from the years 2001, 2006, 2011, 2014, and 2017:

What we launched in 2013 was good for its time and introduced a lot of new things including a responsive design for mobile devices, but showed its age more quickly than I hoped when we launched it. So I spent some time earlier this spring moving everything from a self-hosted WordPress context to for greater stability, more security, and an overall more robust platform that requires only basic consumer technical experience.

What’s now live is the fifth major refresh of the Mount Nittany Conservancy site, and the second I’ve done in the past five years.

I hope it introduces Mount Nittany to residents of Happy Valley and visitors in a welcoming and exciting way.

Mount Nittany Marathon, 2014

Earlier this year I shared my reflections on my first Mount Nittany Marathon, which I ran in 2013 over Labor Day. The marathon was sponsored by the Mount Nittany Conservancy as both a way for people to run a marathon in Centre County and as a novel way to experience the Mountain and surrounding areas. They stopped after year three (which I registered for, but ending up not running), but I did run again in their second marathon in 2014, again over the Labor Day weekend. Sharing what I wrote at the time:

The Mount Nittany Conservancy hosted its second Mount Nittany Marathon on Sunday, and I ran it for the second year. Running last year’s inaugural Mount Nittany Marathon was also my first marathon. This year was different; most noticeably I was more at ease through the whole run. Now familiar, the 26.2 mile course and its highs and lows felt more manageable.


I tweeted that out after the run, and it turns out I finished just a bit faster than I thought, in 4h:34m:35s, placing 119th of 193 finishers. Consistency is reassuring, so I can’t complain.

Like last year, the marathon started and ended at the intersection of Beaver Stadium and Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. A key difference in the experience of the run from last year was the sky opening up and pouring blankets of heavy, thick, warm raindrops just as the race began and continuing through Mile 12 or so. The marathon also began at 7am, an hour earlier than last year; so coupled with the rain, the entire thing felt much funner since more of the run was in less of that late summer dead-heat sort of weather.

The course was largely the same as last year, except for a change between miles 14 to 16 that took us off of Atherton and through Scenery Park. This was much nicer, though in talking with John Hook afterwards apparently meant that stretch’s terrain was a bit more difficult.


I’m thinking of write up something more for Onward State, but for now I’ll highlight what I wrote last year and still applicable:

It’s safe to say that the Mount Nittany Conservancy really succeeded with the Mount Nittany Marathon, bringing people together from across the community to put on a great new event. A takeaway from Conserving Mount Nittany is that this is the epitome of the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s founding mission: it’s meant not only to steward the Mountain, but also to create cultural experiences that enhance through first-person experience the magic of the Mountain.

I was again grateful to Jerry Harrington for capturing the runners as we neared Mile 17 where we crossed Atherton Street. For whatever reason in both years I’ve managed to be mid-blink for these photos, but this one does give a good look at how wet everything was even late into the race.


I wasn’t sure if I’d run the Mount Nittany Marathon again, but I’m glad I did. Every supporter of my crowdfunding campaign came to mind over the course of the run, particularly Gavin Keirans’s comment:

Pace and certainty will get you to the finish line.

It did.

Mount Nittany memories

I told Catie Simpson at Onward State a few years ago that I don’t think climbing Mount Nittany is an experience that should be treated as a bucket list item—as something to be checked off as complete in a one-and-done manner. Mount Nittany is a beautiful and historic part of Central Pennsylvania’s Nittany Valley, and it’s something that one should have the opportunity to come to know over many visits and much time spent together.

As I’ve been thinking about the Mountain, and the need to get back and hike it soon now that it’s getting colder, I revisited some of the reflections that Onward State readers shared with me about Mount Nittany a few years ago. I’m sharing those here:

I’ve always loved Mt. Nittany and what it means to Penn State. My favorite memories of the mountain are climbing it with the Blue Band. Finding things to do with such a large group are hard, but this was one of the easiest to get people involved. It was a great time becoming closer with different people in the 300+ band and having fun enjoying the wonderful views the mountain gives with everyone. It is one thing that never gets old doing. – Matt Wagner

I’ll always remember the first time I climbed Mount Nittany, the summer before my freshman year. I was a bit uneasy preparing for the ‘college experience’ but ultimately very excited. The view from the top of Mt. Nittany at dusk, the setting sun covering State College in a hue of sunset orange, is an incredible sight It left me feeling secure and calm. Any incoming student who is a little anxious or worried about the years ahead should take the time to hike up to the top of Mt. Nittany at dusk and enjoy the tranquil experience. It can really make a difference and calm any concerns. – Kieran Carlisle

We had the perfect afternoon a few days after a snowfall in February. The skies had cleared up, it was sunny and a warm 45 degrees. The ice on the trail made it an adventure to get to the top! The view was incredible that day. Snow blanketed the valley and it was calm and quiet. We will never forget that day and what led to many more hikes/races to the top! – Clark H.

I climbed Mt. Nittany many years ago as a child. I don’t really remember getting to the spot where we could look out over State College, but I do vividly remember the view. One of these days, I’m going to have to climb it again with my kids so they can remember the view too. Several years ago, just after Mt. Nittany Middle School was built, I drove up to road next to the school and took a photo of the mountain. That single picture has served as quite a few backdrops on various things I’ve created over the years. It’s such an icon. – Scott Barbara

Most non-Penn Staters ask me what’s a “Nittany Lion?” I’m so proud to tell them every time the story of how the famous Nittany Lion nickname came about. I’ve only climbed Mount Nittany once but if you’re going to do it, try doing it while also carrying a wooden pallet up with you for a small campfire cookout with friends. In the fall of 2009, myself and 34 other THON Rules & Regulations Captains made climbing Mt. Nittany one of our team building exercises. On a nice weekend morning, we helped each other climb to the top with the wooden pallet, some hot dogs, marshmallows, and all of our cameras or camera phones for that picture every Penn Stater should take at the top with the Happiest Valley in the world in the background! – Brian Martin

My first trip up Mt. Nittany was in the spring of my junior year. After hearing so much about the awesome views at Mt Nittany and experiencing a few other trails in the area, namely Shaver’s Creek and Whipple Dam I knew it was time to climb Mt. Nittany. Being a newcomer to the trail, I ended up taking the long way around to the look-out point of Happy Valley. Hiking the entire trail wasn’t disappointing at all (not that I expected it to be) and I found it to be quite refreshing to get a different view of the area surrounding our beloved Happy Valley. So many times you hear 45,000 students, small mountain town, etc– but to see it from the top of Mt. Nittany really showed me how big our community was. I loved looking through my binoculars and pointing out Beaver Stadium, Old Main, west campus (where I lived at the time). These were all of the Penn State staples and for the first time I really got to put into perspective how immense our campus is and thought about how so many diverse activities could fit into such a relatively small area. I had always heard our campus referred to as the “Penn State bubble”, but from this view it didn’t necessarily seem like a bad thing. – Jackie Dunfee

Mount Nittany Marathon

The beautiful sun and breezes of summertime are here, and it has me thinking back on my first experience running the Mount Nittany Marathon a few years ago. The marathon went for three years, but I think it’s now a thing of the past. In memory of it, I’m sharing something I wrote after running it Labor Day 2013 and enjoying the experience:

The Mount Nittany Conservancy, which owns/preserves 800+ acres of iconic Mount Nittany in Central Pennsylvania, hosted the Mount Nittany Marathon yesterday. It’s the first marathon in the Nittany Valley in, I think, nearly a quarter century. Since learning about the Mount Nittany Marathon last year I had resolved to run it.

Other than the Sloppy Cuckoo Trail Half Marathon in Philadelphia in 2011, I hadn’t run anything like this. In fact, the longest distance I had run prior to yesterday was 13.5 miles, most recently in February in Ave Maria, FL. In other words, I wasn’t sure I would finish, and mentally set the goal of “Lets give it a shot!” rather than “I must compete and finish with great performance.”

Starting the run from Medlar Field at Lubrano Park was perfect. It was my first time inside the park and with its sweeping view of Mount Nittany, there couldn’t have been a better way to start the Mount Nittany Marathon. (I should start going to State College Spikes games next year.)

The route turned out to be tremendous, offering an experience of the Nittany Valley unlike anything I had known before—and as a board member of The Nittany Valley Society, I try to know a great deal about the character of the place!

Experiences: Running through campus and hearing the Alma Mater and fight songs playing across early morning fields, passing through covered wooden bridges, streams, and surreal looking woodlands throughout Millbrook Marsh, seeing people throughout Lemont and Oak Hall with their distinguished architecture, passing through neighborhoods both large and small and seeing the most beautiful backyards and walkable pathways, hearing the cows mooing so loudly as we passed that it seemed they were cheering us on, experiencing increasing heat and fatigue after the first 1.5 hours as the morning gave way to day, and returning to campus for the close to the bustle of Labor Day weekend life. It was a joy, even as it became a blur.

I ended up syncing my pace with a Penn State sophomore who was also running his first marathon. We ran the last mile pretty hard and it was helpful having a “teammate” to come through the finish line with. The result was a finish in 4h:36m:57s, putting me 87th of 138 finishers.

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What were some lessons from the run? First, take everything offered at every watering station. I can’t stress this enough. On shorter runs I routinely wave off water/gatorade stations, but for a marathon I was ready to take almost anything I could along the way—cups of water/gatorade, bits of watermelon, sprinkler showers, etc.

I also tried my first energy gel, Hammer’s Montana Huckleberry. A Ragnar teammate became nauseous and vomited during a stretch of January’s Miami to Key West relay after taking Gu gels, so I was a bit trepidacious about trying the Hammer gel—but I rationalized that I couldn’t afford not to, and am glad I tried it.

Another thing: I doubt I would ever have finished if not for a child-helper at the Mile 7 watering station who offered me an entire, freezing-cold bottle of Aquafina. It wasn’t clear to me that entire bottles were an option—typically only cups of water are offered as you pass. I carried this bottle for the next few miles and it turned out to be critical—I went through six more during the rest of the race and felt like I was burning fluids fast. I’m sure I would’ve faced serious hydration problems without those full bottles. So, thanks kid!

As mentioned, I wasn’t entirely sure if I would be able to complete the entire marathon. Along the way, a critical aid in completing the run was a lack of visible mile markers between Miles 11 and 19. It was a major mental aid, reminding me to just keep running. Even though I could guess roughly how far along I was, it would’ve been pretty burdensome to be told every mile that there were still many more left to run. Also: Vaseline at Mile 19 was extremely helpful, for reasons that should be pretty clear.

I also broke with my customary practice of running with my iPhone for RunKeeper and music—partly because the battery would not have lasted for the entire 26.2 miles, and partly because I didn’t think I would want to be carrying the iPhone the entire time. This turned out to be the right call, at least for me. I only noticed a few of the ~150 runners with devices/earbuds.

Running the Marathon (University Drive)

The Mount Nittany Marathon was a really first-class event, with superb volunteers all along the way from the Nittany Valley Running Club, Penn State sports teams, families, and others.

A great branding effort was obvious throughout, with the logo even appearing on the sneaker tracker visible on my right shoe. I was surprised not to find a brochure touting the Mount Nittany Conservancy in the runner packet, but if you’ve registered for the run maybe it’s assumed you know about their great work. Seeing the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s John Hook and Vince Verbeke, two friends over the years, was surprisingly energizing. John and Vince are the two signers of my Mount Nittany Life Estate Deed, so it was special for me to see them both along the way. I can see why so many runners have their families cheer them on.

It’s safe to say that the Mount Nittany Conservancy really succeeded with the Mount Nittany Marathon, bringing people together from across the community to put on a great new event. A takeaway from Conserving Mount Nittany: A Dynamic Environmentalism is that this is the epitome of the Mount Nittany Conservancy’s founding mission—it’s meant not only to steward the Mountain, but also to create cultural experiences that enhance through first-person experience the magic of the Mountain.

I’m not sure if or when I might run another marathon, but I’m thrilled to have been a part of the Mount Nittany Marathon and hope it becomes an annual part of the Nittany Valley’s cultural environment.

Nittany 100

I discovered The Nittany 100 on Facebook the other day. It’s Sandy Miller’s 2016 adventure-in-progress to hike Mount Nittany 100 times over the course of the year:

Since moving to State College in 2007, I’ve had a special relationship with Mount Nittany. I plan to explore that relationship in full this year as I hike/run the mountain 100 times in 365 days. The mountain is constantly changing and I plan to explore and enjoy it in its entirety this year! Join me by following here, or by meeting me at the trailhead when I post my hikes. We’ll talk music, beer, gear hacks and whatever else comes to mind.

Hiking Mount Nittany has been on the bucket list of Penn Staters more or less since there has been a Penn State. Even before, in fact. The earliest known references to student camping parties to the Mountain occurred with Professor Pugh in the earliest years of the place. Sandy’s Nittany 100 follows in the spirit of this tradition of relationship with the Mountain.

It would be great for more who hike it as a “thing to do” to pick a number higher than “one,” even if they don’t pick “one hundred.”

Scenic spots should be scenic

Last Sunday I woke up in State College and went on an early run through town. I decided at one point that I wanted to see Mount Nittany from the overlook on Penn State’s campus near Beaver Stadium and the Bryce Jordan Center, so that’s where I ran.

The Mount Nittany Conservancy installed a great informational plaque there a number of years ago, and recently refreshed it with a newer version. It calls attention to the Mountain as our community’s landmark and symbol in such a key way, right where thousands congregate a few special Saturdays each autumn.

But there’s a problem with this spot, and it’s Penn State’s fault. This is supposed to be a place for admiration of the Mountain. Look closely, and you see what’s actually in front of your face:

Pay attention to the little things, and the big things take care of themselves. This parking lot light post is a little thing that distracts from the Mountain in a big way. It shouldn’t be there. Neither should those growing trees, which will eventually obscure the lower portion of the Mountain, especially when it’s not March and they’re in bloom.

Move this stuff to the left, or install smaller posts and shrubs. Scenic spots should be scenic.

Conserving Mount Nittany audiobook

When I finished Conserving Mount Nittany in 2013, I knew I wanted to see it released audiobook, too. Since Ben Novak founded the Mount Nittany Conservancy and since his story features prominently in the book, I sat down with him for a few hours that summer and we recorded the raw reads of the book. Those reads sat in Google Drive for about 18 months before the Nittany Valley Society could produce those reads into something presentable.

Nittany Valley Press has done that, and Conserving Mount Nittany is now available on Amazon and Apple in audiobook format. I’m also making it available below for free, because we want the story of Mount Nittany to be accessible to the widest interested audience. An Amazon or Apple purchase is still the best way to ensure you get a lifetime copy that’s all your own and that you can bookmark and listen to on any device. All proceeds benefit Centre Foundation’s Mount Nittany Conservancy and Shakely Family Conservation funds.

Robert Beese’s Mount Nittany

On a trip to State College last year a friend of mine familiar with my love for Mount Nittany pulled something remarkable out of her basement. What she had was the photo you see here. It’s a photo of Mount Nittany taken by Robert Beese probably sometime in the 1940s.

The second I laid eyes on this it captured me. I don’t juts see Mount Nittany. I see a pristine place of beauty. Not only the Mountain untouched by man, but pretty much an entirely natural landscape.

Robert Beese’s Mount Nittany doesn’t just capture a bit of pre-industrial Central Pennsylvania—a bit of the world of a few decades ago. I think it captures the ancient spirit of the Mountain. It’s the same scene that Evan Pugh would have seen when looking out from campus. And it’s the landscape that the Lenni Lenape and countless generations before them would have been a part of. To really be carried away by Robert Beese’s Mount Nittany is to let yourself, for a few moments, slip out of time.

Obviously, I love it. If you do too, you can access the high resolution version on Flickr and make your own print. (I’ll assume Robert Beese would have wanted to share unless I hear otherwise from his family.)

Beese died in 2004 at age 86, and my older State College friend was a friend of his. Penn State Libraries has a collection of his work, and the text below is from their site. After my State College friend gave me his Mount Nittany, I had it framed pretty much right away.

From 1942 until his retirement in 1977, Robert S. Beese served as photographer for the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State, advised the Penn State Camera Club, and was active with the Color Slide Club. Beese began his photographic career while growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was an active member of his high school’s camera club, and even set up a dark room in his parents’ basement, equipped with an enlarger he made himself. Shortly after graduation, he began an apprenticeship with a local photographer who encouraged him to enroll in a top photographic school. Beese enrolled at the Clarence White School of Photography in New York City, where he studied under Ansel Adams. His classmates included Dorothea Lange and Margaret Bourke-White. Beese also studied at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, the Layton School of Art in Milwaukee, and the Winowa and Leica schools of photography, both in Winowa, Indiana.