The western half of Westmoreland County lies within the Western Allegheny Plateau section of the Appalachian Forest ecoregion.
The eastern half and its ridges – Chestnut and Laurel Ridge – are in the Central Appalachians.
Location: Laurel Highlands
Description: The DCNR provides directions for a driving tour of the Laurel Highlands, including much of Westmoreland county. The route gives directions to nine stops and gives information on the birds and flowers that can be seen at each location. The locations range from a mountain top bog to a deep gorge.
Location: Delmont, PA
Description: The Morosini Nature reserve is a 183-acre former farm that is managed by the Westmoreland Conservancy. The reserve features many varied habitats ranging from small ephemeral streams, and wooded hillsides to former farm fields and a pond. There are multiple hiking trails that zig-zag through the property as well as a 2,000 foot fully accessible “Universal Pedestrian Trail” that leads to the pond. Over 150 species of plants have been found on the Morosini Reserve as well as dozens of bird Species.
The Morosini Reserve is one of nine properties managed by the Westmoreland Conservancy. The properties total more than 600 acres. All preserves are freely open to the public for the enjoyment of nature.
Location: Rector, PA
Description: The varied topography and mixed hardwood and evergreen forest make the 612-acre Linn Run State Park a scenic place. The elevation ranges from 1,300 to 2,800 feet above sea level. Grove Run and Rock Run converge to make Linn Run. The park is home to two natural artesian springs, and Adam Falls Trail features a mountain waterfall, tucked in among rhododendron and hemlock. Many of the 6 miles of trails connect to trails in the adjacent Forbes State Forest. Forbes State Forest, spreading across the high ridges of the Laurel Highlands, consists of 15 tracts totaling almost 59,000 acres across Westmoreland, Fayette, and Somerset counties.
When the state bought this land in 1909, it was the first major public purchase of denuded forest land in the Ohio River basin. Most had been timbered off and a forester wrote at the time that three-fifths had been burned over after that, damaging young growth.
The interior forest of this park is home to the wood thrush, red-eyed vireo, blackburnian warbler, pileated woodpecker, ovenbird, and the scarlet tanager.
Location: Jones Mill, PA
Description: Located in southeastern Westmoreland County, this 3,500-acre area encompasses the major portion of the Roaring Run watershed, on the west slope of Laurel Ridge. This natural area is an example of a complete forested mountain watershed. Due to logging in the early 1900’s and the 1960’s, the forest consists mostly of second and third growth oak, birch, and sassafras. Fiddleheads can be found in the spring, and wild blueberries in the autumn.
Two high points of the ridge, known as Painter Rock Hill and Birch Rock Hill, are within the natural area. When the area was acquired by the commonwealth in 1975, it contained old logging roads from past timbering operations. With some help from man, nature is restoring this area.
Location: Lincoln, PA
Description: The temperatures at the six acres of Laurel Summit State Park are generally several degrees cooler than the surrounding towns. The elevation of the park is 2,739 feet (835 m) above sea level.
This land was acquired by the Commonwealth in 1909, it was part of the first major public purchase of denuded forest land made in the Ohio River Basin. About 15 years prior to the acquisition of the Linn Run property, this entire area was clear-cut. Fires subsequently transformed the original virgin forest into an area devoid of timber and wildlife.
The area in and surrounding Laurel Summit State Park is now a thriving second growth forest.
Laurel Summit State Park provides trailhead parking for Spruce Flats Bog and Wolf Rocks Trail.
Location: Lincoln, PA
Description: A unique place within the landscape of Pennsylvania, the site is better described as a poor fen than a bog. The two wetland types are very similar, but a fen is at least partially groundwater-fed whilst a bog is entirely precipitation-fed. Both habitats are rare within the state. The bog is home to some extremely rare species of flora that can tolerate the highwater table and acidic conditions. The bog flora can be viewed from a boardwalk that reaches out a few hundred feet into the bog.
Millions of years ago, an open water pond was located here in this depression on the mountain. Over time, the pond filled in and layers of peat accumulated in the waterlogged environment. Eventually, organic sediments grew high enough for trees to take root and a full-fledged forest was able to establish. In the early 1900s, lumbermen cut down the old growth hemlocks and the land reverted into open peatland. Evapotranspiration from the trees had been removing the water from the undrained basin.
Eventually, the bog or fen will fill up again and be reclaimed by trees.
In its current state this beautiful spot is home to some extremely rare species of flora that can tolerate the high water table and acidic conditions. Some, such as sundew and pitcher plant, are carnivorous and feed on insects as an adaptation to the nutrient-poor conditions. These and other bog plants can be observed from a boardwalk that reaches out a few hundred feet into the bog. It is easy to reach, with just a simple half mile walk on a level trail that starts at Laurel Summit State Park.
Location: Belle Vernon, PA
Description: Cedar Creek Park, with its 479 acres, is the premiere access point to the Youghiogheny River for Westmoreland County residents. The park is named for Cedar Creek which has cut a natural shale gorge in the northern section of the park before draining into the Youghiogheny. The park is also a great access point to the 150 mile long Great Allegheny Passage Rail Trail and the Youghiogheny River Water Trail that stretches 76 miles from Confluence to McKeesport.
Forested land along the Yough contains a variety of wildlife including the endangered eastern woodrat and timber rattlesnake. Improved water quality has revived the fishery, which has drawn herons and the occasional osprey. River islands near Connellsville and Layton, upstream from Cedar Creek, are notable for their biological diversity.
The group Youghiogheny River Keeper is involved with protecting, preserving, and restoring the Yough and its watershed.
Location: Greensburg, PA
Description: One of Westmoreland County’s best-kept secrets, Ann Rudd Saxman Nature Park is just behind the bustling commerce of Route 30, two miles east of Greensburg on Donohoe Road.
Conservationist, botanist, landscape designer and master gardener, Ann was an advocate of soil and water conservation, open space, composting and recycling. In 1996, the park was rededicated in her honor and an adjacent 10 wooded acres that were originally part of Ann’s farm were added to the park.
As of August 15, 2016, dogs are permitted at the Ann Rudd Saxman Nature Park. All park rules and ordinances must be followed, and dogs must be always kept on a 6-foot leash.
Location: New Stanton, PA
Description: The Sewickley Creek Wetlands Interpretive Area is a 21-acre environmental education area with trails and an observation deck. The site is dedicated to natural study and observation of plants and animals.
Sewickley Creek Wetlands is a man-made wetland built by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission to replace those that were affected by the construction of the Amos K. Hutchinson Bypass.
A wetland is a combination of soils, plants, and water, characterized by the dominance of moisture in the soil. Many of the plants depend on water, even though the soils may appear dry. In the summer look for the showy aquatic plants such as pickerelweed and water lily.
Location: Latrobe, PA
Description: The Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve at Saint Vincent College is a 50-acre nature reserve adjacent to Saint Vincent College. The Reserve features native landscapes, meadows, wetlands, and an Environmental Learning Barn. The Reserve is open to the public for conservation, recreation, and education.
The Reserve also features a butterfly garden to provide habitat for butterflies in all stages of their life.
Location: Latrobe, PA
Description: This nature preserve is managed by the Westmoreland Land Trust. This is a 54 acre preserve in North Huntingdon Township. It is a high-quality deciduous forest consisting of a former quarry, wooded slopes, and a floodplain of a tributary to Brush Creek. In the spring, it hosts an abundance of wild flowers. Westmoreland Land Trust has acquired 13 properties totaling 370 acres.