By: Bart Beck
It was only the end of winter when I stepped out of my car and slipped my feet into my running shoes, but it felt like spring already. The morning was cool and crisp, serving as a reminder of the season that is around the corner. For me, this was the perfect time to go for a run, and although I was due at work shortly, I decided to get a quick jaunt in not far from downtown State College.
One of the gems of State College is its multitude of small community parks, and one of the best for a trail run is located a few short blocks from Penn State Campus and downtown. Walnut Springs Park is a lush park located at the convergence of Easterly Parkway, University Drive, and Walnut Springs Lane. Its 19.4 acres are surrounded by neighborhoods on 2.5 sides (we’ll get to its other neighbors in a moment) but that doesn’t take from the fact that it supports a density and variety of wildlife that makes you feel like you’ve escaped the borough.
That wildlife is thanks to the park being the location of headwaters that are fed by springs. This allows the park to support a varying list of plant life and, in turn, the plethora of critters that the water and plants support. It all adds up to a place that is great for environmental education, exploration, and as a place that will allow your mind to wander and connect to nature while you get your miles in. Some of my favorite plants there are the knee deep ferns and the towing oaks, allowing you to feel big and small at the same time. If you’re lucky, you may be there when the black berries are ripe for the picking, making a flavorful burst of sugary juice to support your run. No matter when you go for a run, there will be life at Walnut Springs.
With that said, let’s get back to the running, as it is one of the better places to run near downtown State College. The park itself can easily support an enjoyable 5k depending on how you decide to loop it. The trails are predominately a mix of pea gravel, grass, and soil, which is great if you’re trying to take it easy on your knees. Walnut Springs also has a little bit of elevation change, without being overbearing. If this doesn’t seem to be enough for you, you’ve got some options.
The park is conveniently located close to downtown so you can easily do some road running to get to it, adding a little distance and elevation change to the run. It is also situated next to another park and a preserve.
On its backside, you will find the 43.36 acre Thompson Woods Preserves, and across Walnut Springs Lane, you’ll find Lederer Park. The preserve is comprised of a tract of woodland and has a couple of trails looping through, besides that, it’s all of woods. Lederer Park is a park of similar size with a couple more amenities. With these two tracts of land surrounding Walnut Springs Park, you have many options for meeting your run’s goals, and if those goals change, you can roll with the punches.
Whatever your plans may be, make sure you make some room for Walnut Springs Park. Whether you go out for a run like myself, to walk the dog, or just to relax and read, you’re sure to enjoy the scenery and atmosphere. Don’t just take it from me, though, get out there and experience it yourself.