JEF KNAPP: Mahoning valley full of options
Many of the larger tributaries of the Allegheny River are impounded by federal flood control dams. While the primary purpose of these reservoirs is to provide flood protection within the watershed, they also furnish extensive outdoor opportunities that are open to the public. These aren’t limited to fishing, as significant acreage surrounding Mahoning Lake is also part of the project and typically provides a wealth of hunting options.
Located in the northeastern corner of Armstrong County, this Corps of Engineers dam on Mahoning Creek backs the creek up for several miles. In that the maximum capacity of this flood control dam is over 60 feet above the normal summer pool, the public lands extend well up not only the Mahoning Creek valley, but that of the lower end of Little Mahoning Creek as well.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission manages the flood zone lands surrounding Mahoning Lake. This is a common practice on many federal flood control lakes. Acreage available for public hunting totals about 1,280 acres. Other than in developed areas, hunting is permitted throughout the project property.
The public hunting lands at Mahoning extend upstream along the creek into Indiana and Jefferson counties. The terrain close to the dam is rugged and heavily wooded.
Using a boat to access more remote hunting areas is a possibility, though not a certainty. The lake sees a significant winter drawdown, one that typically occurs during mid- to late October. This leaves the boat access at the upper end of the lake, the Milton Access, high and dry. A secondary ramp — called the Sportsman’s Ramp — is found near the town of Dayton. It extends into the lake at winter pool, though the road leading to the area is narrow and winding as it drops down into the lake valley. For this reason the corps closes the road when winter conditions arrive. The pool length at winter pool is less than two miles. If you decide to use a boat to access these steep ridges, a 10 hp limit is in place.
The more significant public areas are located upstream of Milton, found along State Route 839. Allen Flats Road intersects with Route 839 near Milton and runs along the northern portion of the property. Here things flatten out dramatically, and since the public land is based on elevation, the tract is much wider here. This area contains a mix of cultivated land, brush and woods. Access to the opposite side of the creek requires wading across a shallow section of Mahoning Creek. This is a fertile bottomland with a mix of mature hardwoods and younger growth.
Further upstream, Little Mahoning Creek joins Mahoning Creek. A bridge spans Mahoning Creek at the spot. Public lands also straddle Little Mahoning a couple miles upstream toward Smicksburg and extend up Mahoning Creek toward North Point.
Thanks to the blend of habitats, the list of hunting options within the Mahoning Creek project is impressive. The deer population is fine. The rugged valley of Mahoning Creek (as well as Redbank Creek to the north) has long been known as a good area for black bears. Wild turkeys are common within the upland areas.
Puddle ducks, particularly wood ducks, use Mahoning and Little Mahoning creeks. Early-season waterfowlers can expect some action by stalking the creek valley edge for jump-shooting action.
The Game Commission stocks pheasants within the grass/brushlands along Allen Flats Road; this area also supports a good cottontail rabbit population. At times flights of woodcock also set down along this fertile creek bottom.
Be sure to call ahead for lake conditions before a hunt. Daily lake conditions can be heard by phoning (814) 257-8017. Contact the park office at (814) 257-8811.