Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Oil Creek State Park

A little less than an hour south of Erie lies a small region of Northwest PA that very few people outside of the region have even heard of, let alone visited.  Yet events that happened there over 150 years ago have shaped the very direction of human life on this planet.  There is not a single day that goes by where we don't come into contact with the technology founded in this region of PA.  Of course I'm talking about Oil Creek, and the corridor that connects Oil City, Titusville and Warren.  It was here along the banks of a little known creek where Col Edwin Drake developed technology to efficiently extract crude oil from the Earth.

For centuries native peoples knew of small pockets in the region where a black slimy substance bubbled up from the ground and spoiled the water nearby.  They found out if you separated that substance from the water it would burn.  It stunk and gave off black smoke, but if you dipped cloth in it, it would be easier for you to transport fire starting material.  This is a critical skill in any nomadic or even semi-nomadic people.

In the post Civil War years whales were slaughtered en mass for their fat.  This fat could be easily boiled down and transported, making for cheap and safe lamp oil.  Lamp oil that eventually became so popular that whale population began to pay a hefty price.  Necessity being the mother of invention, people began looking for cheaper sources of lamp oil. 

Crude oil, while cheap, was not efficient to hand dip out of a few swamps here and there.  So what Col Drake did was to develop the first efficient drilling and piping rig to be used to give the crude oil a controlled method of escape.  And thus was born the modern age. 

Without oil the auto industry doesn't leave the ground.  Internal combustion engines are inefficient dreams.  And the plastics that encompass our entire modern lives never exists.  All of those things are derived from crude oil that Col Drake's pipes released from the ground.

Presently the heavily wooded region surrounding Drake's well has been preserved as a State Park, saving both the natural beauty of the region. The actual historic site is preserved with a museum, and for a nominal fee you can explore the grounds and view some amazing old equipment.  The park has over 50 miles of hiking and biking trails, plus a historic train ride available seasonally.  Tent camping is available in several areas, and some simple lean-to shelters you can stay in while hiking. 

This past weekend I took my youngest son down to the museum.  It was just a short trip on Sunday, and we spent our time hiking along a couple of the shorter trails, and just enjoying the pleasant January weather.  We did drive several of the roads around the park, but be warned, many have no winter maintenance.  We were lucky that the recent thaw had cleared the way, but I could see several areas that would have been quite sketchy during a normal January.

Happy Exploring
Scott M

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