Last Updated on by Jeremy
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The Jennings Environmental Education Center is one part museum, one part park near Slippery Rock, PA.
The park itself is known for its roughly 20-acre prairie, which is one of the only protected and public prairies in the state. Not only does this make the location unique in its own right, but the park is home to a gorgeous museum and many more hiking trails to check out.
What You Can See at the Jennings Environmental Education Center
Although the education center/museum has limited hours, those who time their visit accordingly will be rewarded with a number of displays featuring the history of the park and what you can see when exploring.
This museum does a wonderful job highlighting the early days of the park via its founder, Otto Jennings, and his goal to protect the rare prairie and its threatened resident- the eastern Massasauga rattlesnake. While exploring, you can read more about Otto's research into the park, hear a recording of radio broadcasts he did in the early 1900s, and learn more about the rattlesnake that calls the prairie home (and even hear their rattle!).
After taking a short stroll through the museum, you can head out into the prairie and explore more of the park. Visitors to the prairie near the end of July or early August may be rewarded with a summer flower bloom, during which the park's blazing star flower comes out in abundance as well as several other flower varieties.
Going beyond the prairie and the education center, the park is also home to several miles of hiking trails that pass by sawmill ruins, a passive wetland water treatment system, and more. However, many visitors can stick to the environmental center, prairie, and shorter trails and still have an excellent experience.
*Further notes about the Massasauga– This snake is only found in the prairie section of the park, and only very rare sightings have occurred on the trails. While your odds of seeing a snake are quite low, please follow allow posted signs and do not leave the trail when hiking through this section of the park.
Hiking at Jennings
No matter how you break it down, the main trails at the Jennings Environmental Education Center are well maintained and fairly easy to navigate.
The park features accessible trails close to the education center, which offer wide, flat paths with a short loop in the forest. While the path out into the prairie section of the park is also considered to be accessible (it is quite wide and flat as well), it does have some bumpy spots and can be muddy after the rain.
Beyond these trails, the further trails out in the park are well maintained but are more like typical hiking trails and may have uneven surfaces, elevation gains, and such. Likewise, a few of the park trails connect to larger thru-hiking trails (such as the North Country Trail which goes from New York to North Dakota and passes through the park- blue blazed), so you'll definitely want to be paying attention to where you are heading in order to not get off on a long, one-way mistake. A full park map can be found here.
The park also rents out snowshoes during the winter months for those who want to explore the park in a different way, and we look forward to trying this one out during the next snowfall!
Overall, the Jennings Environmental Education Center is an interesting spot north of Pittsburgh as it is a stunning park but also works toward protecting the rare prairie and threatened eastern Massasauga rattlesnake as well. You may visit this one for a short stroll through the prairie, or longer hikes along all the trails; but whatever you do, a great day out will be your reward for visiting this one!
The Jennings Environmental Education Center is located at 2951 Prospect Road in Slippery Rock, PA- just over an hour north of Pittsburgh. Note that while the trails are open daily, the education center building itself is typically open on weekdays and select weekends.
The Jennings Environmental Education Center is also one of the features in the book “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Pittsburgh Edition” that we are working through when hiking in the area. If you are interested in day hikes near Pittsburgh we highly recommend picking this one up!