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It’s hard to believe that the world’s first oil boom occurred along the path of what’s now the Oil Creek State Park Trail. The park’s forests, beaver ponds, and trout streams were once the site of oil derricks, boomtowns, pipelines, refineries, and a railroad that served the nation’s first oil patch.
In 1859 Edwin Drake was the first to strike oil after months of difficult drilling at a site along Oil Creek known since pre-Colonial times for its oil seepages. Oil was mainly used as a substitute for whale oil in lamps and patent medicines; such uses as fuels, plastics, and fertilizers all came later. Soon oil boomtowns popped up along Oil Creek, and railroads began serving them in 1862.
The trail runs on the corridor of the first railroad to reach Titusville, the Oil Creek Rail Road, which ran to a main rail line in Corry. It later ran the length of Oil Creek to Petroleum Centre and merged to become the Oil Creek and Allegheny River Railway in 1868, and still later became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
The trail passes through Oil Creek State Park for 9.7 miles; the 1.5-mile Queen City Trail connects it to Titusville. In addition to the frequent bicyclists and hikers, the path—open daily, sunrise–sunset—is also popular among those who enjoy fishing for bass and trout.
The trail is part of the future 270-mile Erie to Pittsburgh Trail, which will connect with the Great Allegheny Passage. At its southern endpoint, it connects to the 9.4-mile McClintock Trail, which heads south to Oil City and provides further connections to the 3-mile Oil City Trail and 6-mile Samuel Justus Recreation Trail. The trail is also part of the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition’s developing 1,500-mile trail network through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and New York.
The main trailhead is at the Jersey Bridge Parking Area at Oil Creek State Park, which is also the southern endpoint for the Queen City Trail. For a 0.3-mile side trip to the informative Drake Well Museum, which includes a replica of that first oil well, turn right from the parking lot and cross Oil Creek, and then turn right onto Museum Lane.
Otherwise, turn left from the parking lot and head south along the west shore of Oil Creek. The trail follows the twists and turns of Oil Creek through a mostly hardwood forest, which provides good shade in the summer and good views across the gorge that Oil Creek and the trail runs through. There also are numerous historical sites along the trail, as well as some still-working oil and gas wells.
You’ll pass the locations of such boomtowns as Boughton, Millers Farm, Shaffer Farm, Pioneer, and Funkville as you head south. Crossing the river at 7.9 miles past the trailhead, you’ll come in contact with rails of the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad, a tourist train that has been running on the east side of Oil Creek from Titusville since 1986.
The Oil Creek State Park Trail continues on the east side of Oil Creek and then follows a park road for its last 0.5 mile, ending at the site of the most notorious of the boomtowns, Petroleum Centre. Today the area has shelters, restrooms, parking, and a boat launch; the ranger station here also rents bicycles, or you can take a self-guided walking tour of the “wickedest town east of the Mississippi,” according to the state park’s brochure. A depot for the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad is here.
At the terminus, you can make a seamless connection with the McClintock Trail by following Petroleum Center Road to your right and then Number Five Power Road, which curves left and then south toward Oil City.
To reach parking at the northern trailhead at the Jersey Bridge Parking Area, which is shared with the Queen City Trail, from I-79, take Exit 141, turn right onto SR 285 E, and go 7.4 miles. Turn left onto SR 173 N, and go 8.0 miles. Turn right onto SR 27 E, and go 15.7 miles. Take a slight right onto W. Spring St., and go 0.2 mile; then turn right onto S. Perry St., and go 0.3 mile, crossing Oil Creek. Turn left onto W. Bloss St./Allen St./Drake Well Road, and go just more than 1 mile. Turn right into the trailhead parking lot, just before Drake Well Road crosses Oil Creek.
To reach the southern trailhead at Petroleum Center Road from I-80, take Exit 29. Head north on SR 8, go 16.3 miles, and turn right onto Liberty St. Then go 0.2 mile, and turn left onto 13th St./Meadville Pike. Go 0.5 mile, and bear right onto SR 417/Rocky Grove Ave. Go 12.1 miles, and turn left onto SR 8 N/SR 417/William Flinn Hwy. Go 0.3 mile, and turn right onto Old Petroleum Center Road. Go 2.6 miles, and take a slight left onto Petroleum Center Road. Go 0.1 mile, and turn left into the parking lot.
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