Bake Oven Knob is a hot spot destination most of the year for birders, nature lovers and hunters.
Tucked along the south side of the Appalachian Mountain range's Blue Mountain, the prime parking area for the gorgeous lookout area that is ripe for watching raptor migration sits off Route 895 in Germansville in a parking lot for State Game lands 217 that traverses Lehigh County, Schuylkill County and Carbon County.
In addition to its picturesque overlook, the area features a shelter for Appalachian Trail through-hikers.
Many of the beautiful rock formations have been defaced by graffiti over the years, and despite the picturesque setting and hikes available, many visitors seem totally uninformed with the regulations regarding the area, and with respect to nature in general.
Summertime at the Knob has been less than ideal for Kevin Halbfoerster, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's wildlands conservation officer assigned to that part of Lehigh County.
The PGC officer's workload in the Bake Oven Knob reached epic proportions this summer.
During 30 days of coverage in the area, in which he spent 77 total hours of work, Halbfoerster filed 78 violations against people with another 87 warnings issued for a total of 165 violations.
Violations ranged from illegal camping and campfires, to damaging trees and possession of controlled substances as well as alcohol.
"The biggest number of violations occurred with alcohol, and marijuana was No. 2 on the list," Halbfoerster said Monday following the conclusion of what he termed Bake Oven Knob – Operation: Hob Knob.
From people doing doughnuts with their vehicles in the parking lot to setting off fireworks in the woods, and setting up illegal overnight camp sites and illegal fires, Halbfoerster and a few deputies were astounded at the lack of regard for regulations and nature.
"My point in doing this wasn't to go up and be strong-arming everyone," Halbfoerster said. "My point is that there are regulations to follow, and when you come up, respect the land."
While many of the regulations are clearly posted on signs in the parking lot — including no use of alcohol or controlled substances on the property — many people acted oblivious to them.
Still, civility proved the order of the day for the majority of the citations.
"Mostly everybody I encountered was compliant," Halbfoerster said. "One guy did take off, and he had a parole violation, but I already had his [identification]."
Halbfoerster cited 34 people for alcohol violations and 17 for possession of marijuana or a controlled substance.
Many of the camping and camp fire violations were issued because people did not know the basic regulations governing state game lands. Those regulations are listed in their entirety on page 19 of the 2014-15 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, which is available free from the game commission website at http://www.pgc.state.pa.us, or free when you purchase your 2014-15 hunting/trapping license.
Camp fires, for instance, are only allowed for warming and cooking when the Fire Index Rating is low, and they must be contained, not open. People also aren't allowed to chop down trees on state game lands, even dead ones, to use for a fire. Dead and decaying trees are part of the forest habitat that are used by insects, small mammals and birds.
Fireworks and other disorderly conduct are specifically prohibited.
The one gray area is camping.
"A lot of people get confused with the camping regs," Halbfoerster said. "You cannot camp there unless you are a through-hiker, like going from one place to another. You can't go out, camp and come back to the same parking area."
Halbfoerster varied the hours and days of his patrols.
"I tried to be fair with most of the people," he said. "If there was real culpability, real negligence, you were cited. Most of the state game lands regulations are Summary 5 offenses, about $200, and I tried to keep it to those. I stayed within Title 35 and Regulation 58, which is the game commission code. I tried not to go into Title 18, which is the criminal code."
Halbfoerster began Operation: Hob Knob on May 29, and thought word of mouth got out on the patrols by late June as far fewer people were being cited, but violations picked up again around July 3 and continued through the end of the month.
Even though Operation: Hob Knob ended on July 26, Halbfoerster visited the area Sunday night and handed out more citations.
"My point with handing out the citations is to get the word out that people need to respect the land and the regulations," he said. "People need to understand what the state game lands are for. You can enjoy yourself on them without breaking the regulations."
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