Eric Loop is the president of the board of directors of the Mount Nittany Conservancy, a public charity dedicated to conserving Mount Nittany in its natural state for the benefit of Happy Valley. For him, it was a natural next step after growing up in its shadow, hiking and camping on it all his life.
We talked to him about why he came back to Happy Valley, how Mount Nittany has become such an iconic feature and the best way to spend a lazy day. Read on!
Tell me your Happy Valley story.
My father was a student at Penn State, and he became enamored with the area. Both he and my mom came back to work at the university, so I grew up in Lemont and then Houserville. I lived on a street that literally backed up to Mount Nittany, so I spent a lot of time there with my buddies.
I graduated from State High and then went to Penn State. I became a Marine and lived on the west coast for several years, but then my wife and I found our way back in the ‘80s and I’ve been here ever since. We’ve raised a daughter who also graduated from State High and then Penn State.
Why is Mount Nittany such a big part of Happy Valley?
It’s a very dominant terrain feature in the area. You come into Happy Valley from the southeast and see it on the horizon … it’s an iconic sight.
How did you get involved with the conservancy?
A Penn State alumni group, The Lion’s Paw Alumni Association, started the conservancy as a way to preserve land on the mountain from being developed.
I have spent a lot of time banging around on the mountain throughout my life, and the Conservancy just seemed like an appropriate place for me to get involved.
My affinity harkens back decades. I have some very fond memories of the time that I’ve spent there. Keeping the mountain available and accessible and yet in a natural state just makes sense to me. It’s important to note that we aren’t a preservation society — we’re focused on conservancy. We aim to keep it accessible and yet intact, not without appropriate solutions rather than letting nature take its course.
In your opinion, what makes Happy Valley so unique?
It took leaving to really appreciate what we have here. My time in southern California was great, but I missed having four unique seasons in a place without weather extremes or natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes. Plus, I like the small town feel that’s coupled with the culture and the attributes that a major university brings to the area.
What’s one off-the-beaten path thing that you love about Happy Valley?
Everyone should visit Mount Nittany, of course. Rothrock State Forest offers such a great expanse of hiking trails and a gravel road network that will lead to some great places; Alan Seeger Natural Area, Penn Roosevelt and Greenwood Furnace State Parks among them. That’s where I like to spend my time. I’d also like to give a shoutout to Mike Hermann and Purple Lizard (featured in this Q&A!), whose maps helped me explore Rothrock in great detail. Give it a try.
What’s something every visitor should see (or eat, or experience) while they are here?
I think you should go to Bellefonte, park your car and take a stroll.
My high school friend Dave Letterman has a great place, Bonfatto’s Italian Market & Corner Cafe there on the corner, and I think everyone should go there.
Spend some time at Plum’s Rexell Store, and get something from their old timey soda fountain.
It’s a great little community, and you’ll be glad you went.