The Allegheny National Forest, near the town of Marienville, PA, is home to some of the premier grouse trial events in the country. It is also steeped with history. The grounds are generally open pole timber with pockets of cover: blueberry swamps, conifers, and timbered areas, mixed in. A dog must run here to cover ground and find birds. The open cover makes viewing a dog easier than some venues, but also puts a premium on bird work.
The National Grouse Championship, which ran exclusively in Pennsylvania for some 30 years, first ran in Greene County in the southwest corner of the state. According to Herb Cahoon, who was essentially the co-founder of the PA club, the trial ran at various locations in western PA, until it settled into Forest County, PA, in the 1940’s. There were two sets of grounds at the time, The Kahle Preserve in Leeper, PA, and, only a few miles south, two sections of the Allegheny National Forest near Marienville, PA amounting to about 2,000 acres. The Kahle preserve was privately owned, and eventually, running there was discontinued.
The clubhouse at Marienville was built in 1948 and when the outside ‘siding’ was renovated about 15 years ago, some of the tiles that were removed from the outside of the building were stamped “E. G. Smith” on the back. The original building materials were apparently sent to Elwin G. Smith, the HOF founder of the Smith Setters, who had a place in the Marienville area at the time, and who was also an officer of the Grand National Grouse Championship. Marienville had a big advantage at the time in that the Forester at the Allegheny Forest, the colorful Marco Deberti, was a bird dog fan, involved in reporting and the conduct of trials in addition to his monumental work on the courses. DeBerti and another reported from the era, Bill McCarty, both contributed to an American Field column on Grouse Trial activities called the Fan Tales.
The Grand National ran at the Black Forest grounds for its inaugural running in 1943, but ran at Marienville three years later in 1946. McCarty, in one of his letters from the early 1960’s, actually drew a diagram of a typical course at the time at Marienville. It was basically a big upside-down U; it went out then gently turned back with no turns otherwise. Apparently, however, these were the courses on the Loleta road side of the grounds and, for some time, these were the only courses used.
The Grand did not run at Marienville for some 14 years after the 1971 event, due to lack of birds. To help the situation, club leaders decided to look once again at the land on the Lamonaville side, which had not been formally maintained for some time. The club members consulted an old source to find the old courses. Marco DeBerti was still alive and was invaluable in recovering the courses, courses that DeBerti had laid out originally decades previous.
When the Grand National returned to Marienville in 1985, there were seven courses at Loleta, and four at Lamonaville. That return was a success with 69 grouse moved, and the grounds have not missed their turn in the rotation since. Maintaining grounds with enough wild birds is a daunting task. Eventually, around 1990, courses at the Loleta side were reduced from seven to four with the best parts of parts of adjacent courses consolidated to maximize bird work, and the days of a simple big U a thing of the past. There are now 4 hour courses available on each side. The courses at Marienville are always being talked about and tweaked.
There are presently several field trial clubs that utilize the area on an annual basis. The Pennsylvania Grouse Trial Club, The Venango Club, The Ontario Championship, and the Pennsylvania Amateur Grouse Club use these grounds.