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Friday, March 27, 2020

Appalachian Trail - Strausstown, Pennsylvania

Covid-19 has upended all of our plans for our stay here on the East Coast this year.  There is a distinct possibility that, until a vaccine is developed, we may not be able to spend much, if any, time in person with our family.  Yet our whole itinerary for this season was built around them.  So we've begun to change our plans, and we've been pleased to discover how many hiking, biking and kayaking opportunities abound near our campground in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  It also is a happy coincidence that we are camped at a point that is almost equidistant between our daughter in Philly, our sister- and brother-in-law in Broomall, Pennsylvania, and our son, daughter-in-law and grandson's expected home in the D.C. suburbs.  So, all in all, this might be about the best place we could shelter in place.

One of our new projects is to reconnoiter some of the larger hiking trails near us -- such as the Appalachian Trail, the Horseshoe Trail, the Mason-Dixon Trail, and the Conestoga Trail.  Today, we found four section trailheads on the A.T. within 45-minute drives from our campground.  We decided that, since the next couple days will be full of rain, we would sample the nearest section to see what it was like.

Here we are at the trailhead from our parking area on the ridge of Blue Mountain:

The A.T. follows the ridge of Blue Mountain, which is a massive single hunk of ridge that forms the southern and eastern edge of the Appalachian mountain range spanning over 255 miles from the Delaware Water Gap across the eastern half of the state on a diagonal from New Jersey southeasterly into Maryland.  There are five gaps in the ridge, through which run north-south highways.  As it happens, road access to the ridgeline of Blue Mountain is relatively easy for us.  Here is a map showing Denver, Pennsylvania, where we are, and the numerous trailhead parking sites along the A.T., which is shown as the sinuous red line:

We plan to visit each of these trailheads in the coming weeks and section-hike both directions.  This should help protect us from cabin fever in the coming weeks or months.

But now to our hike.

As we left the parking area, we needed to climb a gravel forest road through State Game Lands to get to our trailhead:

Within about a mile-and-a-half, we ran across this marker honoring Dr. Harry F. Rentschler, who was instrumental in creating this section of the Appalachian Trail:

In June of 1916, he took a group of citizens from the Reading, PA area who liked to walk in the mountains, to an eagle's nest on the Blue Mountains above Shartlesville. They formed the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club on October 12, 1916. In 1926, planners of the Appalachian Trail contacted the Club members and asked them to locate and build 102 miles of trail through the wilderness along the mountaintop from the Lehigh River to the Susquehanna River. In 1937, the Club formed a corporation, Blue Mountain Wilderness Park Association. Its goal was to acquire and own the land to protect the Appalachian Trail.

Since beginning our hiking and backpacking, we have had a special affection for the Appalachian Trail because -- primarily through the medium of the Appalachian Mountain Club, and our friends Lennie and Bill Steinmetz and other leaders of the Delaware Valley Chapter of AMC, we had so many outings on various sections of the A.T.  It was on that trail that we learned most of the skills that keep us safe and provide us so much enjoyment today.

So it's not surprising that David broke into a paroxysm of hugs for this Appalachian Trail sign.  Just seeing those arrows toward Maine and Georgia gave us those warm, fuzzy feelings:

We didn't get on the trail until nearly 1:00 pm, so we found an A.T. campsite to eat our lunch after about a mile and a half:

We've poked about many campfire rings, and we've seen half-burnt logs, trash, ashes and other unmentionables, but we've never seen melted glass.  Apparently someone made a fire here that was so hot that it melted what remains of this green glass bottle:

This might be our most monumental hike so far, because, further up the trail, we spotted this marker memorializing Fort Dietrich Snyder:

Fort Dietrich Snyder, a small outpost (really, essentially a small, one story log cabin), was built in 1755 during the French & Indian War, one of a string of forts along the Blue Mountain ridge.  It was a watch point for Indian movements in the area. The Fort was on land owned by Dietrich Snyder, close to a main path over the mountain and commanded an excellent view of the valley below.  The forts were considered essential to give early warning of Indian attacked because they were positioned to see the smoke from burning farms in valleys below.

We turned from these morbid thoughts to our day's hike.  Having crossed PA Highway 183, we encountered terrain that was rockier and strewn with heavy roots:

Nearing our 2-mile turnaround point, we found this sign informing us that the high point of Berks County, Pennsylvania would be just another 1.7 miles along our route.  Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to hike the extra mile out and then back again.  So we took note of this, considering that we might hike to the Berks County High Point another time.

At our turnaround point, we spotted a cairn built off-trail, possibly by a hunter or snowmobiler to mark some important location.  We couldn't deduce more than this.

As we turned to retrace our route back to the trailhead, we noticed the rich, blue sky, graced with sumptuous white clouds, proclaiming this warm 66F Spring day, and giving us an extra dose of cheer to help weather the coming inclement weather:

These fungi don't have to worry about inclement weather.  They are sheltering in place together:

As we neared the finish of our return hike, we ran into this puppy, Sir Isaac Newton, and his human, Richard Gardner.   Richard spent time (at a safe distance) giving us extensive information on this section of the A.T.  He also pointed out that we had just hiked past a precious young American Chestnut tree.  He was kind enough to let us snap this photo of him (C), Sir Isaac Newton (L), and the American Chestnut tree (R) that he introduced us to:

We all observed proper social distancing protocols, and compared notes about the most effective means of isolating ourselves from Covid-19.  Sir Isaac Newton did not gloat over the fact that he is not vulnerable.

Thank you, Richard, and we hope to see you again on the A.T. in the coming weeks!

To explain to you why seeing an American Chestnut tree is so special, read this excerpt from the Wikipedia article on American Chestnut:

Once an important hardwood timber tree, the American chestnut suffered a substantial population collapse due to the chestnut blight, a disease caused by an Asian bark fungus. This disease was accidentally introduced into North America by 1904 on imported Asiatic chestnut trees. ...The airborne bark fungus spread 50 miles a year and in a few decades girdled and killed up to three billion American chestnut trees.... New shoots often sprout from the roots when the main stem dies, so the species has not yet become extinct. ... Prior to the blight, 25% of the trees in the Appalachian Mountains were American chestnut. [Now,] the number of large surviving trees over 60 cm (24 in) in diameter within its former range is probably fewer than 100. 

So much for today's home-school lesson.  We'll return another day for more experiences on the Appalachian Trail.

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