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Monday, May 24, 2021

The Enola Low Grade Trail - Part 2

 Sunday, May 23, 2021

Hi Blog!

After a weekend of music, BBQ, friends and family, we needed a little exercise. We decided to head out and explore another section of the Enola Low Grade Rail Trail. This time, we went all the way to the western end in Manor Township on the Susquehanna River. 

The trail starts at the Turkey Hill Nature Preserve.

The Turkey Hill Hiking Trail, which we did not take, begins at the Manor Township trailhead of the Enola Low Grade Rail Trail and quickly climbs and traverses along a ridge above the Susquehanna River. Scenic vistas abound, but two scenic overlooks bookend the trail at its northern and southern-most extensions. Perhaps we will come back to this area and explore the Turkey Hill Trail, but today the Enola Low Grade Trail was calling us.

There is plenty of parking at the trailhead. In the distance, two large wind turbines sit atop Turkey Hill. The Turkey Hill Dairy partnered with PPL Renewable Energy and the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority to install the two General Electric wind turbines at the Frey Farm landfill neighboring its Lancaster ice cream and sweet tea plant. The turbines stand 262 feet high with blades 135 feet long. We could actually hear them whir as we pedaled by.

As soon as we left the trailhead, we got our first glimpse of the Susquehanna River.  At 444 miles long, the Susquehanna is the longest river on the East Coast of the United States. It forms from two main branches: the North Branch, which rises in Cooperstown, New York, and is regarded by federal mapmakers as the main branch or headwaters, and the West Branch, which rises in western Pennsylvania and joins the main branch near Northumberland in central Pennsylvania.

There were multiple rail lines up and down the Susquehanna River Valley. The Enola Low Grade Trail was part of the Atglen-Susquehanna Rail Line that was latter consolidated and taken over by the Pennsylvania Railroad. The caboose was built in 1947 for the New Haven Railroad which merged with Penn Central and eventually worked for Conrail before being retired. It has been restored to look just like a caboose that Atglen-Susquehanna used.

Just below the Enola Low Grade Rail bed is an active rail line. We were able to look down on top of a freight train as is lumbered by.

In order to create the less than 1% grade needed for this rail line, rock was blasted out from the sheer cliffs and piled up in the valley below. In 2018, a large portion of the cliff crashed down, blocking the trail and taking down power lines. There were 15 people trapped on the trail until the rescue crew could turn off the electricity to the dancing power lines.

There are three waterfalls that cross under the trail:  Mann's Run, Fisherman's Run and Fry's Run. We stopped to explore Mann's Run.

Upstream is a pretty little waterfall. With temperatures in the 90s and full sun, it was quite a treat to step off trail and feel the cool mist coming off this little brook.

In order to protect the other rail line below, an aqueduct was built which carries the stream under the upper tracks and over the lower tracks. The water just cascades off the end into the Susquehanna River. It is a popular place for the boaters to stop on a hot sunny day. While we couldn't see the kids playing in the waterfall, we could hear their giggles as they splashed each other with the cold spring water.

Each section of the Enola Low Grade Trail is managed by the Township that owns the right-of-way. Here in Manor Township, they have done a great job finishing the trail surface, creating viewing platforms to take in views of the Susquehanna River. They have also restored a number of switch houses along the trail.

We stopped to take in this view of the Safe Harbor Dam, a concrete gravity dam, with an associated hydroelectric power station. It is the most northerly and last of three Great Depression-era public electrification projects' hydroelectric dams, and was constructed between April 1, 1930 and December 7, 1931. It created a long and relatively shallow lake, known as Lake Clarke.

Just beyond the dam, the Conestoga River empties into the Susquehanna. The last couple miles of trail are presently closed while the trail bridge over the Conestoga River is repaired. However, after 5 miles in direct sun with temperatures in the 90's, we were fine with turning around and finding a nice shady spot to eat our lunch.

On our way back to the trailhead, we noticed a few things we missed on the way out. Check out the view down this old set of stairs. Now, imagine yourself the switch operator whose job it was to go up and down all day setting the switches on the different rail lines!

As we admired the sheer cliffs along the trail, we noticed several pitons, carabiners and climbing ropes. This area is known as a Safe Harbor Climbing Area. Because of the railroad, access to these cliffs had historically been contentious and restricted. Once the railroad right of way was turned over to Manor Township and the Enola Low Grade Trail work finished, Manor Township opened the crags to climbing (at your own risk, of course). 

As we mentioned earlier, the trailhead starts at the Turkey Hill Nature Preserve. On our way home, we drove right passed the Turkey Hill Dairy. While the visitor center was closed, we did stop to chat with a couple of the mobile ambassadors!

On our way back to camp, we stopped at Muddy Run Park to check out the kayak launch. If the weather cooperates, we hope to get in a paddle before we leave. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Cockscomb Trail to Ironhorse Loop

 On May 15, 2021, we hiked an extended loop through Money Rocks County Park and Welsh Mountain Preserve, and along the trail noticed another hike we thought would be interesting.  Today, May 20, we ventured out and followed the Cockscomb (Red Blazed) Trail through Money Rocks County Park, down a connector trail to the blue-blazed Ironhorse Loop Trail.  It wasn't a long hike -- only 5 miles -- but we were able to fit it in first thing in the morning before the day's hot temperatures set in.

[Ed.: We set a record today with TWO half-faced selfies.  In this case, Kathy was the one who lost half her face in each case.  Read on.]

Here we are at the trailhead.  Not ones to linger before setting out on our hike, we didn't notice that David only got half of Kathy's face.  Be assured the other half is still there.

The first part of the trail is very much like the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania -- very rocky and uneven, with lots of opportunities to twist ankles:

We climbed a bit and neared the Welsh Mountain Preserve, when we ran across this side trail marked with cairns.  From our map, we believed this could be the connector to the Ironhorse Trail, but we weren't sure, and feeling that we hadn't hiked west far enough on the Cockscomb Trail, we continued further.

A little further on, we found an interesting pile of rocks.  It appeared that someone had broken up one or two bigger boulders into many smaller rocks -- possibly looking for quartz, as we could see white and rosy quartz in some of the rocks.  On the other hand, the pattern of the rocks looked as if someone had previously built a cairn of them, which was later toppled.  We decided to "rebuild" the cairn.  Here, Kathy does the heavy lifting:

Our instincts were right to continue on the red-blazed trail, even though we later discovered that the two cairns did mark one connector to the Ironhorse Trail.  We reached an obviously well-hiked connector trail, took it north down the slope of the ridge, and eventually reached the Ironhorse Trail:

The Ironhorse Trail was extraordinarily level and of a very even, low grade.  It had been cleared of trees much wider than a normal road, and there was evidence of substantial build-up of the grade in places.  This made us suspicious that the trail had been an old railroad bed:

Our suspicions were all but confirmed when we reached an area where large piles of what looked like old railroad ties were jumbled on both sides of the trail:

As it turns out, our research later today revealed that the Ironhorse Trail follows the bed of the New Holland Branch railway.  It started out in 1854 as the East Brandywine Railroad, with the intent to connect the farms and villages along the rural portions of the Brandywine River with the lucrative markets within larger cities. The railroad would provide freight and passengers along the Brandywine River a connection to the Pennsylvania Railroad at Downington. The first half of the line opened westward from Downington to Waynesburg, and expanded further west as service along the route increased. Ultimately it reached "Conestoga Junction", just east of Lancaster, PA.  Changing hands many times, from the East Brandywine and Waynesburg Railroad, to the Downington and Lancaster Railroad, the line finally came under the control of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1903, and was renamed the Holland Branch. Within the next few decades, service along the line began to decline as the automobile started making its presence known. Passenger service ceased in 1930; freight service ended in the 1960s, with the eastern majority of the line finally being abandoned by Penn Central in 1972.

We were just getting into the groove of following the old railbed, when we arrived at a barrier erected by the nearby New Enterprise Sand & Gravel Quarry, discouraging hikers from proceeding further:

This caused us to look about for blazes telling us where our path lay.  We ultimately found blazed pointing up the hill, and followed those to the top side of the loop, which we followed back to our original connector trail.  Along the way, we spotted this old log slide (we had found the top of it earlier as we crossed above on the Cockscomb Trail).  We imagined the loggers putting the logs in the slide and sending them down to the railroad siding.

A little further on, we ran into two hefty little toads.  One of them was willing to pose for a portrait, and so we obliged him/her:

Our return hike was uneventful.  We retraced our steps, thanks to the electronic bread crumbs on Kathy's GPS, and made it back to the Jeep in time for a tasty picnic lunch before heading out for other errands.

David does not take responsibility for the loss of half of Kathy's face in this selfy.  Kathy was holding the camera.

Stay healthy, my friends!

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Enola Low Grade Trail - Part 1

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Hi Blog!

We are enjoying our time here in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The Shady Grove RV Park is surrounded by Amish farms. Small roads criss-cross the landscape. In the week we have been here, we haven't taken the same route twice!

Today we decided to explore the Providence Township Section of the Enola Low Grade Trail.

The former Atglen and Susquehanna Branch was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad between 1902 and 1906. The branch was built to relieve congestion on the Philadelphia to Harrisburg Main Line. It was designed for freight service, and minimizing the grade profile was of high importance, since freight service on the main line was hampered by relatively steep grades. Thus the branch was often known simply as the "Low Grade." The grade never exceeded 1% and curves are no more than 2%. 

As we took our first look down the trail, it seemed to disappear into the horizon.

After the rail line was abandoned, the right-of-way was transferred to the townships it traverses and became known as the Enola Low Grade Trail. About 29 miles of the former rail line have been opened to the public in disconnected segments. Today we rode the section from Martic Township to Quarryville Borough in Providence Township.

At the time the rail line was built, it was second only to the Panama Canal in terms of the amount of earth moved—some 22 million cubic yards. Crews blasted through the rolling hills of Pennsylvania and then took the fill and dumped it in the valleys between the hills. 

They had to build dozens of stone arch bridges over existing roads and streams to make a level railbed. When they needed larger bridges they used steel trusses like this one.

We discovered a few art installations along the way.

There are a number of neighborhoods that back up against the old rail grade. Occasionally, one of the locals decides to take himself for a walk.

The old concrete railroad mile markers still line the trail.

Most of the rail line is surrounded by a mature forest. As we crossed the numerous bridges, we got a glimpse of the farmland beyond.

We noticed this guy peering down on us.

The main trailhead parking is a couple miles before the end of the improved trail.

A brand new bridge.

More picturesque farms.

We reached the end, where we ate our lunch before turning around and completing our round trip.

Well, apparently it was not really the end. There is still the afterlife, which we discovered on our peddle back to the Jeep!

 All told, we logged 20 miles on an out and back ride. We hope to be able to explore another section of the Enola Low Grade Trail on a future ride. Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Hiking to the Land of Counterpane in Money Rocks County Park

Today, Friday, May 14, 2021, was such a beautiful day, we had to head out for a hike.  The temperatures were due to be in the mid-60's Fahrenheit, and the sky blue with puffy clouds.  We chose to start our hike at Money Rocks County Park and see if we could find our way over to a viewpoint in adjoining Welsh Mountain Preserve, which is managed by the Lancaster County Conservancy.

We had only a short five mile drive, but it took us past picturesque Amish and Mennonite farms here in the neighborhood of New Holland, Pennsylvania:

Kathy can't resist saying hello to the horses, and she spotted this one as we drove.  David stopped the car as Kathy tried her hand at speaking horsish to this friendly creature:

We reached the trailhead at the Coxcomb Trail in Money Rocks County Park (marked with red blazes) and took our obligatory trailhead selfy --

-- then it was down the red blazed trail we ambled:

The Welsh Mountains harbor the second-most continuous forest left in Lancaster County, superseded only by Furnace Hills. Money Rocks Park preserves a nice part of that forest, which is in various stages of natural plant succession. A network of mining and logging dirt roads makes much of this wooded park accessible to nature lovers.  Money Rocks Park, located near the Narvon Clay Mine, spans over 300 acres of woodland in the Welsh Mountains of eastern Lancaster County. The ridge offers beautiful views of farmland, towns, and distant wooded hills.

It wasn't long before we encountered some trail magic.  This fellow graced the top of a tree stump --

-- and then this Inuksuk greeted us a little further down the trail:

When we reached the border of Money Rocks County Park and entered the Welsh Mountain Preserve, the red blazed Cockscomb Trail headed uphill to the right, and we continued straight on the Green Trail:

Everywhere we hiked, the rhododendron were blooming.  This beautiful, 5-petaled, 5-leafed variety entertained us the entire route:

Eventually, we arrived at the junction of our Green Trail with the loop Blue Trail in Welsh Mountain Preserve.  

Welsh Mountain Nature Preserve is one of Lancaster County’s few remaining natural areas. An area of wooded slopes and rock outcroppings, this land supports a diversity of plant and animal life. Due to relatively poor sub-soils, canopy trees appear much younger than they actually are, especially since large stands are of relatively uniform height. However, uniqueness within the landscape abounds and includes seasonal blooms of wild azaleas, low-bush blueberries, and wildflowers, as well as large flushes of mushrooms that improve the integrity of the humus layer atop of the soil. It is not only the forest cover but also the thick humus layer that provide the vital ecosystem service of stormwater retention, saving communities within the valleys from the possibility of flash-floods.

We decided to hike the entire loop and headed left:

We felt miniscule in comparison to the gorgeous greenery of the maples, oaks, poplars, beech, laurel and pine in this mature forest:

At the top of the Blue Trail loop, we needed to hike out the White Trail to our overlook.  David wasn't sure which way to go:

He decided to lead us outbound on the White Trail, and found a step-over log, probably constructed by some avid trail bikers to accommodate their rides:

We finally reached the end of the White Trail, with a viewpoint looking north over beautiful rural Lancaster County:

As she enjoyed her lunch, Kathy admired the view:

The view reminded us of Robert Louis Stevenson's poem, "The Land of Counterpane":

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

This poem was part of a larger book published by Stevenson, titled, "A Child's Garden of Verses," an 1885 volume of 64 poems for children by the Scottish author, considered to be one of the most influential children’s works of the 19th century.

After lunch, we worked our way back across the top of the ridge, first on the White, then the Blue, then the Green, and finally the Red, Trails, until we reach the Money Rocks loop trail.  As we arrived at Money Rocks, we found some informal art decorating some of the boulders:

Park information suggests that Money Rocks got its name from the habit of local farmer to hide their money here -- from invading Confederate soldiers who would plunder local farmers.  They say the money was never found and is available for the taking, but we never found any.  

The rocks formed a small natural amphitheater:

We couldn't explore the rocks because a large group of pre-teen hikers were eating their lunch and perched all over the rocks and the trail.  So we did our best to appreciate the natural wonder and then returned the way we had come, back to our trailhead and our Jeep.  All in all, a 6.5 mile hike, and a beautiful one at that!