Thursday, September 29, 2016

Hiking Lums Pond and the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal

Sunrise over the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal framed by the US 13 bridge.

There's a great new trail that runs for seventeen miles along the north shore of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.  It's called the Ben Cardin Recreational Trail in Maryland and the Michael Castle Trail in Delaware.  It's a paved multi-use trail and is just being completed.  In the middle, around Lums Pond there is a half-mile section that they're still working on and a brand new huge trailhead parking area that looked finished but the access road was still blocked off when I came through.

Brand new South Lums Trailhead.  It looks ready to go, but the access road still had 'road closed' barriers blockading it.

The C&D Canal is a wide barge canal, all at sea level, connecting the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware River.

Barge passing under the Chesapeake City Bridge, MD highway 213.  This is a pedestrian friendly bridge connecting the two halves of Chesapeake City on either side of the canal.  At right the trail hugs the canal.
Stairs up to the MD 213 bridge at the Trailhead parking area in Chesapeake City.  There's a similar spiral staircase on the south side of the canal.

The trail itself connects the cute little tourist towns of Chesapeake City, MD and Delaware City, DE.  The route usually follows right beside the water.  Spectacular views are the norm.

Railroad bridge that gets winched up and down when a train needs to cross, counterbalanced by huge weights on  giant 'bicycle chain.'

It was worth the side trip to explore this gem.  To get here my hiking protocol called for me to connect my personal web of hiking routes to it.  I call it my 'Personal Continuous Footpath'.  When I walk along I can point down to where my foot hits the ground and tell anyone who cares that these footprints run continuously west to the Appalachian Trail, south to Key West Florida, north to Katahdin, Maine, and west almost to Ohio (where I left off when my Dad got ill.)  The hikes reported here took me from the Mason-Dixon Trail to this gem of a trail.  Some day I hope to continue on across the 213 bridge and south to hook up with the American Discovery Trail in southern Delaware.

Making it especially worthwhile was Lums Pond State Park, which neatly fell along the route between the M-D T and the Canal.

Lums Pond ought to be called a lake, not a pond.  The first-class hiking trail that makes a circuit around it, called the Swamp Forest Trail is 6.8 miles long.  Beyond swamp views and plenty of immersion in forests of old trees, are the views of the pond itself.


Lums Pond and I go way back.  When I was a little kid in the mid 1950's my family came here for picnics and fishing and swimming.  The boat rental area had a familiar feel to it.


I think this was the setting for one of my all-time 'fish stories'.  My brother and I were fishing off a pier.  We could see a big old bass lurking in the shadows under the pier, but he wouldn't bite on our bait.  A bigger kid came along, maybe twelve years old, and we pointed out the big fish to him.  He said "I'll catch it for you," and he proceeded to take my fishing hook in hand, reach into the water under the pier, and with a swift move he manually hooked the fish and I pulled it out.  True story.  My Dad and brother were there to witness it.

There was even a smaller pond with an idyllic scene along my road walk between the Mason-Dixon Trail and Lums Pond.


The east end of the Michael Castle trail has just been opened in the past few months.  It passes a newly rediscovered old African Cemetery, lost in the swamp for almost a century,


then runs along Canal Street then right through the tourist hub of Delaware City fronting Fort Delaware State Park on the Delaware River.


Here I had views of the New Jersey shoreline and a massive sea-going vessel docked next to the park.


Below is a map that summarizes the hiking covered in this post.


After this delightful diversion I returned to the Mason-Dixon Trail.  Next report will cover the east end of that trail and my return to my childhood home grounds in Wilmington and Greenville, DE.  I encountered an entirely unexpected surprise there.  Stay tuned.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Hiking the Mason-Dixon Trail, White Clay Creek to the Susquehanna River

The head of the Chesapeake Bay at the mouth of the Susquehanna River as seen from the Mason-Dixon Trail.  Note the blue paint trail-blaze on the stately old oak at right.

This report continues my exploration of the wonderful network of medium- and long-distance trails in the area of southeastern Pennsylvania and adjacent Delaware and Maryland, the area where I grew up.  In the last report I covered the trails along White Clay Creek.  The blue-blazed Mason-Dixon Trail rambles through that protected watershed for several miles.  Eastbound it leaves the White Clay Creek basin and reaches its eastern terminus at Brandywine Creek.  I'll discuss that section in another post.  West of White Clay Creek, the trail uses some quiet roads as it hops over a divide near the University of Delaware, then it plunges into the woods to follow another peaceful stream for four miles.


This is Christina Creek.  It's not a protected watershed and there are more highway noises here, yet the visual hiking experience is nearly as rich in wild natural scenes as White Clay Creek.  For four miles you're in the woods except to cross over or under a handful of roads and some railroad tracks.

Christina Creek runs north-south on the west side of the city of Newark, DE before turning toward the southeast through Rittenhouse Park.  There the Mason-Dixon Trail continues south, leaving the valley to climb Iron Hill in a large wooded county park by the same name.  Here you'll find a monument to Robert Yost, founding father of the M-D T.


In colonial times Iron Hill was mined, the ore was smelted, and much of the resulting iron was shipped to England where the local supplies of iron ore had all been depleted.  One of the largest scale smelting operations was located farther west at Principio Furnace, founded in 1720, and also on the route of the Mason-Dixon Trail.


Before reaching Principio Furnace, the trail meanders through suburban developments and a tract of private woodland.  It then turns west to follow a power line right-of-way to the Delaware-Maryland border.


Once in Maryland there are several miles of road walk before the trail reaches Big Elk Creek near the town of Elkton.


A brief meander along that lazy stream leads the hiker into the town of Elkton.  Sidewalks on the city streets lead through and out of town then a couple more miles of road walk bring you to Elk Neck State Forest.  Here the wild settings return.  The trail meanders for six miles or more through this forest preserve.  When I passed through the late summer fungi were on display.


The M-D T emerges from Elk Neck State Forest to pass through the center of the town of North East, MD.  The new route here follows the shoulder of high-speed four-lane US 40 for more than a mile with the roar of eighteen wheelers ringing in the hiker's ears.

Next there's a more peaceful stroll along a gas pipeline right of way in the woods.  That leads to a commercial district with large warehouses, with more being built all the time.  This section is on private land and has been recently rerouted to avoid the new construction.  The trail maintainers seem to have their hands full here.  The trail is so new and so little used that it is completely invisible except for the paint blazes.


There's a long stretch of these paint blazes that parallel a railroad track.  I'd recommend following the track here because the trail itself has not been cleared.  In order to follow the blue blazes you'll be wading through thigh-high thorny brush.  My legs were thoroughly covered with nasty scrapes and chigger bites and I picked up several deer ticks through here as well.  No fun.

The trail returns to the road after passing one of the most massive structures I've ever seen, a trucking company warehouse and transfer station that must cover half a square mile.


It is along this road walk that you pass Principio Furnace, nestled beside the surprisingly rambunctious Principio Creek.


The road walk ends in the town of Perryville at the mouth of the Susquehanna River.  Here history is the big attraction.  One piece of the trail here is 350 years old this year.


The blue blazes take you past Rodgers Tavern, an Inn that George Washington frequented.  It's stunning to realize that the road here was already in use for a full century before George came along.


The trail makes its way through town and comes to an abrupt end at the big white iron bridge seen in the distance in this view from the Lower Ferry Pier.


This is the US 40 bridge over the Susquehanna, and pedestrians are prohibited.  You have to find a ride across.  For me, as a 'Continuous Footpath' hiker, this was the end of the trail.  I've already made the connection across the river farther upstream, though, so I'll resume hiking the Mason-Dixon Trail on the west side of the river later this fall.  Meanwhile, here's an overview map of the GPS tracks of my hiking.  I hiked out-and-back each day here.  In places, such as through Elk Neck State Forest, I found different routes to hike my return leg, thus the various strands of 'red spaghetti.'


For a trail so close to the mid-Atlantic 'Megalopolis' the Mason-Dixon Trail is a surprisingly wild experience.  Best of all, it is a well-connected hiker trail amid an excellent network of other well-connected trails.  I wish there were more regions with this much wealth of foot trail.  The Mason-Dixon Trail connects to the Brandywine Trail at its eastern terminus, which in turn links to the Horse Shoe and Schuylkill trails, both of which connect to the Appalachian Trail, and the M-D T itself connects with the AT on its western end.

That is the fulfilment of Benton MacKaye's dream.  Plenty more hiking to do!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Hiking my old home grounds, White Clay Creek national Wild and Scenic River



"The Big Rock" swimmin' hole on the Middle Branch of White Clay Creek near Chesterville, PA.  This was the epicenter of my best childhood memories.  Photo up top is the view taken as I hiked through a few days ago.  Lower left photo was taken in 1961 with me, my brother, and family friends, and the lower right photo, taken in 2008 includes the next generation, my kids.

Since my Dad's passing I've been hanging around my old stompin' grounds helping Mom.  It's been a tough time for us but the light of a new day is beginning to brighten the horizon, and I'm finding some time to get back on the trails, doing some hikes around home.

Home for me means White Clay Creek.  In 2000 Congress designated the entire White Clay Creek watershed as a national Wild and Scenic River.  It was the first complete watershed in the nation to receive that designation.

I grew up on what's called the Middle Branch of White Clay Creek. Our property was set on a sharp bend in the stream that can be seen in this winter photo from 1969.

"Meadow Creek," my old stompin' grounds.  The 'Big Rock' is the dark rectangle at right.
 
Downstream from us was a lot of wild wooded land.  In the late 1950's DuPont company started buying up land in the watershed, intending to build a dam that would have flooded 1160 acres and supplied 71 million gallons of water a day.  They were concerned that the existing water supply was not enough to support planned expansion of two of their production plants in the Wilmington area.

Local residents saw the land around them being aggressively bought up and began to voice their objections.  Among the early activists were the parents of two of my classmates who lived downstream where their property would have been flooded.  In the mid-60's they created a non-profit and began organized protests, including distributing bumper stickers.  Here's a screenshot from the WhiteClay.org web site that shows the old bumper sticker:


As a young Earth Science student I learned about the protest and joined it.  My '62 VW beetle sported their bumper sticker for many years.  Here I am with it in 1970:


The protests worked.  Ironically DuPont's extensive land acquisition kept the most critical areas from development and made White Clay Creek preserve possible.  The dam project was abandoned and in 1984 DuPont generously donated all that land to the states of Delaware and Pennsylvania.  Evidence of the DuPont presence still remains.  Here an old DuPont de Nemours Company 'No Trespassing' sign is being slowly swallowed by an ancient American Beech tree along the Mason-Dixon Trail.


From when my family bought the 'Meadow Creek' property in 1956 until I went off to college ten years later my brother and I spent endless hours in and around the waters of White Clay Creek, swimming, building dams, playing in the sand, fishing, and taking what we called 'creek walks' where we hiked long distances up and down the stream bed, making a point never to leave the water.

The creek walks were great fun.  Back then the stream bed was the only clear route through the more remote stretches of what's now White Clay Creek Preserve.  Now there are a plethora of great hiking trails in the area, the main concentration of which are in and around White Clay Creek Preserve and Delaware's White Clay Creek State Park.

The Preserve and the Park were developed long after I left the area, and somehow I've never come back to hike these new trails.  It was long overdue.  Of course I had to do it my way, that is, by connecting these trails with my previous hikes across the area and the nation, including in my path all the places I've called home.  That's the gist of my long-term 'Personal Continuous Footpath' project.

I began at my parents retirement community in Oxford, PA, which I'm calling home these days.  I passed eastward through the little town of New London where my Dad is now buried alongside my grandmother and my brother.  That will also be my final home.


From there I headed on down past 'Meadow Creek' and the Big Rock.  Within two hundred yards of the Big Rock there is a short trail through the woods, named after our grumpy neighbor, Mr. Keen.  When old Mr. Keen passed away a few years ago his heirs granted an easement to Franklin Township for this modest 1/3 mile trail.


From there it was a 1.4 mile road walk to more excellent new trails in New Garden Township along the East Branch of White Clay Creek above the tiny hamlet of Landenberg.


These trails and a few short road walks brought me into White Clay Creek Preserve and hooked me up with the long distance trail that will be my hiking venue for the coming weeks--the 190 mile Mason Dixon Trail, which goes from Chadds Ford, PA to the Appalachian Trail near Boiling Springs, PA.


Soon I was meandering back and forth across the state line between Pennsylvania and Delaware.


The Mason-Dixon Trail has been re-routed in the past couple of years to take the hiker through a tract of lovely old unspoiled forest to the Tri-State monument (MD, DE, PA) erected in 1849.


Three miles later it comes back to White Clay Creek just a third of a mile from where it left it.  Here's a close-up map of this new reroute, which does not appear on the 2012 'official' Mason-Dixon Trail Association map.


With that map as an introduction, here is a pair of wider scale maps of my route.  The first one covers the road walk from Oxford, PA and the second shows the hikes along White Clay Creek and the Mason-Dixon Trail.


I'll be hiking more of the M-D T in coming weeks as time permits.  It's great to be stretching my legs again.