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!