Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Starting down the Buckeye Trail in the snow

The day I hiked out of Carrollton, Ohio and put my first footprints on Ohio's state-circling 1444 mile Buckeye Trail was the day winter sunk its teeth into Ohio.

Wind chills were in the single digits and the sky was spitting snow on and off.

The next day brought more of the same.  Temperatures struggled to reach the mid 20's in the afternoon.  The third day the wind let up, but there was more snow, on and off all day.  About an inch fell in big, fluffy flakes.  Day after that came rain and some melting, then more snow.

There was no let-up.  I wanted to continue hiking, but the next day we got an unexpected four inches and the forecast was calling for an Arctic blast, wind chills as low as -15F, daytime temperatures barely above 10F.

Well, Christmas was coming.  It seemed like a good time to get off the trail.  So after just a few days enjoying the eastern Ohio lake country in the snow, I'm taking a break.  It might be a couple weeks before I get back here, or I might wait until spring.  We'll see.

So here are the particulars, with photos.

Coming out of Carrollton, after a day and a half of road walking, the first off-road Buckeye trail segment was beside Leesville Lake.

The headline photo up top shows a typical trail setting, with good winter views of the lake.  It began for me at the Southfork Marina and a 100 yard side trail.

In the middle of this section came the 'money' views, where the trail came right down beside the lake.

Next up was Tappan Lake, the following day.

Here the trail spent some time high up above the lake ...

... and not so much time down beside it ...

... until it crossed the dam.  By then silver-dollar-sized flakes were coming down, and visibility was dropping.

Road walks connect these woods-trail gems beside the lakes.  Most were quiet country strolls, but I prefer the solitude of the woods, free of the 'threat' of having my muse interrupted by a passing motorist.

The next woods segment was a rugged ten mile swing around an upper arm of Clendening Lake.

Here, the only close-up view of the water came from the road walk.

The trail itself climbed and descended the bluffs above the valley at least half a dozen times.  Good work out, and beautiful wild mature forest setting, but hardly any sight of the water.

Finally, on a day when the forecast didn't originally call for snow, I got blindsided by four inches.

I was hiking a wonderful off-road section around Piedmont Lake.

It started snowing about 9:30AM.  Just before it began, I hiked a freshly cut, freshly blazed new trail between US 22 and the lake.  This trail had been cut just a week or two ago, at most.  In the photo, looking east, it seems like the geese knew the snow was on the way.  They were headed due south.

I was hiking in my crocs, as I always do.  Needless to say, Crocs don't keep your feet dry in the snow, even these good ones without vent holes.

The trail came down beside the water and stayed there for a long stretch, virtually following the shoreline, with potentially grand views, but the snow was damping the visibility.

I called it quits early, with about two inches having accumulated.  Fortunately my vehicles were near the busy, well-salted US 22 and not too far from the junction of Interstates 70 and 77 at Cambridge, Ohio, so I was able to escape in the midst of the storm without a great deal of hassle.

This lake country section of the Buckeye Trail was a wonderful introduction.  I'm looking forward to getting back out here sooner rather than later.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

A visit to Ohio Amish Country via the Holmes County Trail

Holmes County Ohio is the site of the second largest Amish settlement in the world.  With a reported June 2016 population of 34,190 Amish in 263 church districts it closely rivals the more famous and older Lancaster County PA settlement, which had a reported population of 35,070 but only 210 church districts.

I recently hiked a rail-trail route through the heart of the Lancaster settlement, called the Enola Low Grade Rail Trail.  That trail is very much a work in progress, some of it undeveloped, none of it paved or suitable for horses.  But the route took me beside dozens of Amish farms and raised my awareness and interest in that distinctive community; so now that I'm hiking east central Ohio, just fifty or so miles from Berlin, Ohio, the unofficial capital of Ohio 'Amish Country', I wanted to take time to check that settlement and make comparisons.

First thing I did was get on the internet; and there I found a pleasant surprise.  Holmes County also has a rail trail through the heart of its Amish region called simply the Holmes County Trail.  Here the trail is a paved bike greenway.  Though there are sections that remain unfinished, it's part of the 320 mile Ohio to Erie Trail that runs from Cincinnati to Cleveland; and best of all, it's the first (and only, as far as I know) public non-motorized trail that welcomes Amish buggies.

In fact, the trail goes right by a Wal-Mart store south of the county seat, Millersburg, which hosts an official trailhead access point, and which accommodates Amish buggies with a roofed hitching post area.

I had time to hike only a few miles this sunny, icy day.  But in that short hike I was passed by three other buggies beside the two-horse rig shown above, including a family that had just been shopping at Wal-Mart, an elderly couple, and two young ladies in this buggy.

The section of trail I hiked did not take me past any Amish farms.  It was passing through a wetland area and was parallel to noisy highway US 62.  But its tree lined corridor offered its own special beauty.

Old Order Amish buggies here in the Holmes settlement are painted black, compared with gray in Lancaster.  That is evidence of a slightly more conservative Ordnung, their unwritten system of guiding rules, in Holmes.

Lancaster Amish tend to place more emphasis on perfection/neatness/cleanliness of visual appearance of their farms and homes.  From what I could see, the Holmes farms tend to de-emphasize outward appearance so that they don't really stand out from non-Amish farms the way they do in Lancaster.

In fact, Holmes County is home to an ultra-conservative affiliation called the Swartzentruber Amish, whose farms are said to be deliberately 'unkempt'.  They don't allow use of gravel on their driveways, so they tend to be muddy and rutty.  This group prohibits ever riding in automobiles except for emergencies.  They don't even allow the orange reflective 'slow-moving vehicle' triangles on their buggies, considering them too worldly, and they do not use battery operated lighting on their buggies either, sticking to the traditional lanterns.  In my short time in the area I did not notice any buggies of this sort.

A distinctive feature of the Holmes County settlement is that Holmes may soon become the first Amish majority county in the US.  At present Amish comprise 42 percent of the county's population, and since Amish tend to have more children than non-Amish (Swartzentruber affiliation families average 9.3 children), that percentage is steadily rising.

Here, for the sake of completeness, is the GPS track of my brief walk along the 'Amish Highway'.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Hiking Beaver Creek State Park (and onward)

Peaceful stream-side trail along a wild section of Beaver Creek

The North Country Trail is notorious for its meandering course.  It takes 4600 miles to get from upstate New York to central South Dakota compared to 1395 miles 'as the crow flies'.  Along the way it comes as close to Kentucky as it does to Canada.

Kentucky?  North Country, y'all?

How does the North Country Trail manage to make its way to Kentucky?   Blame Ohio's Buckeye Trail.

Leaving New York the North Country Trail makes a diagonal through western Pennsylvania then joins Ohio's state trail.  There, the people who were designing the North Country Trail in the 1980's decided to defer to the older, already established Buckeye Trail's route rather than develop a route of their own.  The Buckeye Trail circles Ohio, a big jagged 'O'.

But the part of the trail across Northern Ohio is almost all on roads.  The wilder parts of Ohio are in the south and east, so that's the way the North Country Trail designers decided to go.  I wonder whether they were secretly thinking "Hey, let's make this the longest National Scenic Trail in the country".  Maybe the Buckeye Trail supporters were lobbying to have most of their trail part of this nationally designated system, because it helps bring funding and awareness.

In any case, in order for the North Country Trail to connect to the Buckeye Trail from western PA, it has to traverse a chunk of eastern Ohio on its own, and as I mentioned in my last report, this section of trail feels sort of like an orphan or a foster child, relatively neglected, even unwanted, by comparison with the state's 1444-mile signature trail.

Most of this connecting trail is on roads.  In my last report I discussed two short sections that are dedicated foot-travel only trail.  One is on private land and offers a good wild woods walk, and the other is on an abandoned rail bed beside a designated Wild and Scenic River.  The latter is just a mile of trail, the former no more than four miles.

There are two more sections of trail in this 'connecting zone' that are closed to vehicles.  One is a six mile section of wonderful trail through Beaver Creek State Park.  More on that in a bit.  From there a road walk of about ten miles takes the hiker to the other off-road piece, a rail trail that starts in the town of Lisbon.

The North Country Trail follows that paved rail trail for just 2.7 miles and then there are more than fifty continuous road-walking miles to negotiate before the orphan-stretch ends and the hiker reaches the first off-road section of the Buckeye Trail proper.

I went to Lisbon and looked at the trailhead at the starting point of that 2.7 miles of rail trail.  I found absolutely no signage or blue blazes identifying it as part of the North Country Trail.

Paved rail trail is nice, but it rarely provides the fix of 'wild' that a foot-only trail can.  I'd be done with that 2.7 miles in less than an hour, and then I would face the better part of three days hiking on roads.

Looking at my own maps I could see that there was a much shorter route by road between Beaver Creek State Park and Leesville Lake, the first piece of off-road trail on the Buckeye Trail, if only I would skip the 2.7 mile rail trail piece in Lisbon.  It would save me twenty miles of road walking.  I'd follow Ohio 39 through the towns of Salineville and Mechanicsville and on through Carrollton.

What the heck.  I decided to do it my way.  Carrollton here I come.

Okay, first came the nice six miles along Beaver Creek in the state park.  It was pretty rugged trail, with a couple climbs and descents from river valley to ridge and back.  It was all in the deep woods.  And I was surprised to find three old canal locks along the trail, remnants of an early 1800's spur canal connecting the Ohio River with the Ohio and Erie Canal.

I was out of the woods all too soon, and hitting the road to Carrollton.  I crossed Beaver Creek on a quaint old bridge on Y Camp Road before joining Highway 39.

Then there was another pleasant surprise where 'old Highway 39' comes into Salineville.  There is half a mile of good old fashioned real brick street.  And it was in great shape.

These were specially designed road bricks, like cobbles, with beveled edges, not the flimsy easily broken bricks used to build houses.

Town square, downtown Carrollton, Ohio

When I got to Carrollton I took a break to go visit another trail for a day, not part of my continuous footpath.  The Holmes County Rail Trail may be unique in all the world.  It's an Amish highway, open to horses and buggies but not to any form of motorized traffic.  Look for all the particulars in my next report.

Here are the GPS track maps of the three day hikes it took to get me through Beaver Creek State Park and on to Carrollton.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Back on the North Country Trail, Slippery Rock Gorge to the Ohio Line

It was late June and I was out in western PA hiking westbound on the North Country Trail, when Dad went into the hospital with his final illness.  By Thanksgiving family affairs had settled and Mom was adjusting well to her new situation, so I thought I'd head back out and see how far I could get before winter drove me into hibernation.

So here I am.

Back in June I had just finished hiking Moraine State Park, near New Castle, PA, and was ready to hit nearby McConnell's Mill State Park where the trail traverses the deep narrow gorge of Slippery Rock Creek, passes the namesake mill, and takes the hiker right through the adjacent covered bridge.

My first day back was a typically dreary one for late November in western PA.  But the cloudy sky and intermittent drizzle didn't dampen my joy at being back in the woods.  My spirits were as bright as this sunny fungus.

The trail climbed and descended.  Sometimes I was high up on the bluffs, but without views of the stream,  Other times, and those were the best ones, the trail kept me right beside the water.

Yes, the rocks were slippery.  But somebody got a few of them to work together as if they were coated with glue rather than slime.

There were about seven miles of trail in this small park, so by late in the day I was out doing a road walk, headed through the trail towns of Wampum and Darlington and toward another rendezvous with real foot trail in the woods.

Beside a roadside pond, I encountered a delightfully clever sign.  It spells a word, a familiar name to be precise, and the eye naturally translates when it views the sign straight on.  Can you tell what it says?  If not, I'll provide a couple of hints at the end of this post.*

The next section in the woods follows a branch of Little Beaver Creek out of Darlington.

It then passes through some recently timber-harvested forest, but eventually returns to a wild setting along the creek with some wonderful walks atop bluffs with sheer drops down to the water.  In the photo below, the trail is in the thick hemlock stand right at the top of the cliff.

Much of this country was strip mined for coal long before the era of modern regulation.  Since then much of the damage has been left to heal naturally.  Forest has reclaimed most of the land, but the odd mix of level strips and steep slopes makes for unusual hiking.  One of the level spots, one with a decent view, has been selected by the Wampum Chapter of the North Country Trail Association (NCTA), as the site for a brand new shelter.  When I passed through it was under construction, with only the floor completed to date.

It only took me four day-hikes to get to the Ohio Line.

This is the eighteenth state that I've now connected with a continuous string of my footprints.

The character of the trail changed when I got into Ohio.  The first off-road section follows an old railroad bed beside a designated 'wild and scenic' river.  The steel tracks had been removed, but not the wooden ties.

I'm guessing that Ohio trail builders focus mostly on their state-encircling trail, the Buckeye Trail.  Coming out of PA, the North Country Trail eventually merges with the route of the Buckeye Trail, but to get to it there are a few dozen miles of 'orphan' trail that seem rather neglected.  Besides the railroad bed, this orphan section has only two short bits of foot-travel-only woods trail.  One is on private land, and is not 'certified' by North Country Trail's governing authority.

The other is much nicer, but is only six miles long.  It's in a state park; and I'll cover that in my next post.  The NCTA doesn't even publish a map of the rest of the connecting route, all on roads.  Worse, the road segments are poorly blazed where they are blazed at all.  I'm looking forward to getting through.

If only it was as easy as slipping into a portal in a magic oak tree.

Below are the GPS tracks of the four hikes that got me to Ohio.  They're arranged from east on top down to west (and the state line) at the bottom.

*Hint to translating the sign:  The negative space forms the letters.  We celebrate his birthday very soon, Dec. 25th.