Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mason Dixon Trail: Map 9 - PA to DE to MD

Saturday, June 7, 2014: White Clay Creek Preserve, Landenburg PA to Newark, DE.  9 miles.
Sunday, June 8, 2014: Newark DE to Elkton MD. 9 miles.

Saturday - 

My hiking companions and I completed this 18 mile section of the MDT over the National Trails Day Weekend, June 7-8. It is a truly beautiful section, traversing southward through White Clay Creek Preserve in Landenburg, PA, across the state line in White Clay Creek State Park into Delaware, through the City of Newark (University of Delaware), over Iron Hill, and swinging west across the state line into Elkton, MD. A friend of mine who works as a historian of monuments and commemoration spaces in the Mid-Atlantic, asked me to make sure to take lots of pictures. "You'll be surrounded by monuments and landmarks, some placed by God, and some placed by man." 

White Clay Creek State Park, start of Map 9 sections. Pic by Kim.

We started where we left off, at Parking Lot #1 in White Clay Creek State Park in PA. Hiking along White Clay Creek through the flood plain we passed some hikers, cyclists, and joggers, most coming from the south. One senior runner passed us along a narrow section of trail and we squeezed over to let him pass,. He ran by huffing and puffing and smiling "Good Morning, Ladies!" with a face full of blood. BLOOD?! We stood somewhat stupefied by what we'd seen, utterly speechless. Moving on...

Careful! Recent severe flooding of the White Clay Creek has left the MDT dangerously undercut. Pic by Kim.

We pondered that face full of blood walking along, turning in and out of small tributaries, crossing bridges, following the blue blazes. Hmmm. Was he on blood thinners? Had he run into a low hanging limb? Then, bzzzzz. The trail wound around into a floodplain field of emerging corn. The buzzing was coming from the field. I looked down and around, realized we were in the midst of a large gregarious ground nest of miner bees (Andrena). Thousands of them. Their solitary tunnel nests were all freshly opened and it appeared they were flying either freshly hatched themselves or busy building new nests to lay eggs and provision. These bees were very calm, not at all disturbed by our standing in the middle of their nest site. It takes a lot to make an miner bee sting, but to the uninitiated wanderer, walking out into this field could have been a terrifying experience. Luckily Kim and Hilary were as enthralled as I was and nobody screamed and ran. Maybe that's what happened to that bloody guy...

The more you look, the more you see. A field of miner bees tunnels!

Other interesting nesting things included fish. We came across these bluegills guarding a series of well constructed sand nests in the bed of the creek. The shallow sand pans, or bowls, are excavated and guarded by the males who, like some birds, hope that it attracts a female. If a chooses his the nest, they have fish sex. The eggs sink to the bottom of the bowl and the male lightly fans them with sand to cover them. Then he guards and she swims away. Stay-At-Home Dad of the fish world.

Bluegills make beautiful sand bowls where young are hatched...

...and Daddy bluegill guards!

After we admired the bees and fish we continued south along White Clay Creek. An elegant northern water snake swam alongside us. I could watch a snake swimming all day. What beautiful animals. Somewhere along the bank a baby beaver called for its mom. "Whelp!' it cried for momma to come back. I'm sure she was very close, watching us go by. It wasn't until we were almost to our first break spot at the nature center that we realized we'd been walking on a 'closed trail' since the signage was posted for hikers coming the other way. Oh well - we do things backwards anyway.  Oops.

We thought the trail looked kinda dangerous. Who knew?

We took our break at the Chambers House Nature Center in the Delaware half of the park. The Chambers House, a restored Quaker farmhouse once presided over 250 acres of farmland. Built by early Quaker settlers, it is a fine example of  a sturdy brick and stone structure used now  for programs, the library, classroom, and volunteer activities. Today, according to Christie, the volunteer coordinator, park volunteers had conducted a National Trails Day hike and it had been well attended. The old park ranger in me wanted to ask her about program numbers and enforcement issues and rerouting of the storm-damaged trail and if any reports of an old guy with a face full of blood running  north of the border. But I didn't do that to her. See? She's smiling, so you know I didn't. 

Christina Palmer, Volunteer Coordinator, White Clay Creek State Park.

 From the Friends of White Clay Creek State Park website:  

According to John Whiteclay Chambers II, a Rutgers University history professor and descendant, "In 1713, a yeoman farmer in Yorkshire named John Chambers, seeking to escape from religious persecution of Quakers in England, sold his farm and sailed with his family to William Penn's 'Holy Experiment' in Pennsylvania." 

Thinking back on Quaker history, this area was considered wilderness by the early settlers of Swede, Dutch, and German descent, though the land was already occupied by Lenni Lenape people, a native group of fishermen and horticulturalists. The English Quaker farmers, following the Swedes and Dutch, pushed farther into the western woods and certainly came to know and admire the native farmers. Many farm journals describe the friendly relations between Quakers and Indians, each learning from the other in trade and industry. But by the time Mason and Dixon arrived some 150 years after early settlement,  relations between native people of the Mid-Atlantic and some colonial factions had become very strained. Even violent. Especially violent, much to the dismay of the surveyor and the astronomer.

The Quaker Chamber family built this home in the early 1800s on the Clay Creek Hundred.

Today we are close to the Twelve Mile Circle boundary that defines northern Delaware,  drawn with its center on the cupola at the New Castle courthouse in 1750. The arc makes for a strange wedge of land, not surprisingly called The Wedge. This tiny bit of land was still being contested by Maryland and Delaware as late as the 1930s. We hoped to find an arc stone today, somewhere along the park's many side trails and after our Chambers House visit, we got back to the trail in search of it.

Although the MDT crosses back and forth over state boundaries in the first thirty miles, it really doesn't follow precisely the actual Mason Dixon Line. But there's plenty to remind the hiker that the you are either coming or going into another state. What the trail does well is to remind us of how divided we were as the path wanders near and through places that defined not only disputed boundaries but the ground on which we fought - whether between continental armies, immigrant and native people, colonials and the Crown.

Leaving Pennsylvania and coming into Delaware.

We are either coming or going...
On a side trail to find the Arc Stone that marks the boundary of DE and PA.

At the time Mason and Dixon were planning to begin their work, they stayed at a Quaker farm not far from here to test and adjust their delicate surveying and stargazing instruments which had, thankfully, made it across the Atlantic undamaged. These were precise tools, beautifully crafted and incredibly elegant. Mason and Dixon had been hired to define and mark the Twelve Mile Circle, lay the tangent line, establish and mark the north line (MD/PA), and correctly demarcate the 39°43' parallel. They used the best instruments possible, some of them made especially for this work. Their efforts stand today as exquisitely precise, regarded by modern surveyors as (pun intended) monumental.  We found the side trail to the arc stone and made the steep climb up. Compared to the level floodplain trail and road walking these past three weekends, this was our first mountain!

An arc stone on the Twelve Mile Circle!

On top of the arc stone, a surveyor's radius and tangent.

The testing, adjusting, and planning took weeks. During this time Mason and Dixon worried about the violence occurring close by, as did their Quaker hosts. The host farm was only a few miles south of a well-traveled pike that connected Lancaster to Philadelphia and a murderous gang called The Paxton Boys was riding to Philadelphia with the stated claim that they would kill all native people in and around the city. They'd already horrifically butchered two small family groups of Conestoga (Susquehannock) farmers near the Susquehanna River in retribution for Indian attacks made against settlers pushing into the western mountains of Pennsylvania. Ben Franklin and other city leaders organized protection for the area's many native families. For the first time (but not the last in American Quaker history) Quakers took up arms to agreed that, if need be, they would kill to protect their Indian neighbors. The violence of these weeks shocked Charles Mason, a Quaker himself. Mason interrupted the survey in order to travel to Lancaster and pay tribute to the murdered families. He visited the sites of the Conestoga massacres and prayed there. His journal entries of this period stand as the first detailed accounts of the massacre, the Paxton Gang, and their innocent victims. The experience would stay with him the rest of his life.

Walking through Newark is the same as walking through the University of Delaware campus.

Our walk continued for many more miles and we jumped off the MDT to take a rail-trail into Newark to see the sights of alumni weekend. Had we stayed with the MDT it would have meant another several miles of walking through housing developments. The downtown area was much more interesting. All the eateries and pubs were packed, but the Main was blissfully post-graduation empty. The colonial feel of this old campus juxtaposed against the busy-ness of a modern college town in celebration mode was quite a change from the last eight miles of our walk in the woods.

The Deer Park Tavern where Edgar Allen Poe wrote some of The Raven.

Our town walk turned towards the city park where we left the van, but not before we passed in front of the Deer Par Tavern, a historic site where many famous folks like George Washington and Edgar Allen Poe stayed. That's kinda weird, to put George Washington and E.A. Poe in the same sentence...

Sunday, June 8, 2014: Newark, DE to Elkton, MD

The second leg of Map 9 actually included about a third of Map 8 but we didn't know that until our written directions ran out on the back of Map 9 about two-thirds of the way to Elkton. The maps, as we are finding out, are a tad off and certainly you should check with the website to see if any trail closures or detours are listed - not all closures are listed, however, as we found out on Saturday with recent flood damaged pathways in WCC State Park. But oh well, this is what long distance hiking is about. Onward!

Entomology research ongoing at Iron Hill
Kim and I (no Hilary today - Happy Birthday Hilary's Mom!) quickly made our way into Iron Hill Park from the parking area at Folk Memorial Park. Iron Hill  features historic and pre-historic open pit ore mines utilized by Lenne Lenape (jasper)  and settler folk (iron ore). Trenches, surface quarries, and random big holes are everywhere. The University of Delaware is currently using some sites for insect and bird studies. The trails through the park were beautiful and well marked, with plenty of interpretive signs to read and old open mines to look down into.

Open pit mines were dug by pick and shovel.

Being a geology hound, I was pretty pumped to walk this area. East of the fall line, where the Piedmont's hill and valley country begins, Iron Hill is one of three prominent hills that stand out in an otherwise flat landscape. These hills are the remains of magmatic intrusions, giant bubbles of gabbro, an igneous material that rose to the surface as the North African plate collided with the North American plate during the Appalachian Mountain building period, part of the Wilmington Complex of the Cambrian - Ordovician era. Since these intrusions did not actually make it to the surface all those millions of years ago, we really can't call them volcanoes. Their (for Delaware) high slopes and domed appearance, however, gave us the impression that were hiking the flanks of an old dome.Over time, the rock and lands around Iron Hill have eroded to the sea, leaving a wanne-be volcano standing distinctly higher than the woods below.  I collected two small samples for the rock shelf at home (one for me one for granddaughter Kenzey). Very cool rock that was once very hot magma!

The deepest pits have filled with water and now bellow with bullfrogs.

From these heights, (yes, Delaware has heights!) George Washington looked out across the landscape to observe the positions of British Redcoats the day before the Battle of Iron Hill or Cooch's Bridge in 1777. Back then there were no forests like there are now. Most of northern Delaware had been stripped of its woodlands to make way for farming, logs to lumber mills, and charcoal pits for furnace fuel. Today the park is cloaked in forest and is quite lovely.


Memorial to Bob Yost is in a beautiful spot at the top of Iron Hill.

We came out into a shady parking area and almost tripped over the Bob Yost memorial stone. Bob was a chemist with the Getty Oil Company and an active member of the Wilmington Hiking Club. He was an elder hiker when he came up with idea, but when did age ever stop a hiker? Like never. So he and some friends began to lay the trail from Chadd's Ford to Whiskey Springs, PA, in the late 70s and early 80s, following in the tradition of early 20th century footpaths that linked cultural, historic, and natural areas here in the East. The western terminus of the trail, our goal this summer, ends at the Appalachian Trail, probably the most famous of the planned Eastern footpaths, now a National Park that runs 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine. The MDT is still a work in progress and volunteers from the Keystone and Mason Dixon Trail Clubs keep a pretty good schedule of work and maintenance days. Anyone can join and help. I've volunteered on the MDT closest to where I live in Peach Bottom Township along the Susquehanna. Hard working folks and lots of fun!

An iron-colored American toad takes on the hue of the ore hill path.

Kim stands at the southern trailhead of the Iron Hill trails complex. We came from the north. Note the tiny MDT badge.

At the end of the park's trail system stands the restored Iron Hill Colored School, built along with 80 other schools in the southern PA/ northern DE region, dedicated to educating the area's African American children during the early 20th century. The school system's benefactor, Pierre DuPont, believed all children should be educated, regardless of race or class, and taught in modern, safe surroundings. He foot the bill more all 80 schools and made sure they  were not only built well, but were beautiful. Each was staffed by highly credentialed teachers, paid through an educational foundation for African American children of Delaware and Pennsylvania. Many parents of the children educated at Iron Hill School were workers in the ore mines or farm hands on local farms. The building is in pristine condition and I look forward to coming back with my sister, a historian of Eastern Shore African American history, to explore this some more.

Iron Hill Colored School.

The map said to cross the Old Baltimore Pike, which we did verrrrry carefully. It's a busy road! We crashed through a hedge where the map said a trail would be - but wasn't -out into a cul-de-sac, and followed some neighborhood streets until we came to a strange section of trail through a woodlot. There was no trail at all, actually. Kim forged ahead and followed the blazes and voila! we emerged into a sprawling power line right-of way. This became our main trail for several miles. The popping, buzzing, and snapping of electricity over our heads was pretty cool.

Blue blazes on massive power line towers.

Admiring the scale of this power line right-of-way, our main pathway for a good portion of the day's walk. Kim's pic.

One of my favorite things about long hikes are the stories we hear along the way. This was true on the AT and true on the MDT. Some folks are interested in where we came from and where we are going, and others seem to just intercept us where we are with stories of their own. We came across an industrial area that ran alongside the power line right-of-way. A parking lot of pallets, some neatly stacked and others scattered and broken, occupied the back corner of the receiving lot where big trucks delivered materials to the factory. In the middle of the pallets was a mom and her son carefully putting out cans of cat food, a huge pile of dry kibble, and bowls of fresh water. A few skittish stray cats peeped from behind the stacked pallets. Since being laid off from her job, this mom was teaching her son about how to care for a wild cat colony - but she was really teaching him a lot more. They had trapped many of the cats over the past months, and with the help of a local vet, had them spayed and neutered. Some were able to adopt out - those that could be calmed. Others disappeared into the right-of-way field. Factory workers built a cat condo for the site. Mom and son visited weekly to refresh the food and water, spending money that was surely tight to care for these wildings.  What compassion and selflessness. We visited for some time listening to their stories and their hopes for this neglected wild patch at the back of the factory. "It's the least we can do for these animals. It's what we do together to get through these hard times - our time together to do something important."

Taking care of a wild cat colony.

After our visit we noticed a change in the landscape, a change in the way the trail felt under our feet. Run-down land, poorer communities, the sound of traffic and the roar of trucks. We continued on the right-of-way for some time further through a much lived-in woods - where the homeless had  encamped over the winter and where people dumped parts of cars and heaps of trash. The map and the trail took leave of each other.

Map 9 ran out of description at the industrial area, but we still had two miles to Elkton, county seat of Cecil County, MD. We lost the blazes and made our own way here and there, through neighborhoods and rough patches of field and wood edge. Coming through a patch of trees, Kim realized where we were and mentioned "Oh, this is the crash site."   A little boy waved at me from corner. I waved back, then he was gone.

 Kim recounted how so many children perished that night in a thunderstorm over Elkton in 1963. Some died with their parents, some were flying to meet relatives in Philly and New York and were flying by themselves. A bolt of lightening ignited fuel fumes in an enclosed airspace of an empty fuel tank and the plane disintegrated in mid-air. No one survived the explosion. The debris field was four miles wide. Even today, long-retired firemen, citizens, and police officers who responded to the crash, say that what they saw and did that night, and for twelve days afterward has stayed with them ever since.

Pan Am Flight 214 Memorial in an Elkton development. 

I kept looking back for the little boy in the striped shirt. Ghost stories abound in this neighborhood, built atop part of the debris field a decade later. Off trail again, we happened to come out of the neighborhood at its main entrance, and walked right up to the monument. Had we tried to follow what was clearly an overgrown and unkempt mile of MDT, we would have missed this important marker.

Painted turtles bask at the old hatchery.

Close now to the center of town, we walked alongside the old abandoned fish hatchery and admired the great white egrets, painted, and snapping turtles lurking in and around the old holding ponds. Soon we heard the happy voices of children playing in Big Elk Creek. Kim and I had nearly paddled up the river to this spot earlier in the spring when the tide was high and our kayaks could get beyond tight spots where the creek passes through town. On our hike now though, we were weary and tired and trudged back to the car we left at Meadow Park. Our two-day back-to-back 18 mile trek had been a whole lotta fun, but we were at the end, a whole lotta sore! It was great to have two local gals along as hiking companions for this stretch. Thanks to Hilary and Kim I learned so much about an area I usually just drive through on my way to somewhere else.

Holding ponds of the old hatchery - snapping turtle heaven!


Historical notes on the Chambers House can be found here: 

Two books on the massacre -

Brubaker, Jack. Massacre of the Conestogas: On the Trail of the Paxton Boys in Lancaster County. The History Press (2010). A book for lay readers and popular history.

My favorite of the two books is - Kevin Kenny. Peaceable Kingdom Lost: The Paxton Boys and the Destruction of William Penn's Holy Experiment. Oxford University Press (2009). A much more rigorous, scholarly treatment with a deeper historic context. (Available in Kindle, where my copy lives.)

The story of Pan Am Flight 214 is significant in aviation history. After this incident all planes were modified and designed new with features to prevent the build-up of fumes in empty fuel tanks. Family members and emergency personnel visit the monument a few times a year to refresh the flowers and to remember the lost.

This hike dedicated to Allen Browne, fellow wanderer along the MDT, who maintains a wonderful blog about his own passion for the outdoors: finding monuments, memorialized spaces, and markers and telling their stories:

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