Sunday, February 28, 2016

PA Mason Dixon Trail -Map 3: Codorus Furnace to Highpoint Overlook

Saturday February 27, 2016: York County, PA, 13 miles 

Today Kim and I switched our direction north to south, starting this section at Codorus Furnace in Hellam Township and walking south along the river to the summit at Highpoint Overlook just south of Wrightsville, a very pretty river town. Besides being an absolutely perfect day for a long hike, it was important section for me as I was carrying a full pack using the Gregory 38L Savant I plan to use on my Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in May and June. 

The oldest iron furnace in York County. 

We started our section hike at Codorus Furnace in Hellam Township. The oldest surviving pre-Revolutionary iron furnace in the York County, it was built in the 1740s as a pig-iron production furnace but when war between England and America broke out it quickly transitioned to producing cannon balls and shot. This is the western reach of the Iron Hills region of South Central Pennsylvania where during the Revolution every furnace (and there were hundreds!) were put into service to supply Washington's Army with munitions. It also produced cannon shot for the artillery during the War of 1812. Like most of these hill-built furnaces, it was retired in the mid-1800s replaced by new technologies.  I love the furnace history of this region and were it not for having to start our hike, I would have liked to explored this old site for more of the ruins and remains that were scattered through the forest.

Codorus Creek on our left was flowing fast and rapid filled with snow melt and recent heavy rains.

I had forgotten the map, stuffing it into the wrong pack the day before, so we were totally dependent upon the blue blazes. We found the trail to be well marked and easy to follow the whole way to Highpoint. It was icy in many places as bluffs and hills blocked the afternoon sun, and snow still laid in shady places, leftover from the record-breaking 30 inches we received a few weeks ago.

A single narrow road between the bluffs and the river made for a beautiful stretch.

This is river hill country and we huffed and puffed up several steep switchback slopes, but the trail mostly followed old woods roads when traveling through valleys or along ridges. Down along the river we followed the blue blazes through pretty cabin and cottage communities. The river was high - in watch stage - as snow melt and run off from recent heavy rains raised ever stream, creek, and tributary river along the lower section. 

Flooded river woods.

As we walked I thought about the idea of hiking through landscapes as a way to interpret the rich ecology and social histories that they hold. I do a lot of research at my computer, in libraries and archives, and poring through books and journals, but there is nothing that compares to investigating a landscape history by walking through it. With the river nearly touching our path, the sound of dozens of waterfalls and fast creeks tumbling off the bluffs, and surrounded by historic sites, it was clear that this section was all about hydrology, industry, and human ingenuity. 

A memorial deep in the woods.

We passed a simple memorial to some unknown soul and I thought about how dangerous work had been in harnessing the river with dams, building canals, operating cable ferries, log drives and logging, the furnace industry, and quarrying, Because of the danger of furnace work, working the colliers' charcoal pits, hoisting and setting huge blocks of stone in canal walls, an early piece of Pennsylvania legislation made it illegal to site a public house or tavern within two miles of a work site. Drinking on the job or showing up to work drunk was not tolerated. The work is still dangerous and given the place where we found the newer memorial deep in the woods, I wondered if a logger or tree cutter had recently met his end here. It was a sobering sight, so remote, but clearly cared for and maintained.

A mailbox garden begins to bloom.

Down along the river the woods paths gave way to a single paved track that traced the contour of a higher shelf of the old river bed. Here were a line of perfect cabins and cottages, some quite old and made of quarried stone, some of log, others more recently built. We chatted with folks clearing flood debris from the lower reaches of their properties and said our hellos to some folks still shoveling snow, chatting with neighbors, walking dogs. This stretch of river front community was hemmed in with a high bluff to the west. Here the Susquehanna carved its way down, down, down, through the hills and mountains rising all around as the Appalachians were being folded and lifted. The rate of downcutting was faster that the rate of uplift, so the river made its way through the young mountain range mostly by following the path of faults and fractures. The ninety degree bend at Chickies Rock is evidence of one such fault that captured and redirected the  mighty Susquehanna. 

Not much room on this shelf of old flood plain to site a cabin or cottage with the bluff directly above us.

Chickies Rock  marks a ninety degree bend where a fault line redirected the river.

As we walked I kept fooling with the strap adjustments on my new pack. I'd loaded 20lbs for the hike, probably a little more than I want on the Camino, but any back pain, knee or hip strain was quickly addressed by shifting weight from shoulders to hips with adjustments. I actually forgot I even had the pack on, even on the steep uphills, so I figure it will serve me well across Spain and several of the mountain ranges I will cross on my way to the Atlantic from France. 

Lime kilns at Wrightsville.

John Wright's Foundry and the 'new' bridge that replaced the wooden structure burned during the Civil War.

June 1863, Wrightsville Union Militia skirmished with Confederates then burned the bridge to prevent their crossing.

The single paved lane payed out as we approached the little river town of Wrightsville. John Wright's Foundry is still standing and beyond it is modern foundry and forge. The bridge connecting Wrightsville to Columbia delivers walkers, cyclists, and vehicle traffic to he center of town. An impressive bank of lime kilns funneled us on to the main street. We passed friendly folks on the porches of their small worker's row homes typical of the mid-1800s for industrial villages. But this is an important town for environmental historians so if you have the time to linger and look, there's much to learn about how the river, the hills, bridges, ferries, forests, and farms shaped the look and function of the town itself. Historical markers and signs are everywhere. I made a mental note to come back and just wander around. 

Leaving town and back to the river hills.

Once through Wrightsville we continued south along the river to the point where the trail left the road for good. Up and up we climbed into the river hills once again with the Susquehanna loud and fast below us. Rafts of debris were washing down, huge logs bobbed along, and anything floating seemed to have a crew of ring-billed gulls happily riding along. This would have been log drive season when men rode the rafts of logs downstream to mills further south. It was fun to imagine the gulls directing their logs to some distant island downriver. 

One last crossing, grateful for waterproof boots, following the blue blazes.

Coming through the culvert. Photo by Kim. 
Climbing to the summit of Highpoint Overlook. Photo by Kim. 

One more set of switchbacks and we were on our way to the summit at Highpoint. Lots of ups on this section hike but also plenty of brilliant early spring light to make the effort beautiful. Kim and I agreed that this had been one of the more beautiful sections we've hiked so far.

At the summit looking across the Susquehanna into Lancaster County. Photo by Kim.


Wrightsville's Bridge Burning was an important turn of events during the Civil War. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Arctic Eagle Watch: PA Codorus State Park

Our first real Arctic front arrived overnight with a near-continuous blast of wind throughout the day today. The windchill temperatures were easily -10' to -20' below 0 F' and windblown snow drifted over the roads making driving particularly hazardous. But I went out anyway! I took the day at Codorous State Park near Hanover, York County, PA, about 30 minutes from home. With the blowing snow and covered roads it took me an hour. But the excitement surrounding the Hanover eagle pair preparing to lay their first egg of the season kept me focused.

My friend Linda was on duty! Hugs, hot coffee, eagle updates, - 18'F at the watch site.

I had checked the PA Game Commission site for today's eagle cam before I left and I noticed that even with nine fresh inches of snow a few days ago (on top of what remained of 30"!) the female eagle was arranging fresh leaves and grass her mate was bringing to her. Last year this pair laid the first of two eggs on February 14. I thought, what the heck - head over and see if any one is watching and do a little hiking in the sub-zero woods. As I pulled up to the eagle watch site I was tickled to find one lone eagle watcher - a friend from near Frederick, MD who made the drive for the same reasons. Linda began following this eagle pair on eagle nest cam last year and became hooked. She now travels with the local birding group, administers the eagle watch Facebook page, and does quite a bit of time at the site helping to interpret for park visitors. "I never knew a thing about eagles before last year," she said, "but once I became addicted, the whole world of birding and photography opened up for me!" We met on a kayak trip years ago and it was really great to find her here, weathering the fierce winds, smiling and excited about 'egg day.'

The nest is visible only in winter from across the mile-wide lake.

I stayed with Linda for as long as I could stand it, which wasn't too long. We both dove back into our cars after ten minutes! The wind driving across the open lake was brutal. She stayed on site as I continued around the park. The staff had been hard at work keeping all lots and roads open, so it was safe to explore even the out-of-the-way places. The wind carried the snow high into the air, piling it into big airborne banks of rolling snow that darkened the sky. 

Rolling waves of airborne snow darkened the sky at the marina, locked in ice.

I pulled out of the wind to take a look at the lake at the marina. Cormorants and ring-billed gulls were hunkered down on the floating docks. Juncos and white-throated sparrows dove under my car for warmth and a windbreak. 

Red-shouldered hawk watching my car as I watched her.

I noticed a flash of red to my side and there in a nearby tree was a red-shouldered hawk watching my car intently as flocks of little birds gathered underneath. Hungry to hunt, she got bored waiting for potential snacks to emerge, so she flew off towards the eagle watch site. I hope Linda got to see her!

Driving Arctic winds turned the lake into a roiling green wavescape.

I left the little birds to shelter at the marina while I pulled up and over the hill. My car was pushed sideways at the crest just as the duty ranger was coming the other way. He stopped and threw both his hands up as if to say "What the heck?!" then rolled up to me and put his window down. We both laughed into the snowy gusts coming through our cars and I think I heard him say "What a great day!" before he quickly put his window up again.  I hoped to find some shelter from the wind in the woods at the campground. I wanted to hike in the worst way!

Scott the Hermit! Another friend out on this crazy cold day!

I parked in the woods at the closed campground gates next to a familiar yellow truck and grabbed my binocs and camera. The wind was wailing over the tops of the trees but on the ground it was calmer. A herd of deer bolted in front of me and I thought what could have possibly frightened them to be charging through the woods like that. Then a shout - "Heeeeeyyyyy!" How could I not recognize the growly but happy voice of another friend, Scott The Hermit.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Scott is pretty much a hermit and lives in the Trails not far from me in a small cabin down by the river. "I love this place in the winter!" Scott can tell you anything about anything. He's a prolific reader. He also hunts moose, elk, bear, and deer and travels quite a bit through northern states and Canadian provinces on his long hikes and hunts. He's a talented woodcarver and is presently working on a raven that he showed me on his phone.

White-throated sparrow.

It's been a very tough week for some us in the southern York County region for reasons I won't go into here, but it was nice to talk to Scott about it. While we stood talking he noticed a few birds that had gathered in our boot tracks on the road. They were snagging wind-blown seeds caught in the hollows of our tracks. I told Scott about the birds diving under my car earlier. "Birds look to us and much as we look to them," he said. He did a few raven calls.

Pigeon Hills woods showing off some of its young chestnut root sprouts.

He went on to explain how these woods were once called the Pigeon Hills because of the millions of Passenger Pigeons that roosted here when there were chestnut trees to support them on their migrations. "Look around and you'll find hundreds of young chestnuts root-sprouting all over these woods." Standing, however, was not helping either one of us stay warm. So we tramped together through the campground. He talked the whole way. He must not get much company down in that cabin. Upon getting back to our vehicles, we noticed the main road completely covered again. "Better follow me home," he said, "that way if the roads are blown over I can pull you out." It's a deal I said. What a great day!

Following the yellow truck back to the Trails.

When will the Hanover Eagles lay their first egg? Follow the nest cam here:
Scroll down to see time-lapse archives of the day! 

Monday, February 8, 2016

My Environmental Claustrophobia: The Delmarva Seacoast

Hard edges in a curvy world.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Delmarva seacoast and at this weekend's MAEOE conference in Ocean City, Maryland, I really struggled to maintain my focus. Some people think "OC" is the best thing ever to grace their summer vacations. I find it a challenge to just drive through - much less stay there! Enclosed within a conference center, ensconced in a stale hotel bedroom, surrounded by hard edges, I can barely sit still. As busy as I was at the three day event, I was gulping for fresh air, sunshine (or snow and rain - I didn't care), and the wild spaces that punctuate an otherwise overdeveloped coastal zone.  

The January 2016 Nor'Easter bit off a big chunk of the main and only dune and deposited magnetite sands.

I don't know if anyone else suffers the overbuilt environment the way I do, but suffice it to say that after hours walking, driving, or working in the concrete canyons that line the ocean front I am actually shaking for want of an expansive view from bay to sea and, with the traffic noise, my head pounds and my heart races. I've asked my doctor about it and she coined the term environmental claustrophobia  - even wrote it down in my medical file! I have no idea if that's a real thing or not, but she seemed fairly confident I have anxiety issues when it comes to this sort of thing. 

A fairly gloomy mood photo of how I feel in this environment. Ugh.

Traveling through the overbuilt environment I find myself not knowing where I am, unable to orient to the sun, detached from any horizon. I drive on, keeping my eyes on the GPS and the numbered street signs, counting down the blocks to make my escape. I wonder if this is how a migrating songbird bird feels, blinded by city lights, unable to find moon or stars. Then, smack!  I don't want to deny anyone their love of the resort town, but for me its a different kind of sensory overload that makes me uncomfortable, even panicky. My first experience of this "disorder" occurred right after college. I had been training for the classroom and studio in botanical illustration and education. My first year spent in a small office-style studio with one tiny window facing the exterior wall of the building next door made me bolt from that profession into guiding work on the sea islands of South Carolina. The sea islands were my first refuge from confinement in the build environment.

A large, new dune, only  a few weeks old, already marching back from the sea.

This weekend I was lucky to have facilitated an Aldo Leopold Education Workshop down the coast at the wild shores of Assateague National Seashore. After a great morning of indoor and outdoor activities in the re-purposed, light-filled old nature center (now conference room) we were given the last hour of our time together to accompany one of the workshop participants Kelly, the NPS science communicator for the unit, on a guided exploration of storm damage that followed the January 2016 Nor'Easter that hit here only two weeks ago.

A five and half foot campsite marker is barely visible at Kelly's side.

After the workshop we headed out. It was blustery and cold and we were all shivering, but everyone was intensely interested in the dynamic ecosystem that weathered sustained winds of 50mph for almost a full twenty-four hours. Kelly mentioned that there were many 80mph gusts and that some staff stayed on patrol on the island to watch the storm unfold. This reminded me my favorite job while serving in South Carolina - hurricane duty! While OC lost nearly half of its protective (and only) main dune, the wild dunes of Assateague were resilient, moving, and alive. Where blow-outs funneled winds and blasting sand through the main dunes threatening to bury campgrounds, buildings, and parking areas, the park staff hours later was busy moving structures and digging out tarmac to accommodate the birth of new dunes. 

The Leopold group stood atop a newly formed dune that had engulfed the rail fence to the campground.

Staff dig up the campground parking lot to allow the dunes to pass through. A new crushed shell lot is further back.

New dune goes marching through the rail fence.

Looking at all those moving dunes it occurred to me that boundaries don't mean a whole lot to natural processes. Maybe it's what disorients me so much in the overbuilt environment, the idea that everything is defined by hard and solid boundaries. Wind, sand, and water will find its way eventually under, over, and around all those concrete and paved structures of the resort town, but here boundaries are porous and meant to be crossed, sometimes obliterated.  The human heart is no less vulnerable to the desire to cross such lines, but running, jumping, and skipping through the concrete canyons of OC would get most of us killed...

Indian River Life Saving Station on the wild beaches of Delaware.

Coming home from the conference on Sunday afternoon I stopped several times to enjoy the wilder aspects of the Delmarva Coast I traveled north through Delaware. The soft rise of the beaches at Indian River Inlet and the Atlantic were  gouged by recent storm surges, but not so much to appear disastrous. Compared to the stunning videos of streets and neighborhoods inundated under rushing water, sea ice slurry, and driving waves  from New Jersey, OC, and Lewes during the recent storm, these beaches looked as wild and as free as ever. 

Wind-carved dunes at a blow-out.

Submarine towers from WWII stand precarioulsy close to the sea, where once they were sheltered by back dune.

I went as far as Henlopen State Park, a thrillingly wild piece of Atlantic coast and found that several trails were closed due to storm damage. High winds and flooding seawater had punched holes through the protective dunes zone and many trails were deep in mud and debris.  Seawater still stood in pitch pine forest  in the back dune area, and here new dunes were marching over them heading inland, as a wild beach needs to do. Dead and dying pine forests will soon be covered by advancing dunes and the next layer of pine forest will be exposed and shaped by salt-laden winds and desiccating  sun.

Long-tailed ducks.

Common loon in winter plumage.

A curious long-tail.

As I walked along the wild beach I snagged a few shots of wintering northern waterfowl in broad tidal guts and just offshore beyond the breakers. Loons in their gray cloaks and long-tailed ducks dappled in sporty black-white-gold attire paraded by the few beachcombers on this cold, breezy morning. The fall-out of the storm was everywhere: hundreds of young, small, dead horseshoe crabs, mounds of shells, a dead black-backed gull. A noisy State Police helicopter crept slowly down the surf zone while a team of photographers leaned out both open bay doors, documenting the many breaks and breaches. New tidal ponds flooded the upper beach, and just offshore were large sand bars heaped high enough that incoming surf broke there. Birds scattered and the sand blew up in stinging vortexes as the helicopter made its way slowly down the beach. I got a wave from a photographer.

Flooded back-dune areas and trail closures limited my explorations.

A seawater breach through the main dune and a stranded watch tower.

As I made my way back to the access road I had to scoot behind the much flatter main dune through a breach. The ORV road was thick with mud and sinking sands. I had to disobey the almost buried signs that urged visitors to stay out of ecologically fragile dune area. I turned to look one more time at the spotting towers built to guard the coast from German submarines that lurked here in the 1940s. They were erected originally deep in the pitch pine forest to hide the movements of troops and vehicles. Looking back from a seawater breach it was clear that the dune system at Henlopen State Park has retreated at least a full mile since then. Someday (from the looks of it - soon) the towers will topple into the advancing sea as sea and wind carve out their foundations.

High-rises and city streets stand vulnerable to an angry sea just a few yards behind the one protective dune of OC's beach.

In natural process, sea islands and wild coasts such as this move back from the sea during fierce winter storms as high winds drive sands inland and sands stolen from the surf zone are transported out to sand-ledge bars. Those bars are important for the replenishment of beaches just down coast come summer, but modern jetty systems and buildings built too high or too close together stop the sand from moving. The beach starves for sand and it must be either pumped or bulldozed.  I remember a few Gullah families who lived on the islands where I worked in South Carolina who remarked that their moveable mobile homes, though not as fancy or as expensive, were a better bet for relocation than the multi-million dollar homes being built solidly on the edge of the back dune forests.

Storm surge scour line two feet above the tower's now exposed base.

Kelly at Assateague National Seashore had pointed out earlier in the week the differences between beach management plans among various stakeholders along the Mid-Atlantic Coast. Some towns push sand, some pump, others do both. Some towns have learned to shorten their jetty system to allow sand bars to replenish beaches. Others have made their jetty system longer and those downstream wonder where their beach has gone. Differences between state and federal land managers contrast as well. Depending on how the natural process of wild beach is valued against the economic gains of summer visitation, beach conservation strategies differ widely. Bulldozers push sand back into place at some state facilities who depend upon tens of thousands of paying visitors each summer, so the expense of pushing sand is justified.

Wax myrtle and heath communities are buried as dunes advance, but continue to act as sand traps for new dunes.

ANS serves as a model for wild beach preservation.  Federal equipment crews are tasked to remove entire parking lots, relocate portable bathhouses and restrooms, and reroute roads further back in order to permit the island to move. The 1933 storm breach that separated OC from Assateague National Seashore,  now the Ocean City Inlet, saved ANS from development as investors and builders abandoned their plans to extend the resort city south and instead accelerated plans for new development on Ocean City's bayside and mainland bayfront with new access to the sea. Long jetties at the inlet starve the north end of Assategue Island for sand however, and it remains a management issue between stakeholders. Its a complex management system that makes for interesting conversation and even more dramatic outcomes within a small geographical area.

The 1933 breach is now the Ocean City Inlet. The wild island is moving west while OC resists. Photo credit: NASA.


The Dispatch article marking the 80th anniversary of the 1933 hurricane, with interviews of elders who were children at the time -

Delaware Online assesses the coastal damages of the January 2016 Nor'Easter -