Rocky Ridge County Park was the first county park established in York County, PA, in 1968. It has a long history of community advocacy, volunteerism, and multi-use. Today I visited with my coonhound, Bug. She met an Eagle Scout working on a trail project, a county bird club hawk watcher, an advocacy group for families with autistic children, a deer hunter scouting the hunting area, a lady training for her Camino in spring 2017, volunteers preparing the annual Christmas light show walk, a couple from Ohio who made this their lunch break spot on their way to New York, and a park ranger who checked to see if she wanted a treat (she did!). That was all before we started hiking.
|American Chestnut is everywhere - just short.|
|Consolidated river cobble is the bedrock of the ridge.|
Once we got underway, Bug and I hiked a combination of five miles of rough trail and smooth gravel paths through one of my favorite local mature oak forests. The Susquehanna is to the east and not far away, but with the dense canopy still holding its leaves, the river valley could only be glimpsed through the woods. To the north and south a powerline right-of-way corridor provides views over the York Valley to the south and the Codorus Creek Valley to the north. The oaks and hickories are massive and the understory is healthy and diverse. Towhees, hermit thrushes, and white-breasted nuthatches were the birds I encountered within the deep woods, and at the north and south hawk watch platforms I observed lots of turkey vultures, a sharp-shinned hawk and a kestrel. I would have spent more time on the platforms with the birders but Bug was pulling me onward!
|Ancient river bottom upthrust to the top of Rocky Ridge - hence the park's name.|
|Conglomerate ledges give up high views of the forest glens.|
|Boulder fields on rough trails.|
|Smooth crusher run paths are wide and flat.|
Once Bug had slowed down (after three miles) I was able to take the time to observe the finer points of the woods - the flaming leaves of sassafras and hickory, the tawny fern fields, late blooming fall flowers. A tufted titmouse couple followed us noisily down the flat gravel path.
|Mockernut hickory - or in these parts - "hognut" (Carya tomentosa)|
|Fern field under mountain laurel and oak.|
Now at a comfortable stroll, Bug and I walked another two miles. There was still some wind left over from yesterday's cold front passing. As a mature forest, there is always the possibility of limb fall during and after a day of high winds. There's a warning sign at the entrance to the park that warns hikers that this ridge is a dangerous place to be on a windy day. The older oak trees seemed to have had a summer's worth of old limb shed as we hiked along. Luckily no loud CRACK startled us as it did yesterday at the Pinnacle in Lancaster County. But there were plenty of moaning trees, leaners caught on the trunk of another. It was odd but beautiful music to accompany us on the south ridge trails.
|Carpet of red.|
|Late woodland blooms.|
|Oak, hickory, witch hazel, and hay-scented fern.|
A mature forest contains a complex network of interrelated habitats and communities. The ridge top affords enough wind exposure to topple a fair number of older or diseased trees each year that create openings in the canopy. Near every fallen trunk or massive limb fall, I observed different and often competing plant communities trying to capture the gift of sunlight. On the rockiest sections of ridge and trail, there were immense mountain laurel thickets with some laurels quite old. The twisting and angle of the old muscular limbs of the laurel can be read like a book about available sunlight as tender new growth over decades, if not a century, reached towards the light of canopy openings.
|Mountain laurel thickets twist and turn.|
|These are surely old growth mountain laurels with trunks big and muscular.|
|Old mountain laurel thickets are nearly impassable.|
The days are getting noticeably shorter and after five miles the light had softened as the sun began its descent in the west. The air turned a bit chillier and hikers began to gather at the overlooks for last views of the day. I stopped to chat to the Camino trainer, a wonderful women of about 70 who is walking up to ten miles per day with her poles. Just as we began to exchange training stories at a scenic bend in the trail two mountain bikers came clambering between us and the lead biker who was going too fast for the rocky trail failed to give us warning of his approach. I think he really didn't see us in time before he cut through us, barely missing the woman with his handle bars, then lost control when his front tire hit a hunk of conglomerate boulder. Down he went with the second biker right on top of him. I wanted to take a picture of the pile-up but thought better of it and asked instead if they were okay. They said yes, apologized for going too fast, and walked their bikes down the trail. Hmm. Flash-backs of my Camino when mountain and road bikers sometimes made the way dangerous for us hikers. Bug and I walked with the Camino hiker-in-training out of the woods to the final overlook.
|One last look - the York Valley.|
|A beautiful hike - again!|
Rocky Ridge is one of eleven county parklands, each with its own unique character and natural history. As one park user said to me today "I don't mind paying my county taxes one bit when I know that I have these beautiful parks to visit any time I want to." (I feel the same!)
I chatted quite a while in the parking lot before we started hiking with several families who were hiking the park with their autistic children. I have a grandson and nephew with autism so I am always interested in learning about community groups that provide opportunities for these families to enjoy time together outdoors. The families I met today were from Autism York: