With 8 miles of trails, this is a great day hike area with plenty of places to rest, picnic, explore, and generally just dawdle around. The trails are a combination of well-preserved early 19th century roads, wagon trails, and foot paths that run through a young-ish oak woods. There's lots of evidence of the charcoal industry, especially on the Charcoal Trail and Octoraro Ridge Trail. Octoraro Creek runs through the rugged valley below and on this very cold leafless day, I caught glimpses of it through the woods from high up on the ridge.
|Young oak woods (under 100 years old) are the predominant forest type.|
|Charcoal pit still black with carbon soils.|
|The classic footprint of the collier's pit.|
|Headwaters of the 22-mile-long Octoraro Creek.|
|The only evidence of canines Bug found was this pile of fox scat which she studied thoroughly.|
|Speckled Alder cones - stripped of seeds (Chickadees love these!)|
|Red Osier Dogwood.|
|Well-preserved early 19th century roads are the pathway for many trails.|
|Field stone walls were built to keep livestock out of areas where crops were growing.|
Field stone walls are testament to the labors of many early farmers who cleared land of stones in order to grow crops, orchards, and hay. In the manure economy of the early German settlements, cow and horse manure was a valuable commodity and bedding from stables and barns would have built up many farm gardens. The remains of a farm garden wall surround the foundation of a German-built stone farm house, with a hand-dug stone-lined well out back. The wall surrounds the homestead completely in a U-shape starting and ending at the creek, while the remains of a bank barn foundation are just a short way up the old road outside the wall.
|Remains of a German-built stone farmhouse foundation. The upper section would have been log.|
|Hand-dug fieldstone-lined well.|
|A tree with sharp teeth! Sweet Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos)|
I quickly pulled her off the trail but not before she let out a series of LOUD bays and yelps letting the whole valley know that she was doing her job. We stepped way back from the Sweet Locust and I admired its dangling seed pods that rattled in the wind. The German farmer's cattle would have loved the sweet pods as they fell into the pasture below and the cow plops would have planted many more. The wood is tough stuff, however, and farmers readily harvested trees big enough to supply tool handles, door and window lintels, and insect-proof floor joists. Leaving a mature "nurse tree" to provide more trees in the pasture was a sound practice of ensuring a future of good, hard wood.
|Young oaks suffering from an attack of cankers.|
|Half a wolf tree. White Oak.|
|Skim ice forming on a catchment pond.|
It was getting pretty cold by mile 7 so we decided to skip the final mile and cut down an access trail to the small parking lot. Even with her "coat" on, Bug was shivering. Coonhounds are slim by nature and have very little fat to insulate them. Without the luxurious pelt of her wolf ancestors, Bug really does need the extra care in winter. As she shivered, I knew it was time to call it a day and warm up the car!
|The old Schoff dam was breached many years ago.|
We wound around the old Schoff dam and did a quick sniff-about in the wetland below. Some more fox scat and a quick splash in the tiny stream and Bug was ready to pull me up the hill to the car where she knew heat and chicken jerky awaited! We finished our day hike at 7 miles not having completed a one-mile loop trail south of the old dam, but we'll leave that to start with on our next venture out to Wolf's Hollow.
(1) Jared Beerman's study and survey on Pennsylvania habitat for grey wolf survival paints a dim picture of any future wolves living in PA, but if it were a perfect world, the Commonwealth could support up to a dozen packs. http://www.gis.smumn.edu/GradProjects/BeermanJ.pdf
(2) John Aberth. An Environmental History of the Middle Ages: The Crucible of Nature (New York, Routledge Publishers, 2013).
Wolf's Hollow County Park (Chester County, PA) website contains some background history and a great trail map to print out, but I found the map box well stocked with copies on the back of the parking lot kiosk. http://chesco.org/1748/Wolfs-Hollow-Park