For our 2017 First Day Hike, my hiking partner Kim and I revisited an old favorite in the River Hills of the Lower Susquehanna Valley. We did this trail for 2015 First Day Hike, but decided to revisit it and note the changes that have occurred over the past few years. A lot has happened since then, namely the transfer of ownership from a power company to the county land conservancy and the Pennsylvania State Park system. All good for the further rewilding of the valley, but a little sad for the closing of a long-time popular community park of almost sixty years. Still, the parking lot was filled and many people (and their dogs) were out for one of Pennsylvania's favorite outdoor holidays, First Day Hike!
|Kelly's Run ravine.|
We hiked a six mile up and down ravine and ridge loop that encompassed Kelly's Run, one of the many spectacular ravine creek valleys in the River Hills area, and a steep and slippery traverse that climbed rocky outcrops towards The Pinnacle, an incredible overlook of the Susquehanna River. This was definitely a hike for using two poles!
|A narrow, spring-filled trail.|
|Slots and ledges.|
Many small springs feed Kelly's Run on the way to the river. Footing at times was a slick as it was two years ago when we did the trail under icy conditions. This time it was the muddy seeps and springheads mixed with slippery leaves that made us really take our time. We met lots of other hikers, also carefully picking their way up or down the ravine. At times we felt like we were being watched...
|Ever have that feeling you are being watched?|
|An ancient ravine of proto-Atlantic seafloor rock.|
Everyone wished each other Happy New Years whether picking their way up or down the ravine. The sun was barely making it into the deep-cut creek valley so it was a tad chilly. Once we made the mouth at the Susquehanna River, however, we were in the sun, climbing a steep slippery rock pile of a trail, and getting too warm! Dogs were everywhere, frolicking, tails wagging, their owners happy and smiling. I think having a hiking dog makes every hike so much more enjoyable. Though neither of us brought our own dogs to the hike, we loved meeting all happy pups out on their First Day hikes.
|Witch Hazel in bloom.|
Witch hazel was blooming in the low woods, lending a golden glow to the shady valley, while pitch pine stood strong, anchored to cliff and rocky ridges on the way up to The Pinnacle. It felt good to be in the sun, but boy - did we have to watch our footing! Steep, steep, steep - and slippery with dry oak leaves. The river was in full view, wide and deep blue green, a mile wide. The oldest running river in the East, the Susquehanna has a sense of royalty about it - ancient and revered.
|Looking west to York County from Lancaster County, PA, through pitch pine.|
We huffed and puffed up the last stretch of an old wagon road to the top and looked out to the north from The Pinnacle. Nearly windless, it was warm in the sun. Time for our snacks, some water, and taking in more views. I pinch myself sometimes to think that I live only 15 minutes from this amazing spot.
|The Susquehanna in its winter colors of blue, green, and brushy gold.|
|Hikers stop to snack and play with a very happy dog.|
We headed down the wagon roads and joined up with a very old and washed out shoulder road that led steeply down to the railroad tracks where we turned south to connect with the Kelly's Run Trail at an old truck bridge and the remains of a mill. A slow moving train thundered by, pulling empty oil tankers. Both Kim and I remarked about how busy this line has become in the past five years for oil trains. It scares me to think what would happen on this nearly inaccessible stretch of cliff-edged river rail if there were an accident and spill. Some of the oil comes south from the northern tar sands region, some of from the wells of the Upper Plains States. The refineries south of Wilmington are thick with this stuff.
|Its planking long gone, this old truck bridge carried heavy equipment to the Holtwood Dam construction in the 1920s.|
|Old Pennsylvania Power and Light metal sign for Kelly's Run Trail.|
Pennsylvania has long been an energy production state from its harnessing of rivers for mills, factories, and electricity, to its coal fields and natural gas (fracking) fields. It hasn't all been pretty - some of it has been incredibly polluting and ugly. One of our conservation heroes, former Governor Gifford Pinchot, saw the wasted land had become of his home state and decided to repair as much of it as he could in the 1920s with large-scale restoration projects, reclamation and jobs programs, and important conservation policies. His movement was called The New Conservation, the next generation of conservation work following Teddy Roosevelt for whom Pinchot served as Chief of Forestry. It became the model for F.D.R.'s New Deal conservation programs like the C.C.C. Despite our tangles with the ugliness of energy production, extraction, and transportation, this state still works very hard to uphold Pinchot's high standards for protecting and re-establishing wildlands and conserving natural resources - especially our forests and waters.
We took the old paved road back up the hill, through the woods, and finally to the old Holtwood Park. The old mowed fields were reverting back to meadow and young woods. A young family passed us on their way through the meadow to the river below. The kids each had their trusty hiking sticks and we bade them a happy First Day Hike. "It's so beautiful!" said their mom. Change has come to this place yet again, but it is beautiful! It's a little wilder now and I like that. Hawks and vultures wheeled overhead. Birds filled the woods with fluttering and song. A beautiful red fox coursed through the infield of the old baseball diamond. Our legs ached - but that's hiking in the River Hills any day! What a great First Day Hike to start 2017!
A nice illustrated biography of my favorite PA Governor and good friend of Teddy's -