GAP 2, Cumberland, Maryland

Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018

Before jumping into the shuttle service van that was scheduled to drive us, our bikes, and all our gear (in Minnie-Van) to a ‘burb of Pittsburgh (West Homestead, PA), we had time to take a quick walking tour of Cumberland, mostly along the waterfront GAP trail, and up Washington St. to the famous Episcopal Church on the hill, in which Tiffany windows glow even with the dull, cloudy day on which we started our adventure. But more of that in a bit.

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There’s a lot of history in Cumberland, where a very young George Washington surveyed the area, and where Wills Creek (channeled with concrete in the photo to mitigate flooding in the downtown historic district) meets the Potomac River. Historically, Cumberland was first a Fort, then a transportation hub; today, it is a hub for recreation, where the C&O Canal towpath trail meets the Great Allegheny Passage rail-to-trail conversion: Mile 0 of the GAP trail. The terminus of the C&O Canal, in the ebb of its heyday, became the beginning of the first US National Road.

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As a National Historic Place registrant, Cumberland has a lovely pedestrian area where old building facades have been preserved and are in use as boutiques, restaurants, businesses, and shops, accessible from the GAP trail. Much artwork adorns the Wills Creek area.

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This is just a small section of an enormous mural adorning two complete building walls framing the corner of the pedestrian mall area.

As we walked across Wills Creek and up Washington Street toward two amazing tours Allen had arranged for our group (one was a Historic Society preserved Victorian home with most of the period furnishings and structure intact), we saw many homes and churches in the oldest, highest-above-the-river part of town. Among the prettiest is the one at the top of this blog post. 

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Some of the homes need a bit of TLC.

The original Fort Cumberland, a colonial-era stronghold, was built atop the high ridge, with a protective (and controlling) view of the mighty Potomac River.

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Artist’s interpretation of what Fort Cumberland might have looked like when it was used in the 1700s. This image shows the Potomac River in the foreground, with Wills Creek joining it near the lower right—that is not a turn in the Potomac, but rather the two flowing together, then meandering off to the right, out of the picture and toward the Atlantic.
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View of Cumberland today from the old fort site.

At the time, much more of the municipality was on high ground. The earth has been removed for building and roadways over the long years since it was just a fort. Now Cumberland occasionally floods. This knowledge and seeing where our cars would be parked for the trip left the three couples who had vehicles in the Canal St. long-term parking area slightly concerned about local flooding with Florence’s potential trajectory. What we hadn’t counted on was the pigeons—more on that in the final installment of the cycling part of this trip.

Upon the site of the old fort was built, in the 1800s, the Episcopal Church with the Tiffany windows.

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The neatest aspect of this building, in my opinion, is the way in which they preserved some of the abandoned fort infrastructure, and used the old fort’s tunnels upon which the church sat as a stop along the Underground Railroad. For many, many years the pastors of the church hid, nurtured, and transferred escaping slaves to the next stage of safety along their road to freedom. 

Our guide began our tour with a digital “playing” of the old organ (complete with a heraldic horn section). The congregation’s organist is also an organ tuner and builder, and he’s adjusted the equipment so it can be played digitally or manually; from the back of the room or from the front (during special musical events). It was pretty awesome.

Louis Comfort Tiffany was the talented son of Charles Tiffany, the jewelry store owner. L.C. Tiffany was an interior designer in the mid-1800s, when his interest turned toward the creation of stained glass. He opened his own studio and glass foundry because he was unable to find the types of glass that he desired in interior decoration. He wanted the glass itself to transmit texture and rich colors, and he developed a type of glass he called “Favrile,” which he patented in 1892. Favrile glass has a superficial iridescence, which causes the surface to appear to shimmer, and “collects” light from that which surrounds it. “It is distinguished by brilliant or deeply toned colors . . . iridescent like the wings of certain American butterflies, the neck [feathers] of pigeons and peacocks, and the wing covers of various beetles” — according to Tiffany himself.

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While this image appears blurry (and it was, in fact, taken from a long distance, but with the camera solidly on a firm surface) I think it is a technique used by Tiffany to affect a “painting” or brush stroke with the glass. I may be wrong, but I think it’s made of streamer glass. The phrase “streamer glass” refers to a pattern of glass strings affixed to the glass surface, to represent twigs, branches, and structures like feathers. Streamers are made from molten glass that is vigorously swung back and forth to stretch into long, thin strings which rapidly cool and harden. These are pressed onto the molten surface of sheet glass during the rolling process and become permanently fused.
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This Tiffany triptych is not backlit. Instead, it’s made using many, many layers of glass, to “shadow” areas, and to leave other areas able to capture the ambient light and direct it—as with using lighter-colored paints—to illuminate the areas in the scene that either show light or reflect it. Here the light comes off the actual torch raised above the saint’s head, and the glass gathers light where the torchlight hits the martyrs bodies in the scene.
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Another Tiffany window one might think is backlit, but it is not. There are many layers of glass in the darker portions to create the many, many shades of blue throughout. It is an incredibly heavy window.

One of the stories told by our guide involved the integration of the church, just after the American Civil War. Some of the former slaves had been “raised” to be Catholic, but when they got to the north (Maryland was actually a slave state prior to the ACW) they were not welcomed to attend the Catholic Church’s services. One of the white friends of the Catholic congregation asked the Episcopal priest if the former slaves could attend his church (same fellow who ran the underground railroad stop) and he said, of course. There was an upper concourse set aside for the black folks—but even then, some of the Catholic blacks would not attend a non-Catholic service.

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Along this wall above the main floor was once the “blacks only” balcony. In the mid-twentieth century, it was reserved for the choir. And finally, it was removed and renovated as it appears today.

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Later in the tour, we saw the original drawings for a cross and candelabra, also designed and made by Tiffany for the church. None of the pix I took of the golden items nor the drawings turned out, I’m afraid.

As we entered and exited, I was interested in the patterns of the limestone slabs in the walkways, after years and years of erosion. They looked a bit like those relief maps of the ocean floor.

After admiring the “above ground” amenities of the structure, our guide took us downstairs, into the tunnels. There were rooms, narrow stairs, thin “runways” and low-hanging structural elements everywhere. It was frightening to think of a live person with black skin coming here for refuge and respite after a long, dangerous trip from Georgia or Virginia. Afraid every second that he or she would be betrayed. Near starvation or looking over the edge toward starvation at every moment. Too tired to sleep—too afraid or hungry or sick or injured to rest.

The fort’s ammo magazine and all the protective below-ground structures were made by erecting wooden forms and filling behind them with clay and rocks from the river. Those hardened and, with the exception of a few river rocks that have come loose over the centuries, the walls have held up to this day.

Our guide told us that, while the fort used long, underground tunnels to access water for the fort’s uses from Wills Creek and the Potomac, by the time of the underground railroad, the same tunnels were used to get human cargo from the “bad part of town” (the red light district, near the waterfronts) up to safety, nourishment, and rest under the church, and then off to the north and across the Mason-Dixon Line, a mere 10-ish miles by crow flight from Cumberland; Milepost 20.5 along the actual rail line that is now the GAP trail; and freedom for the escaped slaves.

There was much more to Cumberland that we did not see, including the structure out of which George Washington worked, and the Visitor Center. But we had a shuttle to catch at 2PM.

And we were off to West Homestead, a suburb of Pittsburgh. 

It was every bit of a 2-hour drive up interstates and toll roads, but we made it without too much problem, except for missing a turn during Pittsburgh rush hour.

But the hotel we occupied, Hampton Inn, was right on the trail and the Monongahela River (the GAP trail heading east follows the Monongahela until McKeesport, where it turns to follow the Youghiogheny River (pronounced Yawk-a-gain-ee, or the Yawk for short). Milepost 150 of the GAP trail is at what the city calls “The Point” where the Monongahela and the Allegheny rivers come together to create the Ohio River. 

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Homestead was once known as the Steel Capital of the World, symbolizing Pittsburgh’s dominance in the industry. Our city guide (tomorrow) reminded us that, at its peak of production, Pittsburgh was commonly known as “Hell with the lid off.”

Homestead’s flagship complex of US Steel was shut down in 1986. At that time, it had 450 buildings on 430 acres, and employed 200,000 workers throughout its years of making unprecedented amounts of steel.

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West Homestead is a mere 10 miles from Pittsburgh’s Point, and along with other suburbs of the city, is re-making itself as a shopping and recreation/tourism draw. Bravo to Pittsburgh and environs for making progress cleaning up and re-focusing the city.

We took a quick shake-down ride to assure our bikes made the trip in good shape (about five miles) and then got cleaned up to walk across the road to an enormous shopping area, with beautiful plantings and flowers everywhere, and more shops and restaurants than you can imagine, including Rockbottom Brewery.

Our group dinner was at Bravo Cucina Italiana, and it was excellent and fun.

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As we walked back to the hotel, we noticed a poster, but couldn’t quite get the idea of Indoor Axe Throwing into our heads.

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Tomorrow, Pittsburgh and a grand bicycle tour of the city!

 

August Trip Final (Belated)

I never quite finished the series about our August trip back from by business engagement in Carmel, IN. When I left off, we were ready to move from Breaks Interstate Park to Grindstone, a federal camping ground near Damascus, Virginia. So I’ll do a quick catch-up here (on September 23) before I begin to relate our freshest upcoming adventure, Cooperstown v. 2, starting September 25, 2016.

So, we began our drive from Breaks Interstate with Kerry & Gloria in their Class C; and Jim in his car, trundling our way across the mountains toward Damascus, on August 11 via Route 80. If anyone reading this and dragging a trailer or driving an RV considers using Rt. 80, all I have to say is that the road is fine until right after it diverges from Rt. 19, headed toward Clinch Mountain. My advice is to use Rt. 19 NOT to stay on Rt. 80, but find any other way you can manage OTHER than Rt. 80 to continue heading southeast.

We stayed on Rt. 80 and it was the most harrowing experience I’ve had to date dragging a trailer, and I wasn’t even driving. Crossing Clinch and Poor Mountains, the road narrowed to a 6 or 7-hundred road size, and switchbacked high and long, without the merest ghost of a guardrail on the steep slope. If we had met anyone headed the opposite direction, our lead vehicle would have acted as the “airbag” for the rest of the group following behind. There would have been no where to pull over to allow another vehicle to pass; and lord help us if we’d met a logging truck or larger equipment vehicle.

So NEVER follow Rt. 80 southward all the way to Meadowview or Interstate 81.

Once we survived Rt. 80, we headed to Saltville and then south toward Chilhowie, then wound our way into the Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area, and then along Rt. 603 to Grindstone.

We had a lovely site there, and zero insect disturbance, excellent weather, and a really fun time with Gary, Lorrie, Kerry, and Gloria (Jim decided to head back home instead of camping with us). Damascus was our shopping center and the beginning of the Virginia Creeper Trail, a Rails-to-Trails conversion that includes a steep ride down WhiteTop Mountain and many shuttle-your-bike-to-the-top options that make the Creeper famous among cyclists. Damascus is also famous as the entry to Virginia for the Appalachian Trail. If timed right, through-hikers can make it to Damascus by May and be feted and spoiled by the community’s Trail Days Festival, where everyone in the small city puts on the dog to celebrate the through-hikers and their journeys.

There is quite a lot more to the Creeper Trail than the thrill-ride down White Top. Lorrie, Gloria, and Kerry decided to walk the dogs around Damascus while Gary, Jack and I rode the 16 miles to Abingdon and back (total 32 miles). It was a lovely ride, although quite a hot day. We got some refreshment in Abingdon before reversing course, and then stopped at the Alvarado Station for a super delicious sandwich and homemade potato chips for lunch at the Happy Trails Cafe.

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But before we leave the Creeper, here’s some history about it from the Abingdon side:

The Abingdon Branch
“The Virginia Creeper”
Norfolk & Western Railway’s Abingdon Branch began in 1887 as the Abingdon Coal & Iron Railroad (AC&IRR). The Virginia-Carolina Railroad (VCRR) bought the AC&IRR in 1900, and extended rail service to Damascus. By 1915, VCRR trains ran over the 76.5 miles of track between Abingdon and Elkland, NC. The parking lot (adjacent to the sign) was the VCRR’s Abingdon yard, where equipment was kept, and the VCRR joined the N&W main line. In 1916, the N&W bought the VCRR, and the route became The Abingdon Branch. The track from Elkland to West Jefferson was abandoned in 1933.

The popular nickname, “Virginia Creeper” fittingly describes both the steep twisting mountain route and the speed of the trains. In some places, the posted speed limit was only 5 MPH.

The Abingdon Branch crossed some of the highest and most scenic terrain of any standard gauge railroad in the US. In the 55.5 miles from Abingdon to West Jefferson, there were 108 bridges, most made with timber, and no tunnels. In a classic series of photographs entitled A Day on the Abingdon Branch, O. Winston Link captured memorable scenes along this historic route during the last days of steam operations. Some photos from this series are on display at the Historical Society of Washington County Library in the former N&W passenger station in Abingdon.

The last train between Abingdon and West Jefferson ran on March 31, 1977. The Abingdon Branch rail bed was converted to the Virginia Creeper Trail through a cooperative effort of the Town of Abingdon, Town of Damascus, and the US forest Service.

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Class M Locomotive #433
American Locomotive Co., Richmond Works

The N&W owned over 100 Class M locomotives from 1906 to 1961. Today, two survive: 433 in Abingdon, and 475 operated by the Strasburg Railroad, Strasburg, PA. By the early 1920s, heavier and more powerful locomotives had replaced the Class M on mainline service. Because of their light weight and small size, the Class M had a useful life until the very end of the steam era, working in rail yards and on local freight and passenger trains where roadbed conditions prohibited using heavier locomotives.

In 1952, 433 came from Roanoke to Bristol as a backup engine on the Abingdon Branch. While in Bristol, 433 was a common sight in the railroad yard and on the many industrial tracks lacing the Bristol area. Although 433 was then equipped with a spark arrestor smoke stack, it rarely ran on The Abingdon Branch.

Steam operations ceased on The Abingdon Branch in 1957, marking the end of an era and a way of life. Except for 433, all Class M locomotives based in Bristol were immediately scrapped. Number 433 avoided the torch and moved to Radford where it worked until retired in July 1958. In October 1958, the N&W donated the engine to the Town of Abingdon, and on November 24, 1958 it was moved to its current location at the junction of the N&W main line and The Abingdon Branch. Today, 433 sits at the junction of The Abingdon Branch and the main line as a tangible reminder of the era when these small hand-fired steam engines struggled up the steep, twisting grades through remote mountain communities along the 55.5 miles between Abingdon and West Jefferson, NC.

The next day, I took the Mount Rogers Trail hike about halfway up the 7+ miles of the hike to the top of Mount Rogers, the tallest mountain in Virginia. We’d had some rain the night before, but the temperatures and humidity were just fine and I had a wonderful walk, enjoying many newly-sprung mushrooms.

On our last night together, we gathered at our Blue Roomba to share a meal, but the rain returned for some of the early evening. Thankfully, it quit by the time we were set to eat, and we didn’t have to get wet for our celebratory supper before we all headed home the next morning.

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We will definitely be returning to Grindstone and are thankful that Lorrie and Gary introduced us to this beautiful campground.

High Bridge State Park

We had an absolutely splendid day yesterday (Tuesday, March 22, 2016).

After a leisurely morning (with very little wind) and grilled sausage rolls for breakfast, we mounted the car hitch bike carrier and the bikes, I made ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch, and we took off around 11 for Farmville.
On various folks’ recommendations, we wanted to check out the High Bridge Rail Trail, which is a long (30-ish miles) Rails-to-Trails conversion with Farmville, VA at its center. What we hadn’t realized is that it’s actually another of Virginia’s excellent state parks.


Farmville is straight up Route 15 from Clarksville, about 55 miles. It’s a nice drive through pretty countryside, so we were poking around the city trying to find the “trail head” and some parking at around noon. There is a free municipal parking lot right at the in-town access point, and most folks suggested we should head east, which is the direction that incorporates the High Bridge itself, significant not only for its engineering, but as a integral supply line during the Civil War (more on the history part at the end of this note). “There have been higher bridges not so long, and longer bridges not so high, but taking the height and length together, this is, perhaps, the largest bridge in the world.” –C.O. Sanford, South Side Railroad’s chief engineer, 1852.
Headed eastward, the trail simply ends just after a place called Moran—about 15 miles from Farmville. Our plan was to ride the entire eastward length and back for a 30 mile day—our longest ride so far this year.
We stopped along the High Bridge itself to eat our sandwiches. Man, it was windy up there, at the tops of the trees. I took a silly panorama that doesn’t nearly show the height of the bridge, but that was me facing north, swinging the camera from my left across the vista to my right, with both bridge railings (right and left) included. Directly below most of the bridge is wetland and drainage to the Appomattox River, which really isn’t very wide along here, but also flows under the bridge.


The day stayed warm and breezy, and we stopped at a Civil War earthwork fortification that those who manned it (for protection of the bridge itself) called “Camp Paradise.” After that pause for some edification (more on that below), we rode without much in the way of stops (other than a pit stop in Rice) until the end of the trail. We ate a NutraGrain bar and turned around.

I took a couple of snaps along the way, but there’s not much to see. It was a mostly flat, well-maintained surface, more-or-less straight shot. We were hoping for a tailwind as we made our return, but that was not to be. Both of us, however, were pleased with our performance in stretching our fitness levels to be able to manage 30 miles without falling over dead. Both of us even were able to “up the ante” by taking the last few miles at a sprint (relatively speaking) into a significant headwind.

Before getting into the car for the ride back to Occoneechee, we hopped into the bicycling outfitters right next to the trail head, and picked up a map of the entire trail. The map/brochure doesn’t tell much about this specific trail, but it seems that it is a little over 30 miles total of reclaimed rail bed, with Farmville being right in the middle. The person in the outfitters said that the outbound stretch headed west is a 6 percent grade upward the whole way, with an easy coast coming back downhill to Farmville. Alan had told us he thought it was mostly wooded trail going west, and of course, headed that direction, you miss the bridge itself.
We got back and re-heated our chicken stew for leave-overs, built a fire (still little wind on our peninsula, and quite a lot warmer than yesterday), and enjoyed one of those rare moments when the sun sets just as the moon rises. Got a couple of pretty images of the sunset reflecting off Roomba and the lake, and then noticed the full moon rising over the treetops opposite the sunset. Simply lovely.



We called it an early night, even though we were eating our dinner at about 8:30-9PM.

Okay, here’s the history part.

High Bridge: In 1854 the South Side Railroad was completed from Petersburg to Lynchburg. To cross the Appomattox River east of Farmville, High Bridge was constructed. The bridge, 2,400 feet in length and ranging from 60 to 125 feet in height, was built on 21 brick piers. The original wood bridge had a pedestrian walkway beside the tracks and a wagon bridge below.

On April 6 & 7, 1865, all southern bridges were of strategic importance to the armies of General Robert E. Lee and General Ulysses S. Grant as they moved westward from Richmond toward Appomattox Court House. On April 6th, following the Battle of Sailor’s Creek, a small group of Union infantry and Calvary attempted to destroy the bridge but were deterred by Confederate horsemen who arrived on the scene. On the morning of April 7, quick marching Union troops came upon High Bridge as the Confederates were setting fire to it after crossing. Using the lower wagon bridge to continue their pursuit, Grant’s men pressed on, eventually coming in contact with Lee’s army around nearby Cumberland Church.


Camp Paradise:
Veteran, war-worn, French-speaking “chic Creoles” of the Donaldsonville Artillery detachment of 43 Louisiana Creole Canonniers received orders to guard High Bridge by the Lynchburg Confederate Military District Commander, Francis T. Nichols (a native of Donaldsonville). By June 1864, a bivouac of log cabins were built across the railroad tracks from the Overton house by the Canonniers under the direction of Lieutenant Camille Mollere.
The post, commanded by Major Victor Maurin, was tasked to man the four casemated earthworks fortifications, and their 21 artillery pieces, which covered approaches to High Bridge. Having been “feasted and pampered” by local families of Prince Edward and Cumberland Counties, the post became known as “Camp Paradise” by the gunners of Donaldsonville.
The Donaldsonville Artillery detachment took part in the Battle of High Bridge on April 6, 1865, after which they joined the Army of Northern Virginia’s retreat and surrendered with General Lee at Appomattox.




African Americans at High Bridge:
Engineer Department Activities. The High Bridge fortifications were built, in part, with the help of area free men of color who were conscripted for Confederate service. The Confederate Congress authorized the draft of free men of color to support military activities. Confederate records indicate there were about 30 black Confederates supporting the Confederate Engineer Department at High Bridge in September 1864. The Bureau of conscription authorized a draft for free African-Americans from Appomattox, Prince Edward, Amelia, Buckingham and Cumberland Counties to support Captain William G. Bender, the engineer in charge of construction of the fortifications. By December 1864, there were at least 50 men engaged in such work. These men were provided Confederate uniforms and blankets due to the cold weather.
While most of the African Americans documented at the High Bridge worked for the Confederate Engineer Department, pension records document men who were servants in the various companies charged with security of the Richmond & Danville Railroad. Records suggest some “Black Confederate” soldiers performed military duties.

October 12 – Ohiopyle & The GAP

Ohiopyle & the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP)

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We have had a most excellent day today (Oct.12). And no car was involved from start to finish!

After our leisurely rise and breakfast (Jack and I finally cooked the bacon we’d brought along), Gloria and I conspired to create a picnic lunch that was carry-able in two small backpacks. At just before noon, we set off from the campsites to hike the connector trail from the campground to the Youghiogheny River Trail, one part of the larger, Great Allegheny Passage trail system that connects Pittsburg to Washington DC. Also called “The GAP,” it is a trail Jack and I have been on many times in the past, and part of it crosses the Eastern Divide, where the riverflow splits, with one side going to the Atlantic, and the other side going to the Mississippi/Gulf of Mexico.

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The Youghiogheny River (The Yough, or “YACK”) is just beautiful here, and the small town of Ohiopyle is making great use of the natural beauty and outdoor sports opportunities for visitors.

Anyway, the connector trail is about 200 yards or so from our specific cul-de-sac, and it stretches about a quarter mile downhill along a loosely-graveled path to the Trail. From there, it’s no more than a mile to Ohiopyle proper, and we took lots of photos and were crowded by lots of bicyclers (who apparently don’t know about warning pedestrians of their approach from behind with a bell or a salutation . . . we were lucky no one hit us, honestly).

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On the GAP, we crossed the Yack almost immediately, headed toward Ohiopyle/Washington DC.

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Topo map of the river, Ohiopyle, the Ferncliff Peninsula, and the surrounding area. #6 is Ferncliff, and you can see the
Topo map of the river, Ohiopyle, the Ferncliff Peninsula, and the surrounding area. #6 is Ferncliff, and you can see the “thumb” the river has carved to make the peninsula. The dotted line (B at the left and D at the right) is the GAP.

The final span of the river (it takes a “U” turn right at Ohiopyle) is a pretty trestle bridge that brings you right into the Ohiopyle public park and busiest downtown area.

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We sat down by the Yack (Youghiogheny is pronounced yak-ee-o-gain-ee, or yak-uh-gain-ee and Yack for short) to eat our lunch in the town park, near the waterfall. Then we wandered around a bit and found ourselves at the Visitor Center, which has lots of great interactive displays for adults and children alike. I got lots of ideas for Blue Ridge Heritage’s Cultural Education Center (an effort I’ve been involved with for nearly 15 years now).

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After wandering through the town, which is not much more than a few restaurants, ice cream places, and bicycle/water sport outfitters, we headed back up the GAP to our connector trail and thence to the campground. While Ohiopyle (the town) was not nearly so frantically populated as when we drove in yesterday, there were nevertheless tons of folks about, taking in the sights, renting bikes for the trail, hiking, picnicking, or just taking photos.

Our campground, so filled with folks yesterday, is nearly empty today. We took advantage of the user deficit to take showers, and we got that long-delayed (it just got too late yesterday for us to start one) fire started at about 4PM.

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This entire region is one we definitely need to spend a few weeks exploring. We picked up a booklet to help us plan, and I hope this will be something we do next year. Jack figures that, if we park Roomba more-or-less where it is now, we could take a ride to one end of the GAP carrying our gear for an overnight near Pittsburgh; next day ride back to Roomba for another sleep and a re-provisioning for the third day; a ride to the opposite end of the GAP, with tents, etc., and then return to Roomba again.

The hiking trails that are offshoots of the State Park here are intriguing to say the least. One we passed today that really piques our interest is called The Gorge Trail. Another is the Ferncliff Peninsula, formed in an elbow of the Yack below the Ohiopyle falls. I’d like to hike more of the trails next time we visit.

Here’s a little bit of history for those interested.

The combination of tumbling, falling water and plentiful forests led to the creation of Falls City in 1868. Water power ran the saw and grist mills as well as factories that tanned leather, made spokes for wagon wheels, barrels, chairs, and pulp for paper.

After Falls City became Ohiopyle in 1891, the Youghiogheny River drove turbines that supplied citizens with electricity.

The railroad first came to the town in 1871, connecting Falls City products to marketplaces elsewhere. But soon, passenger trails from Cumberland and Pittsburgh brought thousands of tourists to see the falls. The Ferncliff Hotel, Ohiopyle House, and Ranier Park offered forest trails, music & dancing, bowling, and even a carousel.

For some, the Ferncliff Peninsula, a “thumb” of land carved by a relatively sharp “U” in the Yack, was a summer destination looked forward to all year long (in the mid-to-late 1800s). Walkways, painted fences, flowerbeds, and an ornate gazebo greeted travelers as they stepped down from the passenger car pulled by the B&O Railroad, as it pulled into the Ferncliff depot. The forests and falls, fine food, and electrified guest rooms in the Ferncliff Hotel, music & dancing, fountains and venues for sports all combined to create an enchanting resort and escape from the city heat. At the peak of its popularity, Ferncliff charmed 10,000 – 20,000 sumer visitors into buying a $1 ticket for the 65-70 mile trip from Pittsburgh or Cumberland, MD to the beauties of Ferncliff.

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In addition to the Ferncliff Hotel that stood on the peninsula, the Ohiopyle house was heated for year-round use. Near the hotel in Ranier Park, a steam calliope filled the river valley with music as children and adults alike rode the carousel for a nickel.

35 Days and Counting

Today marks just 35 days before we embark on a trip to pick up our travel trailer in Quebec. It is a “teardrop” style, made by Safari Condo, and we’ve been waiting for it since last August.

Alto R1713, model year 2015
Alto R1713, model year 2015

When first introduced to him, we were reminded of a streamlined robot of some sort. So we began thinking of him as our “Blue Roomba” because it will move forward until we hit a barrier (an ocean?) and then it will turn and head a different direction.

While we’ve always been tent campers, we’ve never really done the trailer/camper thing. So we will have quite a lot to learn. One of our longer-term goals is to visit all the Rails-to-Trails conversions in the US. Shorter-term, we want to visit all the award-winning state parks in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

We are hoping that our learning will also be yours, and that we can share some of what we experience along the way. Cheers!