Sunday July 26: After a short drive from Crooked Creek Lake (but a stressful experience trying to get through Pittsburgh, even on a Sunday) we arrived at Raccoon Creek State Park, 23-ish miles west of Pittsburgh (mailing address is Hookstown, PA). The state park itself is quite large, with many hiking and mountain-biking trails, a wildflower reserve, a horse-rider’s camp (and equestrian trails) etc. The actual campground, however, is moderately-sized and fairly closely packed among its 6 loops, although it is quite likable. While our site had lots of distance between us and the next site at our awning side, the separation from us and the next site (E9) to our utility side was close to nil. Happily, it was a day or so before anyone moved into E9.
The facilities are fine and clean with two (count ‘em: TWO) dishwashing sinks, each one just outside of each of the men’s and women’s bathhouse sections. Our site was E-8, electric only (but we traveled with a tank full of the tasty water from Crooked Creek Lake—and were glad we did because the Raccoon Creek water had a faint smell of sulphur, although it tasted fine).
When we arrived, however, our fire pit was filled with melted plastic trash and broken bottles. The site was pretty much trashed, with broken tent stakes and bits of detritus everywhere. I collected much of it for proper disposal, and Jack reported the maintenance oversight to the less-than-concerned gatekeeper. She lamented that the maintenance folks stopped work on Sunday at 3:30—but promised she’d send a ranger along the next day to assess and report the mess.
There is also the fact of the flightpath to Pittsburgh’s airport to consider with respect to Raccoon Creek. It was not any sort of a problem for us with the noise-cancelling AC, but it might be a factor Post-Covid: flights were relatively few during our stay, but most flight numbers in the US are down due to the pandemic. So if you consider a stay here, that might be more of a factor in the future.
We enjoyed Loren Yoder’s ground beef (bought in Floyd and brought frozen) grilled as chopped steaks with salad and mashed potatoes for our arrival dinner—easy and delish.
On Monday, July 27, a doe and fawn greeted our stroll down the hill to the bathhouse.
Had some fun with the shadow thrown by one of the bike’s handlebars (still on the front rack) on the BFW before it got incredibly hot.
The entire day proved to be VERY HOT (87 degrees at 11a; 89 in the shade by noon; still 90 at 5p) so we enjoyed a leisurely day. It being Monday, we took our pulse oximeter readings and temperatures and all were normal for us (although the PO was very fiddly—it was difficult to convince there was a finger inserted, so it kept turning off before reading the levels. Changed/charged the batteries, fiddled and fussed to get anything out of it—very frustrating).
I worked up two blog posts to catch up my loyal followers on our adventures, and we drove to the Allegheny Regional Library (near Imperial) for wifi, mail dumps and replies, and a couple of blog uploads. During my library time, Jack braved a Price Cutter store where everything was a jumble. It was more than just an unfamiliar layout—the aisles were chaotic like a big box store with categories of items stacked together every which-way.
The predicted cooling/cleansing rains came just as we were getting ready to eat a “Rancher’s Pie” (shepherd’s pie with bison instead of lamb). Intending to have a Solo Stove fire for ambience, and with the fire laid but not lit, a neighbor stopped by and offered us his leftover firewood, which we happily accepted, readying to go fetch it—but he said he’d drop it off the next morning as he was leaving (which he did, circa 8a).
After speaking to him, we scurried to secure everything for the rains that came in buckets, and ate inside, then turned in early.
We got back on our bikes the next day, Tuesday, July 28. Moderately close to Raccoon Creek SP is the famous Montour Rail-Trail, billed as “The Nation’s Longest Suburban Rail-Trail” at 63 miles long (or 61, depending on your source).
Here’s an excerpt of what the PA Rail-Trails Conservancy Guidebook has to say about the Montour:
[The trail] follows most of the former Montour Railroad’s main line west and south of Pittsburgh. This short line was incorporated during the late 19th century and, despite its small size, became very profitable thanks to the many coal mines once located along its main line. It also benefited from having interchanges with most of the region’s notable railroads. Once it became a subsidiary of other RRs, and when the coal mines died, the Montour line was forced to shut down during the mid-1980s. The corridor today forms a semi-circle around Pittsburgh and features a selection of bridges, trestles, viaducts, and tunnels framed by colorful Western PA landscapes, suburban as well as rural.
At the top of the map photo you’ll see a big circled 0, which is the start, at a township called “Moon” near Coraopolis (PA 51/Coraopolis Rd).
The readerboard at the start of the trail gives a bit more history, in case you’re interested. If not, skip the section below.
In 1875, Pittsburgh’s William McCreery considered (and subsequently, partially built) a new railroad line starting on Pittsburgh’s south side and traveling along the southwest bank of the Ohio River, crossing at Beaver and following the rivers to Youngstown, OH. At Montour Junction, passengers and coal could transfer to the PA & Lake Erie RR.
In March of 1936 heavy rain and snow melt flooded the Ohio River. Montour Junction and Coraopoilis Streets were deep under flood waters, and the damage was extensive in Coroapolis.
While the Harmonite family had played a large role in building and financing the P & LE RR, they sold their interest to the Vanderbilts. In 1946 the P & LE RR acquired 50% of the Montour RR and in 1976, it became sole owner.
Consolidated Glass of Coraopolis, located just downstream from Moon Twnsp, was the nation’s primary producer of utility and art glass for many years. Railroads used glass-globed lanterns for signaling between the engineer and the conductor. Coraopolis glass is still avidly collected.
Not far from the Northern terminus is a burgh called Imperial (Enlow Rd., where the “Airport Connector” trail begins) with a nice parking area. This trailhead is not far in actual distance from Raccoon Creek SP, but it’s almost impossible to get there from here, making it a twisty, winding 30-minute drive to the trailhead. It is about 8 miles to the northern terminus at Moon/Coraopolis, so our first day’s ride was a fairly easy (though humid) pedal of just under 16 miles.
The RR and trail corridor are named Montour in honor of a noted Native American scout, interpreter, and negotiator who worked for George Washington and Conrad Weiser. A variety of Native names have been attributed to him, including Oughsara, but his “Americanized” name was Andrew Montour. In 1769 and in return for his services to Washington and the colonial government, Andrew Montour was granted 335 acres of the land surrounding the creek that came to be known as Montour Run. The land grant was called “Oughsarago” to honor his native roots.
A family named Slover lived near the waterway before it was granted to Montour. In 1761, Tom Slover was 8 years old when he was sent out to capture a snapping turtle from the run for the family’s dinner. He was captured by warriors of the Miami tribe, taken to the area that became Ohio, and traded to the Shawnee. Twelve years later, he was recognized by a family member when he accompanied Shawnee traders to Ft. Pitt. He escaped, and stayed there serving in the militia—yet was recaptured near Montour Run by Wyandotts. The Native penalty for escaped captives was death by gauntlet. Stripped naked and painted black in readiness for execution, Tom escaped once again, and was able to make his way to Ft. McIntosh and warn them of an impending attack.
Jack had found some frozen shrimp at the Chaos Grocery, and he grilled them for our dinner, and we plotted our next day’s ride.
In the wee hours of Wednesday, July 29, we awoke to the clatter of aluminum cans and the unmistakable “sploosh” of a carbonated beverage opening in the night.
A raccoon had found the small cans of tonic we’d left beside the ice chest under the awning and it appeared to find them interesting—that is, until he bit into the side of one of the cans and the jostled beverage spurted out of the can at it. All we found were the tossed-about cans (one with a tooth hole—left—and one with bite marks) and a trail of tonic water and footprints across our outdoor rug.
For our Montour ride #2, we parked again at Enlow and headed southwest (the opposite direction) to our destination: Southview. With a dusty, sunny parking area beside two operational RR tracks, Southview lies a little beyond where the Panhandle Trail—headed west into WVA—intersects the Montour (see map image above).
Between mile 17 and 18 is the McDonald Trestle, a very long, impressive span under which the Panhandle Trail runs.
At the Southview parking lot (our turn-around point) we noticed some nice ironweed growing in a low-lying (presumably wet) section of ground just off the picnic table where we had a snack before turning around and heading back to the car parked at Enlow.
There was some construction on highways above the trail, and some on the trail itself, and a long, sunny, hot section through what felt like a reclaimed industrial site. That section was a significant grade upwards on the return during the heat of the day. But we made it just fine and had some good pedal-turn-rates to brag about.
Bike Stats: 27.5 miles; 2:10 ride time; 33 minutes stopped time; 12.68 MPH average speed.
After a nice shower upon our return, we ate rancher’s pie leavovers.
Thursday July 30—Happy Birthday, John!—was another rest day for us, so we headed into Imperial again, where we’d seen a laundromat. We drove through the wildflower reserve (part of the park but up the road a bit) and found it to be all hiking trails—no driving except into the parking lot—and the Visitor Center was closed.
A quartet of rowdy guys with a Jeep that played nothing but very loud rap music moved in next door (the utility side with no separation, naturally). Evidently, they (or one of them) lived nearby as they spent most of their time gone elsewhere except for one notably loud party night.
While we were sorting through some of our frozen dinner choices, the door on the freezer section of the ‘fridge broke off. Jack was able to jury-rig it to stay up, but we’ll have to be more focused on defrosting on the road in future, to prevent a repeat (once we return home and get the door replaced).
Montour #3 was Friday July 31. We parked at the Southview trailhead, and rode to a little burgh called Library. From there to the southern terminus, the Montour is broken up with some significant sections of urban riding. Ultimately it reaches Clairton, and the connector paths to the Great Allegheny Passage.
Jack discovered some difficulty with his rear derailleur—in essence, he had just 3 of his normal 22 gears. Thank goodness the trail was relatively flat and beautifully shady on this day.
As we passed a large town called Henderson, we caught the aroma of ‘burgers and fries, and saw a sign offering burgers and doughnuts (?). Jack threatened to leave the trail for that one, but his gearing problems stayed his handlebars. The story of the Henderson Mine is quite typical of the many once-thriving coal mining operations along the trail.
The Henderson Mine Story: The Henderson Coal Co. opened its mine upon completion of the Montour RR’s Mifflin Extension in 1914. The coal seam was about 230 ft. Below ground and was serviced by two vertical shafts. One brought men and supplies into the mine, while the other brought loaded mine cars from the mine to the tipple building. Mules were used underground to pull the mine cars to the tipple.
The most tragic occurrence at the mine took place on March 13, 1917, when a methane gas explosion killed 14 miners.
Miners’ homes and boarding houses filled the three hillsides behind the mine. The company store and other nearby businesses served the needs of the entire Hendersonville Community.
Henderson Coal Co. operated the mine until 1942, when it was sold to the Pittsburgh Coal Company. The mine was closed in the late 1940s.
Despite the death of the coal industry, Henderson appeared to be a thriving ‘burgh, and the trail or civic groups put up these interesting “interactive” sculptures and resting places/artworks along their stretch of the trail. This tandem “ghost bike” had a sign reminding folks to use the trail safely and wisely, and be kind to other users.
The “installation” below was marked as the “Spirit Tree,” and the sign invited trail users to “honor a spirit by leaving a memory of a happy time, a lost loved one, a special friend, or a beloved pet. If you share this memory with others, the spirit never dies. It is BAD JuJu to anyone who removes a spirit piece.”
Bike Stats: 30 miles; 2:18 ride time; 40 minutes stopped time;13MPH average speed.
Steak, broccoli & boiled baby potatoes for din—we tried to burn up all the firewood given to us, but ended up donating a small pile to the rowdy guys next door.
Saturday, August 1 was our final day at Raccoon Creek Lake. It was overcast and cloudy all day with rain intermittent. Due to Jack’s bike issue, the on-again/off-again rain, and the unhappy prospect of significant urban riding to cover the last leg of the Montour, we didn’t ride. Instead, we took a drive over to WVA to a nice Kroger to get ingredients for fixing J&M a chicken pot pie in the Dutch oven upon our joint arrivals at Ohiopyle State Park tomorrow. It was quite a nice store, but curt, disengaged staff. We bought a 2032 battery for Jack’s Honda “fob” but apparently, as I was packing items in our re-usable sacks, I left it at the store (bummer). I spent the afternoon chopping and sautéing some of the ingredients for tomorrow’s dinner.
Due to vagaries of weather and the need for some outdoor space for making pizza, we opted for fresh spinach ravioli and Mid’s spaghetti sauce with meat for dinner. When we saw the brand name (Jack’s mom’s nickname was Mid) we just had to buy the jar. It was quite good!
It occurred to us that we’d used the AC all week—it had been good not only for controlling the tendency of the Alto to heat up during the day, but also for noise relief from the guys horsing around and playing loud music next door, as well as the herds of teensy kids that ran around screeching, whining, crying, and fighting amongst themselves across the campground. We were definitely ready to move on.