To those of us who live in Havre de Grace, Joe K is the N. Park Trail
In EPS 106 I interviewed Joe Kochenderfer. His bucket list is filled with several goals for the Joe K trail. Getting the bridge built and the trail available to the public was a huge endeavor… and it was well worth it. Hundreds if not thousands having been enjoying this trail for several years now. It’s actually a hidden gem.
I was only going to include 15 minutes of the interview that shares a great deal of what Joe offers when he gives the guided tour of the Trail. But I decided to include the entire interview. You can download it to your phone and listen while you walk the trail if you like. It will also be available FREE on iTunes shortly, it may be delayed due to holiday scheduling. CLICK HERE
The North Park Trail is geographically intriguing… the Susquehanna flows into the Upper Chesapeake Bay, the dramatic transition from the Coastal Plain to the Piedmont Plateau can be seen, the history of our early settlers and the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal are all part of the amazing stories tucked into the walk along this trail. Part of it built on the railroad bed that once took men and materials to the Conowingo Dam construction site in the late 1920s adds another unique historical element.
With each season there are new things to search for in the park. Spring brings the turtles and the sound of the tree frogs. But in winter, you may just catch a glimpse of a snow egret! If you walk quietly you’ll see squirrels and deer. And there are always a variety of birds. If you are into geocaching, I believe you’ll find locations within the park as well.
Again, you can walk, jog, run and hike the trail. You can also use your bicycle. There’s a bit of rock climbing if you’re so inclined. And you can swing around on the path and walk along the river. Dog owners absolutely love this park.
So I hope you’ll forgive the longer audio and just plain enjoy the tour. I’m sure we’ll meet you along the trail. Say ‘hi’ to Joe K if you seen him!
Links of interested connected to this article:
North Park or “Joe K” Trail
interview on 6/23/2016
(Now I want to continue and have you share the story of the North Park Trail and the trail story.)
I mainly talk about nature, environment and history on the trail. The guided tours are about 1-1/2 hours on a Saturday. (I think they’re done quarterly)
Blazes are interesting and they’re used around the world. We use the same convention with paint on telephone poles, or trees, etc. That’s how we mark the trail. The white one is the North Park Loop Trail and the blue one is the Mason-Dixon Trail that runs from Harrisburg to Philadelphia.
If you see two blazes that means the trail is changing direction ; if the left is higher than the right, you turn left, if the right is higher then you turn right, if there’s one then you keep going. Now this trail has many more blazes than usual – meaning closer together – than most trails would have, hoping to create a learning tool. The hardcore trail hikers I’m sure are wondering why so many blazes!
Presently it starts at the Lock House (because if I say we’ll meet at the sewage pumping station at Conesteo and Erie, most people would wonder!) and we walk up through North Park, crossing Lily Run on a small bridge that’s been there probably 50 years. We pass McLhinny Park (playground) and then cross over the bridge at Fountain Run. Fountain Run comes down from Angel Hill Cemetery past the old 7-Eleven.
That bridge was built by 10-11 of us guys in 2011. Back in 2003 we got Allen Phillippe to design the bridge, he’s a retired engineer. He said, “Every civil engineer should have a bridge design at least once.”
We scrounged about $500 dollars from the National Recreational Trails for lumber and we erected the bridge in one day. The tricky thing is if you’re a friend of mine you might get pulled into a project.
Then you go on the railroad spur and you’ll see a small rail car. The AmeriCorps kids helped us fill the car with stone dust which is really fine gravel and push it up the tracks and shovel the gravel onto the trail. It was all manual pushing and shoveling because we don’t have a service road along this track. So we had to use the track. Most people think it’s a narrow gauge track, but it’s actually standard gauge – 4’ 8-1/2” – same as the MetroLiner.
The railroad was built for only one purpose the construction of the Conowingo Dam which started in 1926 and opened in 1928. The tracks used to run right down the middle of Juniata Street until about 1992. Going north it stopped at the Conowingo Dam.
Going north the track went up along the river, into Susquehanna State Park. It follows the towpath of the old Susquehanna Tidewater Canal to the dam. Going south it went down Juniata Street and hooked into the siding by Huber at the football field to the Little League Field and hooked into what was then the Pennsylvania Railroad. That’s how material was moved up to the dam. Obviously it was a one lane track and had to have traffic control.
I don’t think any trains had been down there since the 60s. In 1972 Hurricane Agnes came and you’ll see 200 yards of rail hanging out in space up in Susquehanna State Park.
When we first started, no trains had been along the track in 30-odd years. So in the beginning it was a long effort of just grubbing out. We started in 1977. It was a learning curve as to how to do this. I had ideas of what I thought we could do. Some worked and some didn’t. It was important finding friends and still is with chain saws and such.
When we first started you had to walk along the ties. That prevented you from looking around because you wouldn’t want to fall over the ties.
About 1999, after fooling around with wheelbarrows for a day and discovering it just wasn’t practical and such, we finally decided we needed a little rail car. We were able to get one from a fella at Aberdeen Proving Ground who was interested in rails and stuff. You’ll see it chained to the track because it kept getting moved.
I always take the rail side up and come back along the river, picking up trash along the way. There’s more trash along the river, so I don’t want to carry it up and back.
About 100 yards or so, you come to a big pond on the left. Everything on the right side between the rail and the river is tidal wetlands. On the left it’s all non-tidal wetlands – springs and stuff. The big pond – a couple acres or so – is loved by turtles because it has no shade. Turtles being cold blooded love that. Frogs do not particularly like that.
The turtle population has changed over time. In the beginning it was all painted turtles. Now I see a lot of snapping turtles. I’m not sure if the snapping turtles are taking over the pond or not. Starting in the end of March on a sunny day the turtles will be sitting out on logs and such. If you’re not too noisy, you’ll see ’em.
We also have a beaver problem. The pond has an overflow pipe that we put in so that if it gets too full it doesn’t cover the trail. A month and a half ago, I was up cleaning out the plug every morning because the beaver were damming it up. I kept emptying it out. When the water level dropped, the beavers started leaving it alone. There are lots of trees cut up there and you can see where the beavers have been chewing on them.
Continue on up, you’ll see some boxes placed by Harford Glen (Environmental Center) to encourage wood duck nesting. Apparently the wood ducks like nesting in hollow trees. This was 6-7 years ago. The kids would build the nesting boxes and the staff would come to place them in the North Park in the summertime. The boxes haven’t been very successful because, I get the impression there’s too much human activity on the trail.
You go up a little further, on the left, you’ll see remains of an old quarry, which is probably the same strata of rock that is what Vulcan is, Port Deposit is. It probably hasn’t been used since the early 1900s – not very big or very impressive. If you continue, to your right it’s all flat land to the river and that’s the Coastal Plain. The hill up the side to the top is the Piedmont Plateau.
Two geographic provinces – the 4th grade teachers love it. Left is the Piedmont Plateau and the flatlands to the river are the Coastal Plain. That’s probably what made Havre de Grace a desirable place in the first place. We’re on the Coastal Plain and all the way to Aberdeen and Edgewood. The Post Road followed the flatlands of the Coast Plain.
Of course, here, once you got here, you then had the Ferry Boats. There were ferries upstream – the Susquehanna Upper Ferry, but the problem there was you had the Piedmont Plateau, then dropped to the Coastal Plain, take the ferry to the other side, then had to go back up to the Piedmont Plateau.
Havre de Grace from a geographical perspective, that way I understand it, was desirable for transportation. This was the main drag during the Revolutionary Period.
Walk a little farther, and you’ll find some vernal (spring time) pools. Many of these pools, well depending on the rain, some may last only 5-6 days. But there’s one on the left that lasts nearly all year – maybe not ‘vernal’ because it lasts a long time. In late March, you’ll hear the spring peepers and then they’ll have mated and be gone. But they like this pond because there are some big trees that shade it well, which keeps the turtles away, who prefer the heat.
By the way, there are four benches along the trail – two on the river side and two on the railroad side. They were an Eagle Scout project from one of the boys in Troop 967, a kid named Robert Shultz. He put those in and they are very serviceable. You can sit and contemplate. But we did learn from my good friend at Susquehanna State Park that we didn’t want to make them too comfortable in order to prevent people living there or spurious sexual activity. (laughter) So they’re not too long or too wide.
It’s interesting that people seem to be able to stand the weight to bring their cans of soda and beer in, but for some reason when they’re empty they can’t seem to take them out. So they toss them. It wouldn’t be so bad if they would leave them along the trail. But for some reason they seem to feel they need to give them a big toss into the bushes….
When you get past the pond, you’ll come to where it turns back towards the river. You’ll see two blazes where you’ll see you’ve got to turn right. The other Mason-Dixon Trail keeps on going until people say it stops me at Arundel (Vulcan) Quarry. Well, you know that really means is that you missed the two blazes. There are blazes before the quarry where one of them takes you left.
You know where the Police Firing Range is? Well the left takes up you over the rocks, up to the Piedmont Plateau, up past the Firing Range to the road that goes past Meadowvale School and there are the blazes. The unfortunate part is that it then takes you up Rt. 155. The blazes are on the telephone poles going up the hill. You have to walk along Route 155. Then you take Lapidum Road and Susquehanna Hills for about a mile and a half. Then you go down to the Susquehanna State Park and back into the surroundings.
(So is that why they wanted to get the trail through the quarry?)
Yes. Exactly! The plan is this.
The 100 year plan is to stay along the river, but we’d have to wait for the Quarry to go out of business before that would happen. So, who knows. The desired plan is that by crawling up over these rocks and, supposedly, there’s a deal with the quarry who said, yeah, we’d make this available to you. We’ll build you a switchback to get you up on the Piedmont Plateau and you would go up the road a little bit. Just before the Meadowvale School, you could cut off along our (Vulcan Quarry) Property – it wouldn’t be through the woods exactly, but it wouldn’t be out on Rt. 155. You’d get almost to Lapidum Road and then the Quarry owns land that would get us back down to the river.
I’m not holding my breath. But I’m told it’s closer than it was before. The issue is the Quarry has real liability concerns. You’ve seen the hole up there at the quarry. And John Q Public is very curious. So that’s the long-term plan.
This is the Mason-Dixon Trail, too. So there’s a number of entities involved and you have North Park and Greenways Trails. I really had three things on my bucket list for the North Park Trail and the link to the State Park was one of them.
Lagaret Lane goes down to the river. It ends to the left to what used to be the entrance to the Quarry, now it’s the administrative entrance – not for the trucks. You can’t go down there but it does go to the river. You go right towards the firing rage. They are on a shelf like on the Piedmont Plateau with more hill between the firing range and the Community Center. They’re shooting west into the rocks – not out over the water. You’ll hear lots of gunfire, but don’t be alarmed. Where the blaze takes you up over the rocks another 200 yards, you’ll come to the chain link fence – No Trespassing -to prevent you from entering the Quarry.
There’s no camping, no fires permitted on the trail. Does that mean there is none? Well, no. It’s like the speed limit is 65 mph and people go 90! Early on we had problems with, I’ll call it ‘squatters’ living out there, and women especially were uncomfortable walking the trail. We rarely have that problem now. Once in a while we’ll have a camper out there. The Havre de Grace Police are really good about that and will go up and move them along.
Now back along the river you have the B&O Railroad there. The original RR bridge is from about 1910 – the original was about 1885. It was originally a one track bridge, they wanted to make it a two track bridge. At one point on the Cecil County side, the bridge caved in and dumped some RR cars in the river. The speed got faster and the curve had to be widened out there.
Early on the B&O RR did not go east of Baltimore. It was Baltimore to Ohio. The Pennsylvania RR kind of controlled that area. So the B&O (and the President at the time was John Garrett who owned Garrett Island) had to do something ‘laborsome’ to go from New Jersey to New York basically. Due to the time when the bridge had caved in, they had to work out a deal with the Pennsylvania RR to use the bridge.
Many years back – probably 20 or more – they pulled the second set of rails off because railroads are taxed by how many rails you’ve got. B&O had bought Garrett Island because it had the bridge piers.
(Side note: At one point Ed Abel bought Garrett Island – around 2003 or so – for about $200,000. He was going to develop a resort or something. The island is all in Cecil County and the people wanted the island preserved. So Peter Jay and Gary Pensell bought the island for $700,000 from Ed Abel. The deal was, the way I understand it, Cecil County was going to buy it from the guys, but after several years they never did. The two guys were going to put it up for sale, when the Feds got involved and now it’s part of the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge. Their mission is to limit human activity. Cecil County people are trying to get the National Parks Service to pick it up because they could encourage camping and such. )
I don’t know what’s good or bad for the island. You probably know there’s an extinct volcano dome they call it. I call it a ‘hernia in the earth’. There are lots of snakes there, too. Interestingly, we have old pictures of the island at the Lock House where there were no trees on it at all. I think it was a farm at one time. Who owned it at that time, I have no idea.
Coming back down along the river, you’ll see a very interesting plant that most people think is bamboo, but it’s Equisetum. It’s relatively rare in this part of the country. It’s a much more ancient plant than bamboo. It’s more of a southern kind of plant that likes swampy areas and warmer climes. Its common name is “Horse Tail.” It’s like coarse hairs like the tail of a horse. Even more common name is “Scouring Rush.” The Native Americans bunched it together to clean things because the stems are coated with abrasive silicates, making them useful for scouring and cleaning cooking utensils. Our settlers going west learned this.
Sometimes it’s in really bad shape, where the winter’s been too hard on it. It’s come and gone in different places. At one time there was a big patch by the vernal pool we were talking about. Disappeared. Now it’s not there. I don’t know what happened to it. Early on the park/ environmental people have encouraged us to not share too much about the Equisetum in the write-ups to discourage people from picking it.
You come on down and there are a couple benches on the river side. You can look out and see the island. Here we discuss the Susquehanna River that starts at Cooperstown, NY and runs 444 miles to the Chesapeake Bay. The average flow is like 300,000 gallons a second at this point. Then continuing, you’ll see that this area where you’re walking was underwater during the canal days as the huge pond used for the barges. You can still see some pilings along the river remaining – not too many you’re talking about 1840 – from the towpath of the canal.
A little farther, you’ll come to a place where there was a beaver pond. The beavers moved out about 4-5 years ago. Then you’ll come to a little wooden walkway we had a contractor build. It’s actually the point where the tidal wetlands water come in during high tide. Then you can see it go out during the low tide.
At that point then you’re under the Route 40 bridge where Lily Run flows into the river. That’s another thing – the next thing on my bucket list. Actually it’s the first thing on my bucket list is another crossing from the Route 40 side across Lily Run to the Lock House to truly make a loop that you don’t have to double back and to truly increase exposure to the Lock House. The Lock House is kind of divorced from the critical mass of activities on the other end of town. People often don’t even know we exist. Our docents will tell you we get a lot of visitors after 4 o’clock as they leaving town! They stop and look on the way out of town.
It would be upstream about 100’ from the water’s edge and build a bridge that connects to the Lock House property. You want to find a narrow point. Sigh… It’s been a series of aggravations for me. At one point we had the money lined up. Originally we were going to put pilings, but now you’re affecting a number of things environmentally. We had to have a bog turtle survey, an interior forested bird survey, a geological-technical survey for drilling survey, Army Corps of Engineers regarding clearance, etc.
We considered an 80’ long clear span, supported at each end, but we’re having issues with supports etc. We discovered we have to go down like 16’ to get to solid ground. That will really add to our costs. Supposedly the money’s there. Right now it’s in the hands of the city.
Environmental issues: Originally we were going to put pilings. They have to be a done only certain months of the year. Secondly we’re now disturbing something so we had to have a bog turtle survey done. We had to have an interior forest and bird survey – not right term – but something like that. Corps of Engineers regarding clearance. Important things. But they hold up everything.
The boardwalk in the Susquehanna State Park up by the Conowingo Dam is a different water scenario. It’s not considered ‘open water’ like it is here.
That’s a long story about the trail. But there you have it. I saw a fawn a couple days ago. The problem is I’m always looking down and picking up trash and trimming branches and brush along the trail. I’m probably so noisy that most of the wildlife is hiding.
Joe K thanks Frank Duncan and Tom Davies for their continual help in maintaining the trail. There are a number of citizens who walk the trail and pick up trash along the way. All of them are appreciated and make it so everyone can enjoy the North Park Trail.