Friday, August 14, 2015

Caledonia State Park: Thaddeus Stevens and Midland Trails (Blog Hike #532)

Trails: Thaddeus Stevens and Midland Trails
Hike Location: Caledonia State Park
Geographic Location: between Chambersburg, PA and Gettysburg, PA
Length: 1.4 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2015
Overview: A fairly flat loop passing several historic industrial sites.

Directions to the trailhead: In south-central Pennsylvania, take I-81 to US 30 (exit 16).  Exit and go east on US 30.  Drive US 30 east 8.4 miles to SR 233.  Turn left on SR 233, and note the waterfall on the right just after making this turn.  0.2 miles later, turn left to enter the park.  Drive the main park road less than 0.1 miles to the park office.  Park in the paved parking lot beside the park office.

The hike: For my general comments on Caledonia State Park, see the previous hike.  Whereas the previous hike explored the mountainous side of Caledonia State Park, this hike explores several historic sites found in the park’s valleys.  What this hike lacks in seclusion and solitude it makes up for in history and ease.
            Before leaving the park office area, stop in the office and pick up a self-guiding tour brochure for the Thaddeus Stevens Historic Trail, which comprises the middle segment of this hike.  The hike starts on the Midland Trail, but the Midland Trail sign you see across the road from the park office marks our return route.  To find the outbound route, turn left on the park road, cross Conococheague Creek on the road bridge, and look for a black sign with yellow letters that says “Midland Trail Footpath Only” on the left.  Turn left to begin the Midland Trail.
Southbound Midland Trail trailhead
            The packed gravel trail heads south with the creek visible through the trees on the left.  You soon pass an unusual concrete pier that appears in the ground on your left.  The Midland Trail connects the park’s group camping area with the park’s swimming pool and playground area, the latter of which is reached after only a few hundred feet.  Cross two creeks on bridges and angle left to reach the Thaddeus Stevens Blacksmith Shop.  The painted-white structure is located right beside US 30.
Thaddeus Stevens Blacksmith Shop
            The blacksmith shop is stop #2 on the Thaddeus Stevens Historic Trail’s self-guided tour.  As detailed in the previous hike, Thaddeus Stevens was never a blacksmith, but the shop bears his name because he financed the iron industry in this area.  The area got the name Caledonia because Stevens was born in Caledonia County, Vermont.  In Stevens’ day, present-day US 30 was a busy dirt wagon road, and the blacksmith shop represented the consumer end of the area’s formidable iron industry.
            After viewing the blacksmith shop and reading the interpretive signs, turn left, cross first Rocky Mountain Creek and then SR 233 to reach a large gravel parking lot.  Watch for drivers turning off of US 30 onto SR 233 because they may not be watching for you.  The next point of interest is the reconstructed iron furnace on the left (north) side of this parking lot.  This furnace provided the iron for the blacksmith shop you saw just moments ago, and it was much larger in its day than the structure you see here.  The raw materials (wood, iron ore, and limestone) would be loaded in the top, and the molten pig iron would be drawn out the bottom where you are standing.  More interpretive signs describe details of the furnace’s operation.
Caledonia iron furnace
            Continue the Thaddeus Stevens Historic Trail as it goes to the left of the iron furnace and climbs moderately for a short time.  At the top of the hill, you use stepping stones to cross the top of the waterfall you passed on your drive to the trailhead.  A waterwheel used to stand here to harness the power of the falling water for industrial purposes.  You can climb down the steep sides of the water channel for a better view, but the best view was obtained from the park road on your drive in.
Top-down waterfall view
            Ignore the steep and difficult Charcoal Hearth Trail that exits right and continue north on the Thaddeus Stevens Historic Trail.  The trail treads a narrow strip of land between SR 233 to your left and the man-made waterway that feeds the waterfall on your right.  You can imagine the amount of labor it took to build this waterway, which was hand-dug in the 1830’s.  The tan-colored water is so clear that small fish can be seen swimming in the waterway.
Hiking beside hand-dug waterway
            0.7 miles into the hike, you cross the waterway on a wooden bridge before climbing slightly.  At 0.9 miles, the other end of the Charcoal Hearth Trail exits right.  The Charcoal Hearth Trail explores the industrial facilities that turned wood into the charcoal needed to produce iron in the furnace you passed 10 minutes ago.  Our hike turns left, descends slightly to cross SR 233, and reaches the small pond that feeds the waterway you walked beside earlier.  The clear water allows you to see the larger fish that live in this pond compared to the waterway.
Pond at head of waterway
            After walking around two sides of the triangle-shaped pond, the trail curves left to head into the woods beside a small stream.  1 mile into the hike, the Thaddeus Stevens Historic Trail intersects the Midland Trail.  Turn left on the Midland Trail to begin the final leg of this hike.
            The packed-gravel Midland Trail stays nearly dead straight as it heads southwest past some large hemlock trees.  Just before closing the loop, the trail curves right to pass around a park maintenance area that sits adjacent to the Forest Heritage Discovery Center, which is located across the road from the park office.  A museum of Pennsylvania forestry history, the Discovery Center was closed on my visit, but it contains some interesting exhibits on how forestry practices have changed over the century-plus history of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.  Cross the park road and reach the park office to conclude the hike.


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