The Pine Creek Rail Trail awaits
Snap, crackle, and pop…. the sound of my tires on the smooth gravel pavement as I ride along on my bicycle has a soothing sound to it.
My mind settles … Slows … And life almost stands still. I am at my happy place – the Pine Creek Rail Trail. And it’s waiting to be your happy place, too.
When I retired a few years ago, I decided I wanted to ride my bicycle again. No small feat, since it had been 40 some years since I had been on one. And it was no small feat now that I was older, weaker, less fit than ever before.
That didn’t hold me back and one day I loaded up the bike on the bike rack and drove the three miles from our house to the only place I thought I would be safe riding: the northern terminus of the rail trail. It was not only off the highway, but it was flat and scenic.
It certainly seemed to fit the bill.
I was only slightly daunted when I got to the trailhead and saw the gate across the trail.
Of course, the gate is there to protect trail riders and the trail from motorized vehicles. But all I saw is that I needed to negotiate my way around the end of the gate, between a small drop-off and a few big boulders.
It didn’t occur to me to walk my bike around the gate (by the way, that’s what you are supposed to do) I rode around it, in all my wobbly grace. But once around it, I knew I was going to have a great time. And I did.
I kept returning to the trail to ride. I couldn’t ride far. I was simply too weak a rider. But I could ride a couple of miles, sit and rest, and then turn around and ride back.
One day, I decided to ride to Darling Run, a spot I was aware of, but nine miles away. That was 18 miles round trip! But I started out early and I went prepared. And when I arrived at Darling Run, I was absolutely stunned with the beauty there.
I met some other bikers. And I met a photographer who was taking a photograph of a juvenile eagle there.
That day was the start of some great long-term friendships, a new photography hobby, and ultimately a new life.
When I retired, I had no idea what would be in store for me after my long 40-year all-consuming career. But I was open to new opportunities and new adventures.
Riding the rail trail became my new adventure. And maybe it even became my new all-consuming experience.
I rode and rode. I rode further and further. I rode all 62 miles of the trail. And I had an insatiable curiosity about the rail trail and its history. Over the next two years, I used the time to research and ride. And ultimately, I authored a guidebook to the trail. I logged every mile of the old railroad bed, I learned about its history, and I took photos for the guidebook along the way.
I loved it. I still love it!
I encourage everyone to ride or walk any section of the Pine Creek Rail Trail. I know you will find something that interests you there.
Just be prepared for time to slow down.
Mind chatter will need to be fought, especially in the beginning.
Walking at 2 or 3 miles an hour or riding at 7 to 10 miles an hour gives the body a chance to decompress. And the soul to soar.
What is there to see? A lot! If you are a morning person, be sure to go early in the day to catch the first rays of sunrise on the trail. Most of the trail is in a north-south orientation so the sun doesn’t hit the trail in many places until later in the morning. In the depths of the Pine Creek Gorge, the trail runs along the base of the gorge, along Pine Creek. There the sun arrives late and leaves early. But the northern section of the trail is in an east-west direction. This is the perfect place to ride into the sunset. You can!
If you are a birder, enjoy looking for birds. They are everywhere on the trail. There are several eagle nests on Pine Creek and your chances of seeing an eagle are fairly good.
Near the northern trailhead is a designated “Important Birding Area.” And that first section of the trail is along a wetland. In the spring and fall migration months, warblers can easily be seen and heard all along the trail. And Pine Creek is a perfect home for herons, kingfishers, Canada geese, and other shore and water birds.
Last year a young tundra swan made Pine Creek its home and bikers and walkers thoroughly enjoyed its company.
If you like wildlife, there is plenty to look for.
Chipmunks are readily spied. But sometimes deer and bear can be seen from the trail. And certain areas along the trail host rattlesnakes.
If you are lucky you might glimpse one on a ride.
Pennsylvania’s state amphibian, the hellbender salamander, resides in Pine Creek because of its pristine clean waters.
Although rarely seen, there have been recent sightings. Otters live in Pine Creek too.
If you are a photographer like me, life is especially grand on the trail.
Waterfalls can be seen right along the trail when the water flow is good.
Wildflowers are everywhere in the spring. Throughout the summer months there are plenty of scenic spots from which to shoot photos. And in the fall? The colors of the leaves are spectacular.
Lastly, if you like history, it is always just one dimension away when you are on the trail. Imagine a steam-and-smoke-belching, noisy, gritty locomotive coming down the trail.
Since the trail once was a railroad, a train passed this very spot, wherever you happen to be on the trail. The whistle of the train blowing at crossings still resides in old-timers’ memories.
Perhaps you can hear it too.
Stories abound of life along the railroad and they are fascinating.
Although the Pine Creek Rail Trail as we know it, was constructed between 1995 and 2007, it has been a pathway for many for centuries. Some scholars believe that early First Americans used the exact track bed we are following to protect the Iroquois tribe lands in the area.
In 1794, two explorers looking for elk and some of the first to ever visit the area, found the Iroquois village at Ansonia called Big Meadows.
The Six Nations tribes divided the Pine Creek Valley into three sections.
The first fork of Pine Creek was at what is now Waterville.
The second fork of Pine Creek was at Blackwell. And the third fork was at Big Meadows at Ansonia. They knew the area well.
Since that time, our trail has served other people. In 1883 the Jersey Shore, Pine Creek, and Buffalo railroad opened for business and trains travelled our trail daily until 1988. Talk to any old-timer along the old railroad and they have a story to tell: often about hard times, an austere lifestyle, but certainly a strong pioneer spirit.
Riding along on today’s trail, visitors can see plenty of remnants of the railroad and that pioneer lifestyle.
It’s all there. Just waiting.
Ride 62 miles of the trail or ride just a few. It’s all good. And autumn is the perfect backdrop for your visit. And maybe like me, you will find it to be your happy place too.