Trail of the Month: April 2007
Pennsylvania's Heritage Rail Trail County Park
When Hurricane Agnes created washouts and bridge damage along the Pennsylvania Railroad line between York and Baltimore in 1972, no one knew how popular this historical corridor would become. Heritage Rail Trail County Park now attracts more than 300,000 cyclists, walkers, equestrians and cross-country skiers annually along its 21-mile length.
The trail occupies one of the oldest rail corridors in the nation. The York and Maryland Railroad Company was chartered in 1832 to connect to the Baltimore and Susquehanna Railroad at the state line. The two railroads merged in 1853 as the Northern Central Railway Company. During the 1863 Gettysburg campaign, Confederate General Jubal Early, attempting to cut the Union's line of supply from Harrisburg, destroyed rolling stock and bridges, and cut telegraph wires. In November of that year, President Lincoln took a special train from Washington, D.C., to Gettysburg—traveling the Northern Central line and switching tracks at Hanover Junction—to deliver one of history's most famous speeches.
The trail starts in the city of York behind a full-size replica of the town's original courthouse. Nearby and accessible from the trail, the restored Gates House and Golden Plough Tavern—worth a visit—provide insight into the community's colonial history. The trail takes you south along Codorus Creek. After about a mile you leave the city behind. Fields and forests flank the trail, and all along it are benches and covered picnic tables, should you want a break.
About a mile-and-a-half south of the Brillhart Station trailhead you pass through Howard Tunnel, the world's oldest, continuously operational railroad tunnel. Originally opened in 1838, the 370-foot tunnel was widened for dual tracks in 1865. In addition to the tunnel, four of the stone arch bridges that carry the trail over streams and roadways are also on the National Register of Historic Places.
At Milepost 11, if you want refreshment, the borough of Seven Valleys offers a café, tavern and wine shop. A half-mile farther south, stop and visit the Hanover Junction train station and its Civil War history museum. The station has been restored to its 1863 appearance.
The next four miles of trail run through farmlands and along Codorus Creek. Entering the borough of Glen Rock, watch for the historical Glenn Rock Mill Inn. The town also has antique shops you can browse.
Leaving town, the trail enters a wooded section where the corridor was cut through the hills. A trailhead to the left of the trail marks the borough of Railroad, where Jackson House Bed and Breakfast welcomes trail users from across the country.
After another mile the scenery opens up as you enter quaint New Freedom, once a bustling industrial community, now a quiet village. Here you can get a bite to eat at the restored depot and tour its railroad museum; or browse at the local bike shop.
From New Freedom, you have the option of continuing a mile-and-a-half to the Mason-Dixon Line. There, at the Maryland border, the Heritage Rail Trail connects with the Northern Central Rail Trail, which continues 20 miles south to just outside the Baltimore Beltway. Or, since you've reached the Heritage Rail Trail's highest point, enjoy the all-downhill return trip to York.