The Spiritual Experience of Local Hikes

by Jeffrey Roth

Rays from a recent Sunday morning sun danced upon the rippled surface of the briskly moving waters of Susquehanna River as it flowed past Indian Steps, in southern York County.

Slightly engorged on Spring rains, the river carried tree limbs, branches and other naturally occurring flotsam, along with jetsam – plastic shopping bags, water-saturated remains of a cardboard box and other less easily identified detritus… artifacts abandoned by modern civilization.

By 9 a.m., with temperatures in the low 40s, about a dozen people, ranging in age from 5 to 70, had congregated at the York Furnace Boat Launch, preparing to embark on a 10-mile rugged hike on the Mason-Dixon Trail.

“The older I get, the more I realize my connection to the woods is a spiritual one,” said Gail Crow, a York recreational therapist, who grew up in Hanover. “It’s like my cathedral…You just feel like you’re part of something bigger and you’re a small piece of nature.”

Crow said her job allows her “to play all day, so I try to play throughout my life.” While Crow, 62, occasionally hikes alone, she prefers to hike with other like-minded individuals. “I have done a lot of different hiking in Pennsylvania… the Appalachian Trail, near Duncannon; Nixon Park, but most of the time I go out of state; the Adirondacks, and I have a daughter who lives in Colorado, so I like to go out there and hike. I go on trips to Glacier National Park; we have such a beautiful country and there is so much of it to see for free.”

With the arrival of Kim Herbst, hiking leader, the group hiked north on Furnace Road to Otter Creek Campground. A group of raucous black vultures vying for perches on the peak of a roof of a white, wood-frame building hissed and grunted at each other, unfazed by the passing hikers. After a short comfort break, Herbst led the hikers onto the trail—here sodden and muddy, there rocky and uneven; increasing in angle and elevation, it meandered up, then down; paralleling the sheer walls of a ravine composed of Cambrian metamorphic rock types…limestone, schist, quartzite, eroded over the eons by the relentless waters of the mountain stream.

Cathy Hane, 41, of East Berlin, also born and raised in Hanover, learned about Sunday’s outing on the website, Meetup. An avid hiker, Hane enjoys nature and being outside. Frequently, she hikes in Caledonia State Park and Michaux State Forest, in western Adams County.

“I soak up the fresh air and the energy of nature and I need to be active,” Hane said. “Hiking is a physical activity and when I’m out by myself, it is my alone time when I can concentrate on my thoughts.

This was the first time I’ve met-up with people I don’t really know. It’s a cool experience just to put yourself out there and meet new people.”

Tom and Phyllis Morley moved to York from Texas in 1979. Tom, 70, who joined the club in 2000, once served as president and is now the club’s trail manager. Neither Tom nor Phyllis were regular hikers, until moving to Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the club, they were bitten by the hiking bug, which led them to the Appalachian Trail on Mount Katahdin in Baxter State Park, the highest mountain in Maine.

“I get fitness out of it and I get to see places that I probably wouldn’t see,” said Tom, who worked at BMI and CTI, and other York companies, prior to retiring. “It gives you some perspective—this is what our forefathers heard. They didn’t hear that background noise of the cars or the trucks.”

Phyllis, 70, former club membership chairman, and a retired medical secretary, said: “The exercise is good and it keeps you in shape. I like nature and being outdoors. The comradeship of hiking with a club is good.”

As the hikers neared a wooden pedestrian bridge suspended over a boulder-strewn stream, Cleveland Powell, 53, formerly of Baltimore, now a resident of York, said he enjoys hiking, camping and the outdoors. Powell, who delivers mail for the USPS, has been a member of the club for six months.

“The people are laid-back and friendly,” Powell said. “It gives you a chance to meet others who have the same interests that you have.”

Herbst, 55, of Wrightsville, began hiking with the club when she was 17, and became a member when she turned 18. Except for some time off to raise her children, she has hiked with the club since joining.

“I do run and I bike,” said Herbst, an employee of Donsco, an iron foundry located in Wrightsville. “I am currently section hiking the Appalachian Trail by kayak. My husband, Ken, is a member of the club, but he’s not as active as I am. He’s an avid golfer.”

Alan Noble, president of the club, said the York Hiking Club formed in 1932, during the Great Depression. Currently, the club boasts more than 130 members of all ages. Part of its mission is maintaining a 7.5-mile section of the Appalachian Trail, located north of Duncannon, and a section of the Mason-Dixon Trail system.

“I have been with the club for over 10 years and president for over 4 years,” Noble said. “I joined the club looking for a group of people that I could hike with after hiking solo for a number of years.”

The club works with the Keystone Trail Association and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Club membership is open to individuals with all skill levels of hiking. Membership is not required to participate in club hikes, Noble said.

“The club does has some members-only events, but the majority of our hikes are open to the public,” Noble said. “We would like people to join our club to help the club provide hike leaders for hikes, maintain trails, become future leaders within the club, and participate in our events with others who enjoy being out on a trail.”


The York Hiking Club and other related community groups maintain lists of specific trail difficulty ratings on their websites and Facebook pages. On the York Hiking Club website, in the “Trail Info” section, there are links to information on local Pennsylvania and Maryland hiking trails, Pennsylvania and Maryland State Parks trails, and a link to the “Trail Systems” used often for club events.

The Trails and Attractions section notes that the “Holtwood Environmental Preserve offers hikers 39 miles of trails. The 15-mile Conestoga Trail, located on the east bank of the Susquehanna River, is a rugged pathway designed for experienced hikers. On the west bank, the Mason-Dixon Trail provides a beautiful but difficult day hike.”

AllTrails.com includes a listing of “the best trails near York, Pennsylvania with hand-curated trail maps and driving directions as well as detailed reviews and photos from hikers, campers and nature lovers like you.” It rates trails at Lake Redman, as moderate; Rocky Ridge Trail, as moderate; Heritage Rail Trail, easy; and the York Heritage Trail along Codorus Creek as moderate.

TrailLink.com, maintained by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, provides information on more than 50 trails, (hiking, biking, running, walking and dog friendly), located near York. Each trail listing includes reviews of the trail’s features, its composition—dirt, gravel, stone, paved, etc.

York Hiking Club www.yorkhikingclub.com

Appalachian Trail Conservancy www.appalachiantrail.org

TrailLink www.traillink.com

AllTrails www.alltrails.com

Author: HM

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