Not long ago, in 2008, the Borough of Lansdale, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, opened a new park. Now, Lansdale was already awash in parks, but this one is special in that it has a magnificent nature trail meandering through dense woodland. Stony Creek Park, as it is called, is a real treat in such a highly urbanized area. It is, in my opinion, the nearest thing to Heaven that you'll find in Lansdale.
Click on map to enlarge. Numbers on the map correspond to numbers in the text.
The Nature Trail:
A good appreciation of this amenity begins with a stroll of about a mile, level all the way. Starting at the parking lot (1) it follows a paved trail parallel to Hancock Street past a large pond (2) with a fountain and a statue (below) of three children fishing. The pond’s perimeter features native vegetation, various little wildlife, and geese.
As the trail curves to the right, leave it and follow the sidewalk on Hancock Street to the Nature Trail entrance (3). If it’s a hot day you’ll immediately notice welcome relief under a golden canopy of moist leaves. I’ve walked here even in 95º weather and remained comfortable. The dense foliage, at times radiating in arboreal splendor, is especially nice on a sunny day during the Fall Foliage season.
A perfect musical accompaniment to this walk, if you happen to be carrying an audio device, is Forest Murmurs from Wagner's opera Siegfried. Another good choice would be Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.
You’ll soon pass over an elevated wooden walkway protecting your feet from a short patch of soggy ground, then a wooden bench beside the crushed-stone trail. Turn left at the intersection (4), where there is another bench, and continue over another elevated walkway. The trail meanders around quite a bit through the Woodland area, then turns right to a second intersection (5).
Whoever designed this trail clearly understood the visual impact of the S-curve, a basic concept in both painting and photography. This place is full of them.
A left turn here leads out of the woods and onto a gravel road with an overhead power line. Just across this, mostly buried in the overgrowth, is an abandoned rail line (6) (photo, right) that was once a freight spur to long-since-vanished factories. To the right, just beyond the end of the gravel road, a nearly hidden path leads back into the woods. There are small clearings there where, I imagine, kids can go to hide and play. I know that we would have, way back when we were all of eight years old. This is exactly the kind of place where we built our “forts.”
While again exploring that hidden path today (Sept. 7, 2010) I noticed a large lean-to in the clearing, recently made of fallen branches. Some adventurous kids must have been building their "fort," just as we did 70 years ago! Hooray for them!
The active rail line just ahead now carries freight only, but prior to 1951 was the route of the Liberty Bell Limited, an interurban trolley car that ran from Allentown to Philadelphia.
Return to the intersection (5) and turn left. After curving around quite a bit among mature trees and dense forest, the trail enters its Wetlands stage. At this point it becomes an elevated wooden walkway (photo, above) for quite a distance, wandering around above tiny rivulets that come to life after a heavy rain.
Back on dry land, you’ll notice several small clearings between the tall, old trees. This scene just cries out for a gingerbread house, complete with Hänsel und Gretel and the Wicked Witch of Grimm’s fairy tale and Humperdinck’s opera.
After the second sharp bend to the right following the wooden walkway a well-defined path leads off to the left and deep into the woods. The earth here is quite eroded from heavy rains, with a great many tree roots exposed. Again, this is a great place for kids to hide.
Turn left at the next intersection (7) and enter the treeless Meadows section of the trail. Here you can walk in the sun, soaking up Vitamin D to strengthen your bones. There’s both a bench and an explanatory sign along the way, but keep an eye out for bees!
Here the Nature Trail ends as you step into the park proper.
An overview of the entire park can be enjoyed from the top of a small rise (8), reached by a curving path to the right. After the exhausting 14-foot climb to the top you’ll be happy to see a bench, and for the curious a binocular gadget mounted on a pole.
Below this is an enclosed playground (9) for very young kids, with all sorts of safe activities in a naturalistic environment sure to engage children’s vivid imaginations.
The Pavilion (10) (photo, above) is a nice, shady place for an alfresco lunch, with both sheltered and open picnic benches provided along with two grills. It may be reserved for private affairs by contacting the Parks Department (link below), but most of the time is open to the general public. There is a convenient drinking fountain just outside the structure.
Finally, a most unusual and enlightening feature. The Labyrinth (11) reflects both the spiritual and philosophical aspects of medieval thought. The original design dates to around 400 BC and became widely used during the Middle Ages. Symbolically, it represents a single path to a deity in a clearly defined center reached from only one entrance, often thought of as birth. As well as spiritual salvation, that center goal can also be enlightenment. Meandering along the twists and turns causes a loss of direction and a sense of the outer world, thus quieting the mind. Or so they say.
Here’s a satellite view (above) of the Stony Creek Labyrinth. See if you can follow the route to the rock in its center. It’s tricky. And here's a view from inside the labyrinth (below).
One day while walking along the Woodland section of the trail I saw a deer — a fawn, really — standing in the path watching me. As I resumed walking it scampered off into the woods. Encounters like this enhance the experience of being in a natural environment, yet so close to busy urban life. Other wildlife includes rabbits, squirrels, and of course mosquitoes. For the latter it is wise to use a spray deterrent before setting out. Lastly, I once got stung by a bee in the neck, back in the Meadows area next to the sign explaining how bees pollinate the plant life.
A Plea to the Powers-That-Be:
Please leave the Nature Trail as it is. Don’t make it pretty. Remove only the fallen trees that actually cross the trail. Let Mother Nature do Her own thing. And please replace the missing shrubs in the labyrinth. That is all. Thank you.
Hancock Street is only two lanes wide and is extremely busy in both directions during rush hours. Exiting the park, those making a left turn may have a long wait for a break in traffic. It may be easier to make a right turn, then a left at Church Road.
Pending construction of proper restroom facilities there is a porta-potty outhouse in the parking lot.
Be sure to use bug spray if you’re walking on the Nature Trail during summer. Mosquitoes abound.
There are two free dispensers of plastic dog waste bags, one by the parking lot and the other at the Hancock Street trail entrance.
How the Park Came To Be:
Stony Creek Park is part of the proposed Liberty Bell Trail, a string of parks and trails following the route taken by America’s Liberty Bell in 1777 as it was spirited off to a safe hiding place in Allentown during the Revolutionary War. Only a few of these parks have opened as yet, but more are on the way. It also closely follows the route of the former Liberty Bell Limited, an interurban trolley car that connected Allentown with Philadelphia from around 1900 until 1951. As a child, I used to ride this back in the 1930s and '40s. Starting from a depot at 8th and Hamilton streets in Allentown, it crossed a long bridge over the Little Lehigh, then followed old route 309 (now 145) across South Mountain and down into Quakertown, Sellersville, Telford, Souderton, Hatfield, Lansdale (where it stopped across the street from the present SEPTA train station), West Point, East Norriton, Norristown, and down into Philadelphia.
A Living Blog:
My plan is to keep this blog alive with frequent updates and fresh observations as the seasons change and in all kinds of weather — always, of course, with new photos. The latest entries are at the bottom, just before Local Links.So keep coming back by noting this direct link:
These images are/will be copyrighted and available for use by others only with my permission. Non-commercial use will be free as long as attribution or a link to this blog is made; commercial use may require a fee. Nearly all of the photos are/will be available from me in high definition jpeg files suitable for reproduction.
Thurs., Sept. 9, 2010, 10:15 am. This morning there were "working on the railroad" sounds coming from the freight line west of the park. I followed these around to the abandoned rail line (6) and turned right. Up there a CSX crew was busy servicing their line with a strange device mounted on a truck that ran on both rails and roads. Returning to the intersection (5) I was startled when what I swear was a coyote (or maybe a fox) darted out from the woods, crossed the trail, and dashed into the dense underbrush to the east.
Another thought came to me on the trail. Why not occasionally leave the "beaten path" and just go off into the woods to really commune with nature, maybe becoming more one with the Universe. I tried it, and it works.
Here's what the "Wetlands" part of the trail looked like on this, the day following the Autumnal Equinox:
Friday, Oct. 1, 2010, 10:30 a.m. Rain, glorious rain. After months of semi-drought came the downpour. From early yesterday morning until noon today something like 6 to 8 inches fell. Naturally, I had to rush out to see what the "Wetlands" part of the trail looked like. Along the way I had to climb over a fallen branch and wade through a shallow-but-wide puddle at the same spot where two days earlier I had seen a deer crossing the trail. Below is a little bit of it, looking down from the elevated walkway:
Tues., Oct 5, 2010, 10:00 a.m. The rain continues, with the "Meadow" area impassable without walking through wide-but-shallow puddles. So I got my feet wet. The elevated walkway through the "Wetlands" area carries walkers above roaring streams of water, a welcome change after a summer of baked, cracked earth. The "Woodlands" is, well, just dripping wet but easy to negotiate. I saw a fawn, leaping like a gazelle across the trail and gracefully bounding off into the woods. Others have seen as many a three young or female deer at a time, but never a buck. Wonder where he hides?
Thursday, Oct 14, 2010, 3:00 p.m. More and more rain. This time I wandered through with my camera, determined to make it look as wet as it actually was. The photo above is of the "Wetland" sign, the elevated trail, and a flowing rivulet. Yesterday I got a fleeting glimpse of a strange animal as it dashed across the trail. It was solid black, looking like a very large cat, but with a huge, bushy tail. Wonder what that was?
Below is a new picture of the pond, taken the other day:
Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010, 12:30 p.m. Vandalism! The first act of deliberate vandalism and unlawful behavior that I have ever witnessed at Stony Creek occurred today. Four or five guys in their late teens or early 20s jumped out of a Nissan car with New York plates beginning with the letters FEZ, knocked over the PortaPotty in the parking lot, and ran down the Meadows path, shoving people out of the way while screaming loudly in Spanish. They entered the woods making extremely loud noises and frightening walkers. Fearing a dangerous encounter, I left. If this is allowed to continue there will be no point in having this park.
Thurs., Oct. 28, 2010, 2 pm. Fall has finally done its thing, and all the leaves are down. The trail has a certain beauty in this starkness, as I hope I captured in the photo above. This shows the elevated portion in the "Wetlands" portion. Today the park crew was busy removing the fountain in the pond before the pipes freeze. They are also planning to drop the water level in the pond so that when winter comes it will be safe for skaters.
Sun., Nov. 21, 2010, 10 a.m.
It's amazing how much smaller the park seems without leaves. Now you can clearly see houses, businesses, and even a hotel through the barren branches. Soon it will snow.
Wed., Dec. 8, 2010, 10 a.m.
Bitter cold, much rain, and heavy winds have made the trail impassable. Much of the "Meadows" area was thin ice with about an inch of water under it. Winds have apparently swept water from the pond into the "Woodland" and "Wetland" areas, eroding the trail and leaving a frozen mess. There was also a large fallen tree trunk laying across the trail. I quickly gave up and went home to dry out my feet. The entire trail area is as dreary as dreary can possibly be dreary. But soon it will snow, bringing new visual pleasure.
Saturday, January 1, 2011. It snowed last Sunday and Monday, and even though the temperature is in the high 40s right now, this much is still left.
Expanding This Blog:
Until now, Life's Little Adventures has focused on rather distant places and exotic happenings, covering periods of time from the mid-1930s until the near past. Now I plan to add more local material, some historical and some contemporary, with an emphasis on Eastern Pennsylvania, especially on Montgomery and Bucks counties. Stay tuned.
Lansdale Borough (click on Parks & Recreation)
Labyrinth (a spiritual rather than philosophical approach to understanding its meaning)
More coming as I discover them.
Text, maps, and photos copyright © 2010, 2011 Earl Steinbicker
Lubin Studios, Valley Forge Movie History near Lansdale
Doylestown, near Lansdale A walking tour
Interested in photography? Check out my "Assisting Avedon" blog.
SO, just what Little Adventure am I up to now in 2013? Why, just the most challenging one of them all! CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT.