Behind me was laughter from the other Friends of Swatara State Park volunteers who were working to clear brush and remove trees growing in and around Lock 5 of the Union Canal's feeder canal at Swatara State Park.
The following week we returned to continue the work. A family of hikers stopped to ask about the canal. Ravegum is the right person to ask. He's working on a book about the canal's history.
What a rich history it is! William Penn is credited with first proposing to connect the Susquehanna and Schuylkill Rivers. The project gained traction as a way to increase shipments to Philadelphia which otherwise would have headed down the Susquehanna to the port of Baltimore. George Washington attended the groundbreaking ceremony. A feeder branch was built to harness water power from the Swatara River to boost the canal through the high point at the famous tunnel north of Lebanon. Above are photos of Lock 5 of that branch, which carried coal and timber from Schuylkill County to Philadelphia.
Note the vernal ponds in the lock. FOSSP volunteer Dick Light pointed out egg masses in the pond laid by wood frogs and marble salamanders.
Preserving the locks, and the history of the Swatara canal and railroad days, is important work. Securing the area from motor vehicle traffic was a major step in the process.
While I was taking a break, perched on a boulder next to the DCNR pick-up truck, a mountain biker stopped to talk. He said he and his father used to fish at Lock 5 when he was a boy. He said he was amazed by the huge stone works: how they were cut with such precision, and how they were hauled to the remote site, and from where? He remembered the cabins that used to be there when the land was privately-owned. Today, he said, he sees much broken glass and vandalism.
Every time I ride or hike at Swatara I pick up beer and soda cans and bottles. For a long time this was a place where some people came just to drink. Two years ago I found ugly graffiti spray-painted just north of the Appalachian trail bridge, depicting the President being lynched. I went directly to Memorial Lake State Park and reported it to the head of maintenance, and it was painted over.
Old State Road (Bear Hole Road) is now closed to motor vehicle traffic, but Ravegum said people on ATV's in the park are still a problem. He said they tell him it's their park because they've been riding there since they were children. Ravegum said he tells them he's been working there longer than that.
After our work session was finished I rode bike from the Bear Hole parking lot to Swopes Valley Road to Sand Siding. Near the Suedberg church was a pile of garbage someone had dumped from state route 443 down the embankment into the park. A trailer tire was part of the pile.
I lifted the tire and bounced it around to get the muck out of it. Then I pulled down some grape vines, knotted them around the tire, got on my bike and pedaled out to Swopes Valley Road dragging the tire behind me. I propped it against a road sign, figuring a township truck would drive by and pick it up.
On my way out several hikers and bikers watched as I passed. More and more people are discovering and appreciating the park. Soon restrooms are going to be built near the intersection of routes 72 and 443 -- wow! A few years ago some said it couldn't be done; that vandals would just destroy it. But good change is happening. The DCNR has done a commendable job of rebuilding the trails and constructing new bridges. As more people become aware and active in using the park in positive, healthy ways, the destruction will gradually become history. We may even see a new Civilian Conservation Corps that would give young people constructive employment in our state parks and forests, and put veterans to work teaching them discipline and self-respect. This is a great opportunity.