Saturday, January 7, 2017

Running the Schuylkill River, Part I

In the next visit after the one I describe below I finished the rest of Berks County, and you can read about this impressive and death-defying feat here.

The ultimate destination.
Image from the Constitutional Walking Tour website.

My goal in writing this up is to get more people to use the Schuylkill River Trail in Berks County (of which Thun Trail is one part.) In 2015 it was named the best urban trail in America. You should really check out the Schuylkill River Trail website, which maps the whole length of it all the way down to Philly. Originally my plan was to run the whole length of the river through Berks County while I was there over the holiday. But as of right now the SRT is only complete in pieces, and many of the country roads in northern Berks are really not safe to be running on for many miles at a time. So here I'm only describing from the confluence of the Tulpehocken to the Montgomery County line. (I ran around Blue Marsh and ran down to the confluence with the Schuylkill as well in another of my many ludicrous running projects.)

It's worth mentioning that the SRT in Berks would be an ideal location for a volkmarch. In Germany, people will set aside a day when you along with friends and family walk to a village in your valley a few miles away, have a pint in the inn there, then get up and walk another few miles to the next village...and repeat. Sounds like a blast, right? What's stopping us Dutchmen from continuing this tradition? And this trail is perfect for it! I picture it starting on a late spring day at Victor Emmanuel or Trooper Thorne, then stopping at Ridgewood Winery and the Fork and Ale...that would be a fun day. But until then...on with the River!

From the Schuylkill River Trail website,
where you can click on the subsections

I started at the confluence with the Tulpehocken because of my Blue Marsh project. From there, it's on the road a little to the Route 183/Schuylkill Avenue Bridge. From here to RACC was easily my least favorite part of the run. Trash on the trail, vandalized signage, and total desertion even at 3pm on a warm winter day did not make me want to dawdle (plus the trail is obstructed where there is construction under the Buttonwood Street Bridge is under construction). At RACC things start looking up again. The converted pedestrian bridge across the river affords a vantage point I've never seen from the bypass. On the other side is an unpleasant but not terribly unsafe-feeling industrial area; then you're on the overpass right across from Queen City. There's a little 19th century graveyard right there which I never knew was there, despite driving right past it a thousand times when I lived in Reading. You're then running along 422, and there's an abandoned stone booth with some interesting graffiti; suddenly you're behind UGI and then Victor Emmanuel's (who seem dead set on stopping anyone on a public trail from hopping the fence to come to their restaurant. In the summer this would be awesome!) The Brentwood Trailhead on the Thun Trail (a Berks portion of the SRT) is just past that.

Above: there's an oddly placed iron rail bridge near RACC that used to be on top of a (now filled-in) canal.

Above: Reading skyline from RACC. All my pictures were taken in late December.

Above: on the pedestrian bridge over the river. An interesting angle on the city you've probably never seen before.

Above: a little grim northeast industrial winter. Would be good for a metal album cover.

Above: graveyard between Route 10 and 422 near Queen City.
The oldest marker I saw dated to 1822.

From Brentwood, you quickly feel isolated (in a good scenic way) running along the river with Neversink to your left. In a few miles you come to a much higher, longer rail-to-trail bridge (this is the highlight of this section for me) and pass the old Titas generating station on your right. You cross under 176, and then cross 724 on foot. Ridgewood Winery is just southeast of here, and the newly-opened Gibraltar Hill State Forest, which has unexpected views of the Schuylkill River Valley and Neversink across the way, is up Ridgeway Road to your right here.

Going over the Schuylkill on the Thun. Image credit to user DWill320 at Panaramio.

The trail continues for a few more miles along the base of Gibraltar Hill, at the edge of fields until you reach Gibraltar. Nearby route 568 between 724 and Route 10 might be my favorite driving road in all of Berks. From Gibraltar you're on roads for a few miles, so be careful. The first is Old River Road - not heavy traffic, fairly straight so you can see what's coming, and enough lawn/shoulder so you can get out of the way. Very pleasant, lots of small houses and fields. Then you cross 724 (be careful) and you're now on Schuylkill Road, right next to the river. I liked this bit.

Once you get to Birdsboro proper, you cross 724 one last time before picking up an actual trail again. This takes you right to Union Township Recreation Area, which has bathrooms (and the Fork and Ale is right there as well).

Above: bamboo stand between Morlatton Village and the Berks-Montgomery County line. Below: a friend I met on the trail near Birdsboro.

From here the trail is all rail-to-trail straight down to the Montgomery County Line - nothing really that special but a very pleasant flat jaunt through the woods next to the river. There is actually an official campsite along this stretch, and another converted bridge that's kind of neat. I saw plenty of people accessing the trail from Douglassville, and there's official access at Morlatton Village (oldest building in Berks). You pass under River Bridge Road and 422, and then there are two large stands of bamboo which struck me as odd. Finally you pass the small sign marking the Berks-Montgomery border, and arrive at the County Line parking area. There are a couple more miles of trail at this writing, but it ends in Pottstown. While you're in this area you might also want to check out Monocacy Hill, which has volcanic rock at the top.

Remaining sections for the future: Phoenixville to just past the Art Museum has been built so I'll start working on that next time I'm in PA. There are all kinds of other cool trails constantly being finished too like the Perkiomen, which meets the Schuylkill in Valley Forge. And of course up through the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country, to the gap in the Blue Ridge where the Schuylkill emerges into Hamburg from the Coal Regions...which also happens to be where the Appalachian Trail crosses it. Another project?...

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