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Biking the Conewago Trail

[By Allen Brougham] . . .

Thursday, September 5, 2002, was one of those more pleasant days for being outdoors - not too hot with low humidity - a welcome respite following a rather hot summer with more hot weather yet to come.

I took the occasion to make my first assault upon yet another railroad trail. The Conewago Recreation Trail begins in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, not far from Elizabethtown. Following the right of way of an abandoned rail line, it goes from that point northeastward for five miles, ending (for now) squat against the boundary with Lebanon County (which intends to extend the trail even further).

The trail begins with what is called a cinder base (I'll vouch for that), but the further along it extends the base turns to one of bluestone gravel, and at times simply dirt and grass. Still, it is smooth for biking.

Markers denote the mileage and half mileage along the side of the trail. Just beyond the one-mile marker, the trail encounters its first major road crossing. Formerly (in its railroad days) it was a bridge, but evidently its clearance over the affected road was too low, and the bridge was subsequently removed.

This was followed quickly by a short rock cut, and the trail climbs gently along the bank of a stream. The route is juxtaposed by farmlands, or by woods, neatly shaded by trees on both sides most of the way.

Just beyond the fourth mile marker there is a small barnyard (I could call it a petting zoo) replete with a family of friendly goats, and a llama. A lady was tending to the animals as I arrived, and (after confirming the larger animal was indeed a llama) said that it, too, is quite friendly. The owners have four llamas, three of which were in a field out of sight.

Precisely - exactly - at the fifth mile marker, the trail abruptly ends. Whether by design or sheer coincidence, this is the county line. But the path extending beyond the county line was not much more obscure than the trail that had just ended, so I continued on for several hundred feet, there to find off in the distance bulldozers and front-end loaders in the process of doing work in preparation for Lebanon County's portion of the trail, yet to be opened.

The rail line began in 1883 as the Cornwall & Lebanon. According to information available at the southwestern trailhead, the railroad was built by Robert H. Coleman to compete with the Cornwall Railroad for iron ore traffic between Cornwall and Lebanon. The line was later extended to Conewago Junction to connect with the Pennsylvania Railroad. By 1910, there were eight passenger trains in each direction.

The line was finally abandoned in 1972 following damage inflicted by tropical storm Agnes. The trail was "preserved" by Lancaster County in 1979.