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Biking Through History on the

Northern Central Railroad Trail


[By Allen Brougham] . . .

Phoenix, Maryland, May 21, 2003...

I made history this evening!!!..

I, and I alone - officially or unofficially - inaugurated the 2003 Bike Through History program. As the schedule indicated, our group was to meet at the Phoenix Road parking lot for the inaugural run, an outing for our biking party to partake of the splendors of the Northern Central Railroad Trail. I was really looking forward to this event. It had been such a brutal winter in these parts, and thoughts throughout that ordeal of the pleasures of biking were foremost on my mind.

The magical day arrived, but with it came the forecast of showers throughout the day and evening. Indeed, it DID rain - at some times quite heavily - until early in the afternoon. But then things changed for the better. The rain changed to drizzle - or none at all - so I made plans to attend the evening's event, set to begin at 6 o'clock.

Just to be certain, though, I called the phone number listed on the program to see if the outing had been canceled. There was no answer. Again I tried - still no answer. Then I called the park office (a separate phone number). Again, no answer.. Indeed, each of the calls I made were before 4:30 P.M. (in the interval designated to make such a call if weather were an issue) when somebody should have been available to answer the question.

So bike in tow, I showed up at the Phoenix parking lot by the 6 o'clock appointed time. Nobody was there. (Just folks passing through; none from the biking group.) Anyway, I waited. And I waited. Still nobody from the group showed up.

Ha! It had stopped raining by then, so I decided to go it alone... Why not?.. I was already there!

"The 2003 Bike Through History Program will now begin," I said out loud (but nobody could hear me - I was all alone).. It was now 6:06 P.M.

Onward I biked to Sparks, arriving there in ten minutes. I stopped briefly to read a revised schedule posted on the bulletin board. Nothing had changed insofar as the schedule for the event was concerned, but it did clarify that the evening's itinerary was to extend to Blue Mount, a distance of about seven and one-half miles from Phoenix.. I decided to keep going.

Next I passed through Glencoe (without stopping), and then to Corbett pausing long enough to see if the friendly chubby cat I had met there last year would be there to greet me this time (he was not), and I then proceeded further along and stopped on the Gunpowder bridge north of Corbett (a.k.a. "The Place") to chat with a fellow who was on the bridge throwing sticks into the water for his dog. (Interestingly, the fellow was there because his lacrosse practice had been canceled. But he agreed that it was not such bad weather for doing things on the trail.)

Finally, I arrived at Blue Mount - exactly one hour after I had left Phoenix.

Returning I made a speed run (it was downhill), pausing just once (at Sparks), arriving back at Phoenix at 7:46 P.M.

And I never felt a drop of rain the entire time.

So the other folks from the group missed a great ride. Their loss was my gain. Anyway, the 2003 Bike Through History program has begun, even with me being the only member to enjoy it..

Next Wednesday (weather permitting) we will meet at Sparks for our (their first, my second) planned outing.. This one will go from Sparks to White Hall.

Sparks, Maryland, May 28, 2003...

Things were a little better this evening. The sun finally shone through after a couple of days of rain (including showers this morning), and I presented myself at Sparks for the second Bike Through History event. In fact, I was the first one there. But conspicuously missing was our leader. In due time, four others showed up... but still no leader. Then somebody (it was I) noticed a small poster displayed on the Sparks event board saying that the evening's biking event had been canceled! Oops!

The poster explained that the event was canceled due to rain (ha!) and trail condition (it was dry!).

Anyway, none of us had gone to Sparks with the intention of NOT biking, so off the five of us went for a Bike Through History event of our own. Three of us stayed together; the other two nominally followed us or biked on ahead with the idea of replicating the planned event of going to White Hall and back.

The group of three got back to Sparks just before dark.. And we never felt a drop of rain.. Quite a few other folks were on the trail (though not part of our group) and they saw no rain either. In fact, blue skies were overhead for most of the evening.

Supposedly next Wednesday's event (from Monkton) will officially open the 2003 Bike Through History series - if it doesn't rain - with those not participating in either this evening's or last week's outing having missed out on what could now be described as great biking weather. Stay tuned!

Monkton, Maryland, June 4, 2003...

No bike trip today.. It rained!!

White Hall, Maryland, June 11, 2003...

Some of the participants at White Hall

Finally! Although there was a chance of storms in the forecast, this evening's Bike Through History event DID take place - officially the first one this season. About 15 folks, most of whom had biked with us last year - including Brenda, our leader - attended this one. We got under way about 6:20 P.M. after introductions and a short history lesson on the Northern Central, working our way north with a few stops along the way.

At our second stop, just a short distance south of Parkton, Brenda led our group down to the adjacent stream to examine evidence of beaver activity. Beavers are prevalent in the area, although we saw none of the critters themselves (who mostly do their work at night). Several other stops were made, eventually turning back at Freeland.

It would have been a non-stop run back to White Hall except for the chance meeting with a young snapping turtle resting near the trail just north of Parkton. We all stopped to look at the little fellow, keeping a safe distance, while Brenda (who is a naturalist) explained some things about the snapping turtle's habitat.

The weather remained free of rain - although it was rather humid - but rain did come into the area a little later in the evening complete with thunder and lightning.

Next week (if it doesn't rain), we meet at Freeland for a ride into Pennsylvania with the intention of reaching Glen Rock.

Freeland, Maryland, June 18, 2003...

Some of the participants at Freeland

Once again, a chance of storms was in the forecast, and it was somewhat humid for this evening's adventure. Still, ten hardy folks showed up at Freeland, and we got under away about 6:30 P.M. First we made our way north to the Mason and Dixon Line. Here we stopped for a brief discussion on the history of this line surveyed by British astronomers Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon beginning in 1763. It's more than just a state line; it traditionally separates North from South.

There is some ambiguity as to the precise point that the line intersects the trail, but using a latitude coordinate I had recently taken at the next Mason and Dixon stone located about a quarter of a mile to the east, using my new GPS unit, I took a few seconds to demonstrate the unit to locate the probable location of the line on the trail itself. I will take further measurements next winter when leaves are off the trees and the unit can get a more reliable fix.

Next we biked north into Pennsylvania (where the trail is owned and splendly maintained by York County), stopping briefly next to Summit Grove, the highest point on the trail. Brenda, our group leader, explained that at one time there was a railroad signal (interlocking) tower here; a stone foundation for it (we think) was clearly visible in a recently landscaped area just west of where we assembled on the trail.

We were then told to bike on to the town of Railroad, but this idea got dropped as we continued on to our ultimate Glen Rock destination instead. Glen Rock is home to an eatery serving Italian Ice, a specialty in the minds of biking enthusiasts. This is something we missed last year as their Italian Ice machine was out of commission. It sure tasted refreshing this year, though.

We got back to Freeland a tad more than two hours after we had gotten started, and there was no rain.

This ends the first five-part circuit; next week we begin it all over again by assembling at Phoenix.

Phoenix, Maryland, June 25, 2003...

With this evening's Bike Through History event our group had gone full circle.. We began once again where we (pronounced "I") had begun back on May 21, albeit with more folks (this time) attending. Moreover, there was no rain in the forecast.. Repeat: there was NO RAIN in the forecast. Amazing!

It was a perfectly clear day, although the temps and humidity were a tad on the high side. (Well, I guess we can't have everything.)

Brenda, our leader, started us off with a brief history lesson on the town of Phoenix showing us photos of a mill that had gotten knocked down in the 1920s to make way for slackwater from the then-proposed Loch Raven Reservoir. But, once the dam was completed, the rising water never really reached the site of the mill. Ha! Golly, did the surveyors ever make a boo boo on that one!

However this may have been, Phoenix really is the headwater of the reservoir, so the folks marking the spot in the 1920s were at least close to the mark.

We left from Phoenix at about 6:25 P.M. and biked to Sparks for a primer on that town. At one time there was a bank, a depot and a general store. The bank building is still there, but is no longer a bank. In fact, it belongs to the State of Maryland and is used as the trail's nature center. Another footnote to history is the fact that the nearby Milton Academy had been attended by John Wilkes Booth and his brother Edwin.

Our next history stop was the village of Corbett. We looked for the friendly cat who had greeted us last year, but instead yet another cat wandered over to us. Perhaps he is now the official Corbett greeter. Who knows whatever happened to the other one!

Further north we stopped at Monkton, and then the site of Pleasant Valley. Finally we reached Blue Mount, our intended destination, and then returned to Phoenix before it got dark.

Brenda, our leader, explaining things about the trail

Group photo at Blue Mount

Next Wednesday (weather permitting) we meet at Sparks.

Sparks, Maryland, July 2, 2003...

No bike trip today.. It rained!!

Monkton, Maryland, July 9, 2003...

Well, it wasn't raining when I left home! Anyway, I had called the park office ahead of time and learned that the scheduled event had not been canceled. But a quick glance at the weather map on the telly at least gave me a strong hint that this evening's "shine only" biking adventure would surely be put to the test.

It was raining (lightly) by the time I got to Monkton, there being met by Brenda, our leader, who told me that she had decided to cancel the event. I was not surprised by this decision; there were distant rumblings of thunder off in the distance. In the meantime, two others showed up, and they agreed that returning home was in their best interest.

But not Allen!

Brenda warned me - at least for the record - that biking in the rain with the potential of lightning was not very safe. Still, I stuck with my own decision to go it alone. I looked to the skies off to the west, and it looked to me that things would probably get no worse. Anyway, I had not driven all that distance in order not to go biking, if only for a short distance to offer a superficial participation. The last biking event that was supposed to begin at Monkton had also been canceled, and there would be no others to leave from there in this year's program season. So off I went.

Northward I biked - in a rain that could not any longer be considered "light" - planning at any moment to make a hasty U-turn and retreat back to the safety of my car if need be. Thunder continued to rumble in the distance, but the skies to the west seemed to foretell of better things to come.

Interestingly, there were a number of others out on the trail (not a part of our group) - about a dozen or more - enjoying the peace and solitude of the surroundings either by foot or by bike. And not all of these folks were evidently there because they had been caught on the trail in the rain; some appeared to be there because they wanted to be there. It was, after all, a pleasant evening temperature-wise, and the tall trees adjoining the trail did offer some relief should the rain get heavy. (And as for lightning, I reasoned that the chance of being struck was somewhat remote.)

By the time I reached Blue Mount, the rain had lessened somewhat. And by the time I got to Parkton, the rain had stopped...

And then... the sun shone through.. (Faintly, at least.)

Ha!! I was right after all!! So I kept biking..

I felt energized (and vindicated), and could have kept biking longer, but I finally decided to stop at Bentley Springs, the intended destination of the evening's event. It was now almost 7:30 P.M., or roughly an hour after I had left Monkton.

I made it a point to leave from Bentley Springs at exactly 7:30, as if my bike were a train and that this time was its schedule. I made a speed run to Parkton, stopping in the vicinity of the former location of that town's station (arriving 7:41, leaving at 7:44), and then continued non-stop to Monkton (arriving 8:12). Total mileage from Bentley Springs, according to my odometer, was 7.8.

I cannot fault the rest of the group for not participating. But their loss was my gain. It was great fun.

Next week (weather permitting) we meet at White Hall.

White Hall, Maryland, July 16, 2003...

This evening's biking event was met with mostly sunshine and a few puffy clouds, and no hint of rain this time (a rarity), but a tad on the humid side (so what else is new!) as we assembled at White Hall. Fourteen folks (two caught up with us later on for a total of 16) began our journey at about 6:15 P.M. after concluding that Brenda, our leader, would not be with us this time. She was just missing from the group! (We tried calling the park office, but there was no answer.)

So somehow, I got volunteered to serve as the unofficial leader (with help from a number of others in the group who offered to provide guidance as needed). Anyway, as we all agreed, the show must go on!

We pedaled on to Parkton where introductions were made all around, and having commited to memory a number of things Brenda had explained on previous trips, plus insights the rest of us could muster, we made do the best that we could. At least four of the bikers in attendance were on their very first Bike Through History, about three others had been on events last year but until now not this year.

Then we proceeded on to Walker. It had been a railroad stop many generations ago, but there is little evidence today of its historical import or why it was even a stop at all. Still, it seemed a restful place to stop.

Bentley Springs was our next stop, at which point we discussed the sycamore tree (complete with a leaf I had picked), and nine of us formed a circle to show to how large a circumference a sycamore can grow.

We stopped once again just shy of Freeland, just to let folks catch up, and while there was not much to talk about here, I did bring up the topic of an overhead power line at that location (of the 500KV variety) with a brief description of its role in the regional power grid. (Well, it was something to talk about, I guess!)

Freeland was our intended turnaround destination, but we did continue on another tenth of a mile to look at what was once a rather extensive beaver pond. The little critters had abandoned their dam a couple of years back, and it was breached, but the evidence of its former pond is still evident.

On our return trip we were delayed several minutes at Parkton when one of the bikers had a flat, and by a few others back in the group who stopped because they had seen a beaver, and we got back to White Hall just before it got completely dark.

Everyone seemed to have a great time, and I surely enjoyed the experience myself, but we all hope our leader will be with us next week. This will be our final trip from Freeland, and our assault on the New Freedom grade en route to Glen Rock where we can enjoy Italian Ice..

NOTE... The following day I called the park office and I was told that Brenda had pulled a muscle in her leg and she was unable to walk, much less ride a bike, so she had to skip the event.

Freeland, Maryland, July 23, 2003...

Brenda, our leader, had recovered from her pulled muscle, and she explained how it happened. Earlier that day (July 16) she had gone to assist a young swimmer (at one of the other programs she officiates), and she pulled the muscle assisting the swimmer from the water. Later, while stepping over a log, things got worse. Anyway, after three days of ice packs, etc., she recovered, very much disappointed over missing her scheduled events.

Twelve bikers joined this evening's event, abbreviated by about an hour because of the forecast of impending thunderstorms. First, we biked to the state line for a discussion about the history of the Mason and Dixon Line; then to Flickerville (just south of New Freedom) at the site of the one-time interlocking tower (discussed in the report for the outing of June 18); and finally to the town of Railroad. Following her once-a-year tradition, Brenda read to us Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, noting that Mr. Lincoln had used the Northern Central en route to Gettysburg for the occasion. Some believe that Mr. Lincoln may have written his speech while on board the train. Perhaps. But historians generally believe that he had written some of it before he left Washington, and probably the rest of it the evening before the dedication while he was at Gettysburg.

It was here at Railroad that we turned back - aborting the segment to Glen Rock - and we got back to Freeland about 7:35 P.M. to the sound of distant thunder.

This was our last Bike Through History for the season from Freeland. Next week we meet at Phoenix, and the following week at Sparks.

Phoenix, Maryland, July 30, 2003...

Brenda, our leader, opened the event with a startling announcement: There might not - repeat, MIGHT not - be a Bike Through History program next year. It seems that she is considering not returning next year (but she has not made a final decision yet), and if she does not return and somebody else takes her place, the person who takes her place might not opt to include the same program. Brenda, who is a school teacher by profession and has worked for the park system during her school break for the past six years, explained that it was she who had included the bike through history program as part of her agenda. Her specialty is that of a naturalist, but had included the historical narratives as a secondary interest. Anyway, she wanted all of us to be aware that a bike through history program is not something that is engraved in stone year after year.

Nineteen folks participated - a record high number for this year - and we biked on the Sparks, Corbett, Monkton (with stops at each for historical descriptions, etc.), ending up at White Hall (hoping to find the snowball stand open, which it was not). Quickly we retraced our route making a non-stop run to Sparks where a snowball stand was open. Some of us stopped, and some of us did not.

Our final biking adventure for the season will be next week at Sparks.

Sparks, Maryland, August 6, 2003...

This was our final Bike Through History event for this year. Nineteen folks participated in the event, and Brenda announced that there indeed WILL be Bike Through History next year, but probably on a reduced schedule, and probably on a day during the week other than on Wednesday.

After introductions and a short talk about the history of Sparks, our group headed up to Corbett and then to Monkton before moving on to our destination, Parkton. It had rained earlier in the day and it was still quite humid, but clear by this point, and the adjacent Gunpowder Falls (as far as Blue Mount) had a pall of mist hanging over it in spots.

By the time the last of the group arrived back at Sparks it was completely dark except for a half moon which shone high in the sky helping us to light the way. It is indeed fun to be biking on the trail after dark. The trail, coincidentally, is constructed of a white crushed stone mix which affords a favorable contrast to the darkened landscape along side of it. Still, a bike light is a must at such a time.

Cake, pretzels and peaches had been brought to the site by some members of the group for the purpose of a brief party to celebrate the ending of this year's program.

When I got home and took the bike off the rack, I noticed that my bike's front tire had gotten flat!

Except for two rainouts when I did not even try to attend, I was on hand for the entire 2003 program. It was great fun, and I eagerly look forward to whatever is offered next year.. For further information, call 410-592-2897.


2003 RECAP....

Click Here for Program Notes & Photos from 2002