Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Susquehanna

The Susquehanna River is the longest running river on the east coast of the USA, starting in New York state and running through to the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.  Close to us, it meanders roughly South East, through nearby Harrisburg and onwards, and effectively separates York from Lancaster.  (Hubby still can't used to the fact that York and Lancaster are "the wrong way round" here - Lancaster is East and York is West.)

As you'd probably guess, the origins of the River's name are American Indian, and "Susquehanna" reportedly comes from the Len'api term for "Oyster River".  It has played a key role throughout US history - most notably in 1863 during the Civil War Gettysburg Campaign.  The unionist forces determined that Robert E Lee's confederate army would not cross the Susquehanna on their rampage North, and positioned units to protect key bridges in Harrisburg and nearby (to us) Wrightsville.  They actually burned down the bridge between Wrightsville (to the west) and Columbia (to the east) in their efforts to stop the troops, and the confederate army had to form a bucket-brigade to prevent the rest of Wrightsville town from burning.

Prior to this, the Wrightsville bridge was once the world's longest covered bridge (a tad over 1800m).  It was destroyed once by high water and ice in 1832, and then again by the unionists in 1863, and then yet again by storms several years later.  You can still see the stone built pillars / piers from at least one of these iterations next to the current bridge.

The current bridge wasn't built until 1930, and was made of reinforced concrete.  Although still standing through the ravages of weather (parts of the Susquehanna do freeze over in the winter), it's still not immune to the challenges thrown at it by nature.  Last June, the bridge even made the BBC news website because of swarming mayflies which forced its temporary closure.  Apparently attracted to the new bridge lighting, the mayflies swarmed in such numbers that they caused poor visibility and subsequent car crashes.  Rumour has it that even cyclists struggled to pedal through the piles of dead bugs!

As another fun fact, the Susquehanna is also home to a second Statue of Liberty.  You can only see it when you're zipping along the motorway (which apparently caused more car crashes when it first appeared in the 80s).  It was originally built as a prank to honour the New York statue's 100 year anniversary, was built in a garage from plywood, and snuck out on canoes to be placed (highly illegally) on an old railway pier in the middle of the river. Sadly, it only lasted a few years before it perished in a storm and flood.  But locals missed their mini statue so much that they raised $25k to replace it.  The newer statue is still in place today, made from sturdier stuff (wood,metal and fibreglass), and stands much taller at 25 feet, even though she looks tiny when you whizz past in the car.

We're lucky to benefit from some local walking trails that follow parts of the Susquehanna River through Lancaster County, affording lovely views when the weather is good.  In particular, we've walked along part of Chickies Rock trail, when follows an old trolley line route and canal, and after a steep climb, ends on a huge outcrop 200 feet above the river. Near the trail there is also a protected Bald Eagle nest.  Chickies Rock is again based on an American Indian word for "place of the crayfish".  Very recently, they've opened up more of this trail, creating a 14 mile route along the River on the Columbia side, which we hope to walk (at least some of it) over the summer. 

We've also recently stumbled on a viewpoint just outside Wrightsville (called, unimaginatively, "Highpoint Scenic Vista"), which has a spiral track around the hill to the top for stunning views of the valley.  And also a nearby winery (aka vineyard), which is always welcome!