Thursday, August 12, 2010

Appalachian Trail MD: PennMar Park

The last sightseeing stop in Maryland along the Appalachian Trail is PennMar Park. PennMar is a popular starting point for those wanting to do a short 3-4 day section of the Appalachian Trail. Numerous regional Boy Scout troops and patrols use the PennMar to Harpers Ferry section of the AT for the basis of their 50-mile hiking badge program. Our section hike over the Memorial Day weekend proved the norm. We met three southbound scout groups in less than 24 hours of the weekend beginning and several smaller groups of three somes and five some starting south from PennMar.

PennMar has an interesting history as a recreation center for the Baltimore and Washington region for over a hundred years. Gone are the old hotels, ice cream parlors, dance floors and other favorite pursuits of yesteryear. Today stands a large city park looking above and towards Pennsylvania.

North bound hikers will arrive at PennMar after first descending from High Rock down a boulder field. The trail opens wider into a worn gravel road. One starts to see homes and hear vehicles off to their left. Minutes later one hears children and sees playgrounds on the right through the trees. At the end of the gravel road, the trail makes a sharp right and you are in PennMar Park proper. There's a large pavilion ahead with some picnic tables between it and the turn into the park. If you can resist the urge to stop at this first set of tables, wander a bit further around to the other side of the pavilion.

On the opposite side of the first pavilion one finds the smaller famous pavilion which overlooks Pennsylvania. Just further and up a slight rise one finds the restrooms and water. Here's a secret that many AT hikers never discover when passing through. The first sink in the men's room has a large goose neck spigot for filing water bottles and hydration bladders. (Guys, offer to fill the ladies water containers!)

If you've read my log entries, you'll know that I had been unsuccessful trying to get a cold soda at every opportunity in Maryland. Fortune smiles upon hikers at PennMar. There are two working soda machines just south of the restrooms and pavilions. Just look up the rise to that other brick building and you'll spot the machines on the north trail-side end. We bought two. One for lunch and one that we stuffed inside our foam pad for later up the trail. (Our foam pad road flat atop our pack. Shove the bottle in and then stuff the ends with your pack cover and a spare trash bag.)

From PennMar the trail continues north behind the restrooms by the pavilions. You start descending a gravel road bed with telephone poles along the right side. You are hiking down the old trolley car line. At the bottom of the gravel road, you'll make left turn, cross a paved road, and then cross some railroad tracks. Someone has removed the famed Mason Dixon Line sign, so remember the train tracks are the roughly boundary. Cross the tracks and you're in Pennsylvania.

The trail will continue down a bit to a beautiful wooden footbridge and then begin a steep climb back up. There are two boxed spring along the road crossing about halfway up the hill. Bailey Spring is the next water hole after the boxed springs, then a series of double shelters built along springs.

On our section hike, we got a late start (9 a.m.) off raven Rock and then dawdled too long at PennMar and thus made it only to deer Lick Shelters that evening. Get moving sooner and try to get up the trail to either Antietam or, even better, Tumbling Run Shelters. Tenting is also better at Antietam and Tumbling Run shelters.

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