The Wilmington Trail Club started out as a small group of young and mostly single people (until the first of what was to be many Trail Club marriages took place), many of whom were newcomers to Delaware. Almost all lived within the city of Wilmington as there were no suburban developments in those days. The city was subject to “blue laws” at the time so shops and restaurants were closed on Sundays and there were few opportunities for weekend recreation or social activities for young people often living far from their home towns. The Trail Club filled this need.
There was one hike a week, on Saturday or Sunday, everyone knew everyone else and attended regularly, making it possible for buses to be chartered for “away” hikes. The scope of social activities other than hikes was broader than today owing to the group being relatively small and close knit. Being akin to a family, the club kept detailed records for the first few years including an annual scrapbook containing descriptive and humorous articles written by members summarizing the events of the year, and also a log book of photos and newspaper articles. All of these are still preserved in our club archives.
So, how did the Wilmington Trail Club come into being? Ted Darling, a hiking enthusiast newly arrived to work for DuPont, proposed the idea of a club to a group of fellow employees in early 1939. The response was positive, with the suggestion that a women’s group should be approached to ensure that participation was mixed (these were young single males, remember!) and that the club should have an official sponsoring organization. Ted approached Phil Ahrens, program director for the YMCA, and they agreed the club would be sponsored as a function of the YMCA program. The local branch of the AAUW was invited, to ensure female participation. Letters were mailed to 76 people inviting them to a preliminary meeting held on April 4th. 25 people attended, voted to organize, and the Trail Club was born.
Within a year of its founding in 1939, WTC affiliated with the Wilmington Ski Club. While the activities appear to have had a downhill focus, some pictures in the 1950 Yearbook show X-C skiing at Split Rock in the Poconos. The affiliation lasted into the 1950s, and the separation led to a focus on X-C, a type of skiing that is more consistent with hiking. By the early 1970s regular weekend trips that focused on X-C with some snowshoeing were being scheduled in north central Pennsylvania with a few excursions to western Maryland, and one to the Catskill Mountains of New York. Also in the nineties, week-long trips to Lake Placid, NY, and Val David, Canada, became regular features.
For the first hike, on April 8th 1939, participants were invited to meet in the rose garden near the Van Buren St Bridge. They hiked along the Brandywine and through Alapocas Woods to an outdoor fireplace near Rockwood Tower, where they were met by the Superintendent of Parks and his wife who provided coffee, hot dogs and doughnuts. In 2014, 75th anniversary celebrations included a re-creation of the first hike with participants in period dress; also re-creations of the first recorded bike ride that started out from Rockford Park, and the first paddling trip on Rancocas river.
Early in 1942 discussion began regarding the securing of a cabin for Trail Club use, but it was to be seven more years before this became a reality. In 1949 Woodlawn Trustees offered use of an existing cabin at Peter’s Rock and a decision was made to rent it as a base for weekend activities and trips along the Brandywine. Work quickly commenced on improvements – the addition of an outdoor grill, a casement window, an entrance platform, a spring box and pump to supply water, a privy, a fence to keep the cows out, and an adjacent volleyball court! The interior was cleaned and painted and the cabin was then ready for use by club members and their guests. However the initial enthusiasm quickly passed. A note in the Council minutes of October 1950 mentions a need to promote interest in more frequent use of the cabin, by means of scheduled events such as picnics. By 1953 maintenance work and costs had become problematic, and by 1956 lack of use and increased vandalism prompted the council to terminate the lease. Sometime later the cabin burned down but the chimney can still be seen among undergrowth on the bluff overlooking Peter’s Rock parking lot.
* Contact Person: Jan King *
The 2160-mile long trail is a National Park whose maintenance is contracted to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). WTC is one of 30 clubs that maintain the trail. Our section is the 7 miles between Delaware Water Gap and Fox Gap. Trail-work trips are scheduled as needed during the spring, summer and early fall, usually on weekdays.
————————————— The Wilmington Trail Club’s Section of the Appalachian Trail has a Shelter in Pennsylvania – A 2006 Open Letter! ———————————-
On Sunday, April 2, 2006, the construction phase of our new shelter was completed. The planning stage began almost one year ago, April, 2005. The actual construction took place over the weekends of March 18, 19; March 25, 26; and April 1,2. The construction was under the direction of Ed Twaddell, Ben Woodland, and Tom Wheatley. Many thanks to Tom for arranging to bring in his two co-workers from Gunton Corp. to construct the shelter. Ed, Ben and Tom provided tools, generator and compressor. We can’t thank Gunton Corp. and Ms. Gail Davis enough for their kindness and willingness to help erect our shelter.
We were very fortunate in having these volunteers join us on two Saturdays: Henry Chisholm, who coordinated the car pools and the good lunches; Bill Linn; Debra Palermo; Tom Bergan; Jerry Rensch; and Mark O’Neal. Jim Marsh joined us on two Sundays. Joan Burke, Tom Burke, and Jim Davis joined us for one day. These hard working WTC members were instrumental in making this project a success.
Financially, we want to thank Ms. Karen Lutz, Regional Director of ATC Mid-Atlantic for ensuring that we received our grant; to the WTC Council for allocating funds; and to the many WTC Members who graciously made donations. Thank you to everyone who helped finance the shelter construction.The 4th photo above, shows Bill Tinney, Mike Kintner and Henry Chisholm at rest in the ‘New’ Kirk Ridge Shelter.The ‘New’ Kirk Ridge Shelter is the most beautiful shelter on the entire Appalachian Trail. If you’re ever in the vicinity of Delaware Water Gap, please stop by and visit.
Finally, to my Co-ATC Supervisor, Bill Tinney. Bill has been there with me from the beginning. Without his planning, hard work, and dedication this entire project would not have happened. He is not only a valuable member of the WTC, but also a good friend who tries to keep me on the straight and narrow.
With warmest regards to all WTC Members, and, with a BIG “Thank You!”Mike Kintner,
Former Appalachian Trail Supervisor for the WTC
* Contact person: Tom Wheatley *
Before the end of the club’s first year, members decided to create a new trail following the course of the Brandywine River that would provide a link from Wilmington to the Horseshoe Trail, thence to the Appalachian Trail. Wartime gas shortages being in effect, the idea of having a trail that started close to downtown Wilmington and went out into the countryside was very attractive. Permission was obtained from landowners, and in 1941 work began on the first section, from the Henry Clay Bridge half a mile south of Hagley, to Thompson’s Bridge, and on to Chadd’s Ford. Several of the early landowners, including members of the DuPont family, became friends and honorary members of the club. By 1946 a route had been scouted to extend the trail to the Horseshoe Trail with all necessary permissions secured and by 1947 it was complete, 28 miles in length.
In 1943, Clayton Hoff, then chairman of the club Trails Committee, wrote a three-page report describing the historical and natural value of the area through which the trail passes. In some places it follows the route used by the Lenni-Lennapes; other sections pass through the remains of mills that used the power of the river for sawing wood or grinding flour. The lower section passed through Hagley with its “silent powder mills”. Old stone quarries could be seen, in use for more than two centuries. Natural beauty was enhanced by a wide variety of wildflowers including “the walking fern, maidenhair-spleenwort and numerous lichens and mosses”. Bird species include migrating warblers and residents such as mergansers, herons, ospreys and woodpeckers. Particular mention was made of the two-mile section north of Smith’s Bridge. Hoff proposed that use of the trail should promote education, and interest in conservation. He ended his piece with the question “Does the Brandywine Trail have a future?”
75 years later the trail is still in regular use and has survived development in the area which has necessitated some reroutes. Overall the length has increased – still 28 miles in 1966, but up to 36 miles by 1973. The Chester County Trail Club has been an enthusiastic partner in maintaining and, where possible, improving the trail north of Chadd’s Ford.
The first one-day hike of the entire trail was held on October 24th, 1949. Hikers carpooled and carried their own supplies. The “End-to-End” has been an annual event since 1965, now held on the second Saturday in April, and has evolved to a fully-supported hike with participants from all neighboring states. The trail is marked by white blazes but some sections are on private land and therefore not open to public use around the year.
The trail starts at the Horseshoe Trail (HST) near Ludwig’s Corner, Pennsylvania, and ends about 36 miles later in the Brandywine Creek State Park near Wilmington, Delaware. It wanders down the scenic Brandywine Creek Valley through parks, farms, pastures and woods, and along country roads. About 40% of the hike is on rural roads, including a few miles at the start and more around Lenape. The scenic sections where the trail closely follows the creek more than compensate for the road walking. WTC laid out the trail in the early 40’s. The original idea was to connect the HST with Wilmington – about 26 miles. People were using public transportation systems a lot during the wartime; if they wanted to go outside of Wilmington they would generally charter a bus to take them because many did not have enough gas coupons to allow them to drive to places as we do today. So the idea of having a trail that started close to downtown Wilmington and went out into the countryside and joined another nature trail was very attractive. They got to work and contacted a lot of private landowners along the way. They were aided in that effort by one of the Du Pont family members, who also encouraged them to use his boathouse on Brandywine Creek for activities. Over the years changes in the HST route and development have added 10 miles to the trail and now the Chester County Trail club maintains the northern section of the trail. WTC trail-work trips are scheduled as needed during the spring, summer and early fall, usually on weekdays.
* Contact person: Jim March *
The Horse-Shoe Trail (‘Horse’ for riders, ‘Shoe’ for hikers) lies in southeastern Pennsylvania, beginning at Valley Forge National Historical Park and ending some 140 miles to the west, where it meets the Appalachian Trail in the mountains north of Hershey. The history of the Trail is entwined with the development of the iron industry in this part of Pennsylvania during the 18th and 19th centuries. The many furnaces and forges were connected by trails, portions of which have survived to form the foundation of today’s Horse-Shoe Trail.
The trail is kept open on both public and private lands in Chester, Berks, Lancaster, Lebanon and Dauphin counties by agreements with landowners, who have given permission to hikers and equestrians to follow the portions of the Trail that fall on their properties.
The trail expanded and evolved over time and has been open to the public since 1935, providing outdoorsmen and women with the opportunity to explore the region’s lush rural landscapes and visit local landmarks, including Hopewell Furnace, French Creek State Park, Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area, Cornwall Iron Furnace, The Park at Governor Dick and Mt. Gretna.
We maintain a 6-mile section in Chester County between Warwick Park and just south of French Creek State Park. WTC trail-work trips are scheduled as needed during the spring, summer and early fall.
The Mason-Dixon Trail Trail System (MD-T) connects the Appalachian Trail with the Brandywine Trail. This 199 mile long trail starts at Whiskey Springs on the Appalachian Trail, in Cumberland County, PA and heads east towards the Susquehanna River, passing through Gifford Pinchot State Park en route. The trail then follows the west bank of the Susquehanna River south to Havre de Grace, MD. Across the river, the M-DT continues east, passes through Elk Neck State Forest, then on to Iron Hill Park, DE, north along the Christina River and White Clay Creek to the White Clay Creek Preserve. The trail then heads northeast to its eastern terminus at Chadds Ford, PA on the banks of the Brandywine River.
Commencing in 1975, WTC members, were instrumental in the creation of the Mason-Dixon Trail (initially called the Brandywine-Susquehanna Trail), which extends from Chadds Ford to the Appalachian Trail near Mount Holly Springs. Bob Yost, a chemical technician at the Getty Refinery in Delaware City obtained nearly $1000 from Getty to help with initial development. He had grown up on the west side of the Susquehanna and spent the summers of his teenage years making trails and camping along the banks of the Susquehanna. When he became a member of the WTC and acceded to the position of Trails Maintenance Chairperson, he hatched the idea of developing a trail that would connect the Horseshoe Trail at Ludwig’s Corner to the Appalachian Trail. The trail route ran concurrent to the Brandywine Trail until Chadds Ford, and in the 1980s it was decided to have the Mason-Dixon start at the point where the two diverge. There is a monument in Iron Hill State Park honoring Bob Yost for his work on founding the M-DT.
Members were involved in obtaining permission from landowners, blazing the trail route, and maintaining a 10 mile section from Newark to Elkton. Soon afterwards, the club agreed to swap this section for 20 miles of trail on the west bank of the Susquehanna River. By 1990 responsibility had been reduced to 10m from Havre de Grace to the Conowingo Dam and later was switched to 8m in Elk Neck State Park as this, being closer, would be a better location for a Sunday work hike. (~With thanks for this history from Rick Maerker of the Chester County Trail Club)
Check out this interesting MDT Newsletter Spring 1982 – Founder Bob Yost from 1982, who had the idea of one trail following and connecting the Brandywine and Susquehanna Rivers. This amazing and diverse 199 mile trail is enjoyed by many every day!
RECENT NOTE: WTC members have again adopted a section of this trail! Tim Brooks, Peggy Bell, Pam Floyd, Lanny Floyd, Ann Foster, John Foster, Terri Hamlon, and Mike Briscoe have performed very good work removing trash, cutting multi-flora rose, and reporting problems. Volunteers also built a new bridge over a deep ditch near Christina Mills Apartments and trail has been realigned in several places. Plans are being made to build another new bridge and move another bridge near the industrial park.
* Contact Person: Jim March *
Locally, WTC members help maintain trails in Brandywine Creek and White Clay Creek State Parks, and the White Clay Creek Preserve in cooperation with Friends groups and park volunteer coordinators.
* Contact person: April Schmitt *
WTC participates in this cleanup every spring. Gliding through rolling hills, farms and forests, large and small towns, the Brandywine, White Clay, and Red Clay Creeks, and Christina River constitute the watershed of the Christina River Basin, before continuing into the Delaware River. This watershed provides more than 75% of the water supply for residents and businesses in New Castle County, Delaware.
The Christina River Watershed Cleanup’s mission has always been the removal of man-made debris from within this beautiful watershed, while raising public awareness for pollution prevention. Removal of invasive plant species and the planting of native species are more recent activities.
Since the Cleanup began in 1992, more than 360 tons of tires, appliances, household items, and other trash have been cleared from within the watershed.
Please join hundreds of volunteers and help clean the single most important natural resource in our region! A solid effort is needed each year to keep each of these waterways as free from debris as possible while also improving wildlife habitat.