Maryland Outdoor Club
Sun, Nov 5 2006 - Moderate Hike at Kings Gap SP (View Original Event Details)

Event Organizer(s): John Fogle
Participants:John Fogle, Cynthia Hildenbrand, Chuck Hildenbrand, Amy Pickwick, Cindy Stone, Beverly Hoeftman, John Putman, Kimberly Hengbuoy, Ian Wright, Leo Seung, Amy Hatfield, John Meagher, Bryan Gaines, Sara DiVall, michael thomey, Maria Maranto Dickey, Aimee Morris

Write Up:
Our day got off to an early start as 14 MOCers met for breakfast at Thurmont’s Mountain Gate Restaurant. Most of us had already traveled a substantial distance that morning in order to reach Thurmont by 8:30 AM.

Mountain Gate had our table reserved and promptly seated us. Among the first things to catch our collective eye were the strongly religious-themed placemats arranged at each table setting. Perhaps this is merely a Sunday custom at Mountain Gate, but in any event it was certainly one of those “Toto, we’re not in Fells Point anymore” moments. Most of us partook of the $6.75 breakfast buffet, and as we ate it became clear this was a very popular weekend eating spot amongst the locals. By the time we finished around 9:30 the large dining room was near capacity. Rural hotspot though it may be, Mountain Gate’s food was unspectacular. But it did the job of getting us fueled up for the day’s activity.

Before departing Thurmont we were joined by an additional MOCer, and so 15 of us struck north into Pennsylvania. Following about an hour of driving through the pastoral hinterlands of south-central PA, we arrived at the Pine Plantation Area of Kings Gap Environmental Education Center. Here we were joined by two additional participants, making our magic number 17. Shortly after our arrival, three Amish, or more likely Mennonite, horse-drawn buggies made their way into the park. The sound of a dozen hooves on blacktop stood in stark, though not unappealing, contrast to the otherwise quiet pine forest. Apparently these folks were looking to enjoy some post-church Sunday recreation of their own. Meanwhile we busied ourselves with restroom pit stops and a brief hike overview (with yours truly almost but not quite forgetting group introductions!), and set off through the pines on the first leg of our trek.

Kings Gap, for all intents and purposes a state park, lies at the far northern edge of Pennsylvania’s vast Michaux State Forest. A century ago this land was owned by James M. Cameron, member of a prominent Pennsylvania political family. In 1908 he built a large 32 room stone mansion on top of South Mountain at the park’s center. Ownership changed hands as the decades passed and in the 1970’s the land was acquired by the State of Pennsylvania. Today the mansion serves as a state environmental education center and the surrounding land has become a fine park in addition to supporting the environmental education role.

We had planned on having our lunch at the mansion grounds, but first there was the little matter of hiking several miles to get there. The trail wound up and then down, taking us alongside a small stream and then all the way to the border between state park and state forest before doubling back. Eventually we hit upon a section of the route named the “Scenic Vista Trail”. As this portion would have a noticeable elevation gain, we took a break before starting it. Ian used the opportunity to offer up some of his secret recipe cinnamon-coated almonds. The secret, he told us, was not to incinerate the almonds during preparation. They were good, whatever tribulations had been endured bringing the recipe to fruition.

Hardly had we begun the Scenic Vista portion when there was a rustling of leaves, and then several shouts from the group. Leo had inadvertently stepped on, or very nearly on, a snake that had decided November was just too early for hibernation. None of us in the front of the pack had even seen the snake until this happened. It darted off the trail, but then half-turned and made ready as if to challenge us. Several MOCers pressed forward to get a glimpse, but were careful not to get TOO close. The smallish snake’s markings were rather striking and there was no consensus about the exact species. After a minute or two we continued on and left the snake to go about its business.

The Scenic Vista trail snaked, er, wound its way upward and we all got at l

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