A Walk On The L & NE Trail At The Lehigh Gap In Carbon And Lehigh Counties.

A Walk On The L & NE Trail At The Lehigh Gap In Carbon And Lehigh Counties.

Lehigh Gap (36 of 48)
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It has been awhile since I hiked along the Lehigh River, another one  of our scenic and historic rivers  here in Northeastern Pennsylvania.  So on Sunday I drove  from my home in Luzerne County to the D. & L. Trail along Riverview Road in Bowmanstown in Carbon County. Instead of hiking  the D.  & L. trail along the Lehigh River I decided to hike on the Lehigh and New England Trail (L & NE Trail) located in the Lehigh Gap Nature Center.  This non-profit conservation organization maintains a 756 acre wildlife refuge at the foot of the Kittatinny  Ridge ( also know as the “Blue Mountain”  in these parts).

The L. & NE. Trail is  another abandoned railroad right-of-way and, is  located above, and runs parallel with,  the more famous D & L. Trail. To access the trail  I had to hike a short distance on  the D. & L. Trail,

and then follow the Three -Pond Trail through a wetlands and up the ridge to the L & NE Trail.

It was cold and overcast on Sunday morning so I didn’t expect to see much bird or wildlife activity on my hike through the wetlands and pond.    So  I was surprised to hear and see a small flock of blue gray gnatcatchers in the wetlands.

a few chipping sparrows,

a swamp sparrow,

a downy woodpecker

and a lot of red-winged blackbirds, the males singing in the tree tops and

the females closer to the ground.

I also heard some American  goldfinches, a warbling vireo and hairy woodpeckers but didn’t see them. A muskrat swam across one of the ponds and  I saw a few Canada geese too. 

As I walked along the trail I also noticed some signs of  Spring. The sassafras trees were budding,

as were the high bush blueberry bushes,

and there were skunk cabbages all along the muddy trail.

The trail took me past the ponds,

and up the Kittatinny Ridge,

where I came to the L & NE Trail. This flat trail was once the Lehigh and New England railroad right of way and was one of the three railroads that traveled through the Lehigh Gap.  It spanned the Lehigh River over a bridge built in 1911.

The trail is well maintained and as it follows the path of the D & L trail about 120 feet below.

The first thing I noticed on the trail were the large patches of native bleeding heart flowers,

I would see them all along this trail and along the D & L trail on my return hike. I was told by an expert local naturalist and mushroom forager that this is the largest colony of these beautiful native flowers in the State.

As the trail continued along  the ridge one could see the Lehigh River below and Broad Mountain to the north and west.

Most of the trees along the trail were still leafless but the sassafras trees and some other trees including


and stripped maple trees  had leaves,  adding some green color starting to appear  along the trail.

There were a few birds in the trees along the trail including eastern bluebirds,

field sparrows,

this hermit thrush and

a lot of tree swallows flying below, this one landing in a tree for a few minutes, just long enough for me to get a photos.

The trail follows the ridge  below a hillside that was devastated by zinc, lead and cadmium pollution from the New Jersey Zinc Plant   that operated in Palmerton from 1898 until  1980.  Local environmentalists created the Lehigh Gap Nature Center  and planted native grasses to bring the barren hillside of the Kittatinny or Blue Mountain back to life.  Some professionals doubted it could be down , but the efforts worked, and quickly. The beautiful mountain is green again. Trees now are growing along the ridge and wildlife has returned, It is an amazing story of what dedicated people can do to restore and protect our environment. 

There are two trails in the grasslands, the Charcoal Trail and Prairie Grass Trail which can be access from the L & NE Trail.

Soon after walking past the access to these two trails  I saw the famous  Marshall house on a hill overlooking Palmerton. There is a lot of history to this hme built be a Civil War general in 1881. I have written about this house on the hill in previous blogs . ( which you can find using the search tool).

As the trail approached the  Lehigh Gap it narrowed and  became rocky. It is hard to believe  railroad tracks and trains  once  traveled over the trail.  Erosion  over the  years has almost  washed away the original right of way.

The railroad right of way  continued on a bridge that spanned the Lehigh River below. The bridge is gone but the supports still remain. There was once an overlook here but it is closed for repairs, I am guessing from the continuing erosion.

There is still a view of the Lehigh River below as it flows through the famous gap with so much history.  Native American passed through the gap on their way to the Susquehanna River further north.   Moravian missionaries and then settlors followed. A young Benjamin Franklin walked through the gap while a member of the Pennsylvania militia to establish a fort the was named after him.

The trail then descends the ridge on a rocky path, and ends at the D & L  Trail near the Osprey House  visitor center of the Lehigh Gap Nature Center. There is a pond and garden here and it is a great place to learn about the  history and nature of the Lehigh Gap. 

I began my 3 mile hike back to my Jeep on the D & L Trail.

The D & L Trail  follows another abandoned railroad right of way along the Lehigh River.    The skies were still  overcast, but  it was nice walking for a hike along the Lehigh River.  I often seen common mergansers and other water fowl swimming on the river. I didn’t see any on this hike but there were a lot of fishermen along the river  banks  and on small boats on the river.

A short distance from the visitor center there was a beautiful mural painted on one of the foundations for the bridge that once spanned the Lehigh River.  It included both eastern bluebirds and bleeding hearts which I had seen on my hike.

There many large sassafras trees along the trail,  with there yellow buds

and the bleeding hearts,  common violets,

and garlic mustard  were growing all along the trail.

There were a few eastern bluebirds and

black-capped chickadees in the woodlands along the river but otherwise it was quite on my walk,

until I heard the calls of and osprey and saw this one perched on a tree branch  eating a fish it mush have just caught in the river.

I watched it as it watched me.  I was hoping it would fly off, allowing me to get some photos, but after about a 15 minute wait I realized it wasn’t going anywhere so I continued on my hike.

I encountered a lot of hikers and bikers on my hike, including a few families. I  am always glad to see children on the trails enjoying the beauty of our woodlands..

I walked past many of the small streams, some with small waterfalls cascading down the steep hill above the trail.

When I  hiked back to  to the Three Pond Trail I decided to walk back into the wetlands, since I had seen a lot of bird activity earlier. Once again I saw the blue gray gnatcatchers, and red winged blackbirds, and  another downy woodpeckers,

and it’s larger cousin a hairy woodpecker,

a few American goldfinches, and

mourning doves.   Here is a link to a gallery with some more photos of the birds I saw on my 7 mile hike in the Lehigh Gap.  Lehigh and New England Trail birds April 21 2024.

I finished my hike under the still cloudy skies. It seems the trail gets steeper and longer every year, but it was still only a pleasant  7.1 mile hike. 

I always  enjoy my hikes and sharing the beauty I find. But this one is a little more special since I remember the brown wastelands  on the Kittatinny Ridge when we would drive past on our way to Phillies games in Philadelphia.   What a difference the efforts of a few dedicated individuals with a vision can make, with the help of many dedicated volunteers. It was a co-incidence or was it? that the next day was Earth Day.  We all must realize we live on a fragile planet and we must all work together to protect it. Here is a link to a gallery with some more photos from my 7 mile hike in the Lehigh Gap.  Lehigh and New England Trail  April 21 2024.

“Preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” — Carl Sagan

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