Last week I wrote about some new hiking trails that have opened up around the Mercer County Gardner Center off I-77 Exit 14. I had walked with County Commissioner Bill Archer to the old poor farm cemetery near the old Forestry Lab building, but hadn’t visited the new trails. It was sunny on Sunday, so I took the opportunity to hike them.
I was told the trails ranged from easy to moderate, and I can vouch that’s true. They are easy compared to some of the trails I’ve hiked at Camp Creek State Park, Glenwood Park, and Pinnacle Rock State Park. All of the elevation up and down the Gardner Center trails are pretty moderate.
Years ago, Forest Lab staff laid out trails behind the property. Local stones that have become mossy over time line the trails so they are easy to follow. I decided to start my hike by heading to the Poor Farm Cemetery. Benches have been placed there, so it’s a good place to take a break if you need to.
Most of the gravel is unmarked, but I spotted two gravestones. One is for Joe Popp, October 18, 1888 to October 1, 1944. Born in Hungary. Another marks the grave of Dominick Mosalinski, 1891 – 1947. Volunteers have done a lot of work cleaning up the cemetery.
Many trails are quite narrow, but you can enjoy beautiful scenery. Many trails are flanked by sandstone rock formations that resemble the ruins of prehistoric monuments and fortresses. Rhododendrons grow everywhere, and sometimes they take over trails and combine with rock formations and boulders to create what looks like the jungle from an Indiana Jones movie.
I located a particular rock that photographer Jessica Nuzzo found while she was getting some art for my story. A tree next to this rock draped roots over it, and bright green moss grew on both the rock and the roots. The suit looks like a tarantula coming out of its burrow, so I nicknamed it Spider Rock.
Then I reached a narrow bridge that takes you over a stream and deeper into the woods. The stones lining the trail came to a stop, but I could still see a trail quite clearly and continued. I quickly reached a fence and could see a roof just beyond a climb, but the trail stopped and I decided it would be best to backtrack. Turning around in the forest is too easy, so I stick to the trails.
Retracing my steps, I finally came to a picnic area with four large benches, a stone fire pit, and a picnic table. I rested for a few minutes and hiked another short branch of trail before heading back to my car. Near the Poor Farm Trail entrance, I met a couple who were about my age and a teenager.
They told me that they had lived near the Gardner Center for years, but had never heard of the trails or the Poor Farm Cemetery. A friend of theirs had told them about the opening of the center’s trail system, and they guessed she had read my story. I assured them that the hike to the cemetery was easy and they talked about bringing one of their older relatives there for a visit; they particularly enjoyed hearing about the benches in the cemetery.
I enjoyed this hike and plan to go back one day. Occasionally I could hear traffic passing nearby, but otherwise the forest was a peaceful place, far removed from the screaming cell phones and rumbling motors. and I know that I will see things that I missed the first time. There are always new things to see when you learn to stray off a new trail.
Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter. Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org