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Remember: The Lehigh Parkway: Complete Park Log

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Lehigh Parkway: Complete Park Log

Part One:

There are at least four entrances to the Parkway that I am aware of. It really is an expansive city park. My friend Abby agreed to join me for this excursion into the park. We agreed to meet at the bridge, which I took to mean the “main” entrance off of 15th street. She however meant this bridge:
As I was making my way down Lehigh Street to meet her where she was I had time to reflect on the Parkway’s size as I sat in the sea of traffic and red lights. Among city parks, LP is definitely unique not only in its size but in its use and functionality. Trexler Park is a walking, biking, and strolling kind of a place. It seemed designed to fit a certain “park” functionality much like Cedar Beach does. South Mountain is a destination kind of a place, sitting back behind the south side of Allentown, without the familiar paths or white bicycle lines.

The Parkway’s uniqueness is that it captures all of those aspects and at the same time has its own completely different vibe. The geological history on display at South Mountain is available for viewing at LP as well. The defined fitness paths that make up Trexler are easily walked through the Parkway as well. Even the more mountainous trails of South Mountain are echoed by some of the paths in the Parkway.

I began my walk heading left from Bogart’s Bridge. Spring was peaking and the light green leaves were darkening in preparation for the coming summer. The path here changes back and forth between the familiar paved trails aside open spaces and wooded trails that briefly allow the walker to feel as if they were in a deeper temperate deciduous forest. At all times, with every glance of the eye the bounty of nature is in explosion.

As Abby and I walked through what I am going to call the mid-loop (From Bogart’s Bridge to the newly redesigned pedestrian bridge and back), I was struck at the parks versatility. The ecosystems represented here are many and each is worth examination, study and reflection. Here, we walked barely 1/8 of the trails in the Parkway and I could easily spend the rest of the summer on this area alone.

It is truly beautiful in the Parkway. Not only with the wealth of nature but with the spirit of people. I encountered no unpleasantness on this journey and was greeted with a nod or quick hello by the folks that Abby and I walked by. There was no litter visible on the paths or in the wooded areas and the only vandalism was an obscene drawing on one of the planet walk placards on our path. That planet walk is really informative and is certainly a fun way for children (and even adults) to understand the great expanse of solar system our earth orbits in.

History is very present in the Parkway. Bogart’s covered bridge is the first glaring example I saw; as well as a spring house and an old cabin. I will be writing much more about the history of the Parkway in the next segment but I need to mention here that despite a trip to the historical library and excessive Google searching there aren’t a lot of resources to find out what exactly the history of the LP is.

Today was genuinely about taking a walk in the park and spending time with a friend away from the buzz of our society; which is a society that seems hell bent on furthering its distance from nature and plugging itself in more and more into a mechanical future.

It was wonderful to spend the afternoon in the Parkway with my friend and I am excited about upcoming journeys.

Part Two: Robin Hood

Visiting the Parkway today, I took what I am going to call the main loop of the park. We started at the main bridge by the old WPA staircase. Immediately at the parking lot are the remnants of what looks like an old spring house.

As we began to walk the gravel park path my friend Matt noticed this to the left of us:

There was no signage to indicate a trail but the path was pretty well manicured in most parts (a bit of last fall and some fallen trees make a few parts dicey) and a very enjoyable little hike.

The woodland trail ends near Earl’s Bridge.

It is also near what is left of an old boat launch. I have seen and walked on the stairs many times over the course of my life but I had no idea what they were (you can barely tell they are even there); until I read this post on Molovinsky’s blog. This boat launch has recently been cleared. Read about it here.

The Parkway runs its course in the deep shadow of Allentown’s history. During the sixties the Parkway (Robin Hood) was a hangout for hippies and featured concerts. I know Deep Purple played there.

Eventually, the crowds of people were banned and slowly over time the park was closed to automobile traffic. My dad used to drive through there all the time when I was a kid. Even farther back, a proposed railroad was to be built where the Parkway is. The last vestiges of this railroad are present in the lime kilns:

and in a disintegrating wooden bridge on one of the parks far edges, past Earl’s bridge. There were far more kilns at one time but they were dismantled and rebuilt as the regal stone staircase and wall by the main entrance of the Parkway as a WPA project in the 1930’s.

I spent a significant time doing research trying to glean some Parkway history out of a lot of books but until this afternoon I could find nothing. After what was my thousandth different worded Google search I stumbled across a railroad message board that the one and only Frank Whelan posted on in 2002. That information about the railroad is fully explained by him in this post.
It is a shame that the city has yet put some sort of signage around these Allentonian landmarks. They do have great signage for the fitness walk and for each activity:

I imagine that the majority of people my age and younger will never have a clue as to what most of these structures were or why they are in the park. For as great a park as the Parkway is, and it is a great park, it could really benefit from a greater historical perspective. I still have no idea what most of the spring edifices were and I can’t find much information out about Bogart’s Bridge.
The living history in the Parkway needs no markers. During my excursion today I was able to see hawks, blue jays, many assorted songbirds and a few floating mallards and their vibrant color and sound let me know exactly who they were. The May apples littering the wooded areas, the intoxicatingly sweet honeysuckle, and various early blooming wildflowers let me know they were there as well. Trying to take a picture of the main structure of the remaining lime kilns, a large garter snake was pointed out at my feet and he certainly made his presence known as I ran away, screaming. I didn’t think I was afraid of snakes but hearing my friend Matt yell “SNAKE!”, caused a pretty intense fear reaction…



Yellow Iris (Yellow Flag):

I hope that as plans for park revitalization and renovation move forward; that some forward thinking city official with a perspective of Allentown’s history moves to get some markers and preservation acts moving for the history that is being neglected in the Parkway.

Part Three:

On the third journey I took into the Parkway, I took a left turn at Bogart’s bridge and walked what I am going to call the east-loop. Each of the three sections of the Parkway that I journeyed through are very different from each other while remaining familiar enough to always remind you where you are.

A single kiln stood on this loop but the defining feature was the huge bridge about half way through.

The true constant throughout the park is the little Lehigh creek meandering its way eastward. Kayakers, fly-fisherman, kids searching for crayfish or a hot adult placing a foot in to cool off; the creek is the star of Lehigh Parkway. This creek is one of the cleanest in our area due to the natural riparian buffers that occur on its banks during its run from Topton to the Parkway.

The parks of Allentown are our escape, our recreation, and our playgrounds at any age. These are the places we come to relax, to forget, to find new space, to remember and reform our connection to the ecosystem and to discover ourselves in solitude. We take our families there for afternoons or evenings out, and together. Sometimes, for no other reason, we come just to go.
This city has seen its fair share of changes. The constant here is our parks, and Lehigh Parkway stands as proof of it. The haunted kilns, stone staircases, and steel disc golf holes stand as the varied reminders of where this city was and where it is going. The Parkway will always be and has always been a shining jewel in the crown of the Queen City.
I encourage all of you to visit the Parkway. Go alone. Take your significant other. Take your children. Go for a walk with your dog. Go for a bike ride. Just go. It is a wonderful place that can truly enrich and expand a different, greener perspective of Allentown and if nothing else will give you a place to go as a citizen that can make you truly proud of your city.

Part Four:

While I was writing Beyond Berg: Top 5 Allentown Parks, I realized that despite doing three separate parks logs in May on the Lehigh Parkway I had never done one for what I called Hike #2.

Just as I had written I began my walk at the Robin Hood Bridge and turned to the left.

There is a no-mow zone and Riparian Buffer area here that has been developed over the summer.

This path is nearly creekside for the majority of it and provides some spectacular views of the Little Lehigh Creek.

In the winter, this hill is one of the best sledding spots in Allentown:

Heading towards the new pedestrian bridge, with thunder in the distance

I recalled visiting here in June to discover piles of hail and a strangely winter-like scene. With that in mind, looking at the trees, things aren’t quite as green as they were a few weeks ago. Sunset is coming earlier every day.

When I began writing this blog, it was late spring. As I delved deeper into the Allentown park system and ultimately into many parks and nature reserves in the Valley, spring quickly became summer and with each subsequent posting you could see summer thicken, and explode into the deep green season that is now slowly waning.

Summer is passing and walking along the trail in the Parkway, I couldn’t help but crack a smile. For as grateful as I am to this particular summer for the wonderful experiences I have had; autumn is my favorite season and here in the Parkway I could almost sense it waiting, holding its breath, preparing to make its move.

Walking back towards Robin Hood, the trail is very different. Rows of trees frame the walkway as it snakes its way along the creek.

Everything is about to change. The long season of growth will end in a few weeks. You can tell its coming. The more time you spend outside the greater the little changes in the wildlife become apparent. Over the last few weeks more leaves have been scattered on pathways, more acorns have fallen. The slow crawl of autumn has begun.

Night was coming fast, but not as fast as the thunderstorm heading in my direction. As I completed my loop I took a long look at the swollen creek rushing under the open grate bridge. The brown water seemed to echo the feeling in the Parkway this evening.

There is still some life in summer, don’t worry. The thunderstorm that was about to soak the ground was a sure reminder of it. Leaving the park that night I must confess a slight sadness. For as much as I hate the heat of summer, for the first time in my life I will miss it when it passes. You see, these park logs have made me look at things in all kinds of different ways and here at the Parkway, I am grateful.
So much is out there, right here, in Allentown and in the Lehigh Valley. There is so much to see. If anything, my walk for this last park log was just a reminder of all the walks to come and how much I look forward to them. Savor the last of summer readers.

Just keep an eye out for autumn.

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Blogger michael molovinsky said...

wonderful post andrew. although there was no spring house by robin hood, there was a flat stone that hid that pipe coming from the stone spring cover.

kids would also sled down the hill by the stone and log house, which was actually steeper. years ago the city planted trees across the top preventing access from lehigh parkway south.

hopefully they will leave the hill from lehigh parkway north open space.

October 18, 2009 at 9:09 PM  
Blogger Andrew Kleiner said...

I think they should,Micheal and thank you.

October 18, 2009 at 9:12 PM  

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