The Lehigh Gap is the perfect example of the power of recovery. Decades of zinc smelting killed the forests on the mountainside, resulting in a depressing and desolate moonscape devoid of vegetation, inhabited by bare, sunbaked tree trunks. After years of rehabilitation efforts, the Lehigh Gap has found new life. Meadows and fields with grasses and wildflowers cover the mountainside as trees are sprouting on the ridge. Green now covers a land that was once a lifeless, rocky brown.
The venerable Appalachian Trail traverses this ridge and a plan is in place to re-route the trail to take advantage of the gap’s scenic beauty. In places, the trail had been moved away from its original route to make space for the rehabilitation efforts. The proposed route will offer non-stop views from ridge top meadows and outcrops; some areas even resemble an alpine environment. New switchbacks and rock steps will be built in the gap itself. This re-route will take several years to build, but it will be the scenic highlight of the AT in Pennsylvania.
I accompanied others to view some sections of this new route, and it was impressive. Views spread out in all directions from rock outcrops, boulder fields, and meadows. I could see the Pocono Plateau, all the way to the farmlands of the Lehigh Valley region. The views looked over the forested spine of Blue Mountain. Wildflowers dotted the ridges as pine saplings grew between the rocks. We had driven up to the ridge to see the new route, but I decided to return by hiking back down to my car in the gap. Ed joined me. The trail parsed a stunted forest, passing rocks and many views of the gap. I was surprised to see several old, gnarled healthy hemlocks growing in such dry, difficult conditions. The terrain became steeper and rockier as the gap opened before us with the Lehigh River flowing below. Much of the gap was cloaked in green. We reached a rock outcrop with an American flag painted in a permanent wave. A scramble followed, made more difficult since we were descending. A great view of a bridge crossing the Lehigh River was far below; it almost appeared as if it were directly beneath us. It felt as if we could tumble right onto it. Another scramble followed as we inched down the warm, exposed rock baking in the sun. The terrain eased as the trail returned to the forest. We passed someone who appeared to be a thru-hiker. He greeted us with a southern accent and said there was some trail magic below. Ed and I reached our cars. Despite the descent, I was tired from the heat.
Afterwards I stopped by the Lehigh Gap Nature Center. The center was closed, but I walked around to see all the wildflowers and a shed with a growing roof. It was a great place. The center maintains miles of trails that explore the diverse habitats of the gap, from ponds and the river, to meadows and savannas on the ridge with prairie grasses. Be sure to hike the North Trail with its meadows and non-stop views.
I last hiked here several years ago. I walked along the North and South Trails and was impressed by the incredible views from the meadows and glades and the rocky spine that resembled alpine. I thought to myself, why doesn’t the Appalachian Trail follow this? Now it looks that will be the case.
Information on the Lehigh Gap Nature Center.