The Keystone Trails Association (KTA) recently led its second hike along the Appalachian Trail (AT) in the Lehigh Gap. There are big plans for the AT in the Lehigh Gap. Several miles of the trail are proposed to be re-routed to take advantage of the gap’s superb views, and its impressive rehabilitation from a polluted moonscape to a beautiful nature preserve.
The Lehigh Gap illustrates nature’s ability to heal, with some help from mankind. What was once a desolate moonscape caused by pollution from zinc smelting is now becoming a diverse and scenic preserve with meadows of grasses and wildflowers. There are thirteen miles of trails that explore forests, savannahs, ponds, river, cliffs, and meadows.
The gap not only is a showcase of healing, but also local pride. What was once an eyesore is now an outdoor recreation destination where people hike, fish, kayak, and explore. Not only has nature returned to the gap, but also people.
The KTA is considering assuming maintenance of the AT through the gap since the former maintaining club can no longer care for the trail. It will take several years to complete the re-route, but it will be spectacular with non-stop views along mountaintop meadows and alpine-like ridgelines. This new section of the AT may be the most scenic in PA, and may have the most continuous, open trail of any place from Mt. Rogers in Virginia to the White Mountains. There’s no “green tunnel” here.
But you can hike there now, and you should. We did a loop with the AT and the North Trail. The North Trail is proposed to be the AT’s future route and it is spectacular with non-stop views from mountaintop meadows. We saw several other hikers on the trail, enjoying the scenery. The trail meandered under pine trees and across meadows as the Lehigh River flowed far below. It is also proposed the AT will follow the more rugged, but equally beautiful, South Trail.
As we finished the trail, a bald eagle flew overhead. Across the river on the other side of the gap, we saw hikers scrambling up the cliffs and ledges. The parking lot was full. Families were riding their bikes. The place was alive with people enjoying the outdoors.
The Lehigh Gap is a special place that everyone should take the time to experience. While we can always lament what has been lost to pollution, it is more productive to celebrate what can be created through hard work, patience, and imagination. The Lehigh Gap has been forever transformed, and its new life is just beginning.
More information on the Lehigh Gap Nature Center
If you want to help with the AT re-route project, contact KTA.