Homeschooling not going well? Take the class to Shenks Ferry for wildflowers

bug on flower

In a recent website entry, a mother was explaining that her family’s homeschooling, necessary because of the coronavirus lockdown, is not going well. “One student has been expelled and two others have been suspended.”

We’re assuming it’s a joke.

breeches verticalIt’s been only a week, and the walls are quickly closing in on you? Move the class outdoors, where families can get away and enjoy each other’s company.

The Lancaster Conservancy’s Shenks Ferry Wildflower Preserve is ready to explode with color. As of Friday, the usual blue blanket of Virginia Bluebells is still napping, but are ready to pop. May apples are poking their heads out.

But Dutchman’s breeches and spring beauties are out in force, to be joined soon by trilliums, trout lilies, and others.

The preserve is about 30 miles from downtown York, and because it’s tucked in the woods south of Safe Harbor, it’s not the easiest to find.  The Waze app found it easily at 690 Green Hill Road, Conestoga. Once you leave the paved road, be careful. Plenty of cars have bottomed out on drainage ‘bumps’. Turn lights on through the tunnel.

Regulars who visit the Ferry every spring will notice a few changes in the site. The dirt road once took visitors to what was a small parking lot. “In a recent effort to deter off-road vehicles who were illegally causing damage to the road and preserve, Conestoga Township has installed a gate where Green Hill Road turns left at the train tracks… Due to efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, there will be no port-a-john available to visitors this wildflower season.” From the website.

beeFrom that enlarged parking lot, visitors now walk about 1,200 feet from their cars to the walking trail, and then 1.7 miles on the trail itself. Even the walk to the trail is pretty, stuck between the river and railroad tracks, and a high ridge. On the ridge bank now are thousands of Dutchman’s Breeches.

Two power lines cross the trail and two creeks flow into Grubb Run, which the trail parallels. Enjoy the cooling creek water in the tunnel; the creek is shallow, making for kids’ fun and leads visitors back to the entrance road.

Or, cutting off the main trail is what the preserve map calls ‘municipal hiking trail’, and that leads to the Enola Low Grade Trail. Visitors can use this trail to circle back to the parking lot instead of backtracking the entire way. Annotation 2020-03-21 173726

The total trail length is a fragmented 28 miles long but the section that passes Shenks Ferry is 5.5 miles. The trail is expected to be completed in 2022 when bridges will be built/repaired to allow bike traffic.

Nearby is the site of a 1906 dynamite explosion that killed 11 men. The dynamite was being used to build dams along the Susquehanna River. There are stone foundations of a few buildings hidden in the woods.

In just 92 acres of woodland, visitors can quietly wander in search of wildflowers, dip their toes in a creek, explore a tunnel, ride bikes, or search for what remains of a dynamite factory.

That should keep the family busy for a while.

closeup bells


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