Wilderness is for wandering

Several years ago, when I was still a daily news reporter, I covered an event in which three busloads of youngsters from inner-city Philadelphia arrived to visit a potato chip factory. It was the first time most of them had been out of the city.

“We saw cows!” several of them reported excitedly.

Making potato chips was interesting because they were eager to eat the snacks, but the real excitement was what they saw as they drove past the fields. The sheer size of the animals was more than most of those kids had ever seen except on TV.

“Where does milk come from?” I asked in response to their enthusiasm.

“Mom buys it at the grocery store,” came the almost uniform reply.

One can never love something one has never experienced. Science taught in school is little more than a bunch of facts. Scientists tell us the planet is warming, but for most of us the practical knowledge is our grandparents telling us how winter used to be. Never having swam in a wild creek, we believe the only safe water is in a concrete swimming hole or a plastic bottle.

Like those inner-city kids who had never seen a live cow, those of us who have never walked in the woods among a multitude of trees, flowers, butterflies and birds can never fully understand the connections among the community that lives there – from trees to humans.

The pandemic revealed a multitude of studies about the mental health benefits of “getting into Nature.” It works for me.

I am officially retired, so not restricted to recreation after 6 p.m. I am able to fill the Outback’s gas tank frequently enough to get me to where I can wander among the trees of the state forest.

If I were a kid in Littlestown, it would be a 20-mile drive – after at least one parent gets home from work. That 20-mile drive passes hundreds of acres of open land – nearly all privately owned and closed to my young legs and curiosity. What we need are some public trails into the woods, close enough that our community offspring can visit them.

Such a trail is on the drawing board in Franklin Township – a three-mile hike on private land between The Round Barn and Boyer Nurseries and Orchards. According to Emma Fleming, a fifth-generation member of the Boyer operation, the trail, planned to start construction next year, will invite the public, without charge, to partake of all the benefits of a walk over the hill and through the woods.

“It will just give them more of a connection to the land,” she told me recently as we sat on the porch of the nursery’s wine tasting facility. “I think that … the more people are informed, the more loyalty (and) respect they have for a place.”

Fleming said the idea began in the mind of Conservation Coordinator Sarah Kipp, of the Land Conservancy of Adams County. Kipp enjoyed similar public trails during a trip to France

“There’s trails everywhere in France,” Fleming recalled Kipp’s description. “You can just hop on a trail and just go.”

As currently planned, the trail would feature explanatory markers drawing visitors’ attention to features along the way.

“This is America. We don’t share land here,” Montana Ranch Owner John Dutton, portrayed by Kevin Costner in the TV series “Yellowstone,” told some tourists he found in one of his pastures.

But we do share the land – with a wide assortment of creatures. The trail being planned in the hills of Franklin Township will encourage introductions to the land and its inhabitants.

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