The Enola Low Grade Rail Trail in Manor Township is one of my favorite destinations. For now, it dead ends in Safe Harbor. The first time I pulled my bicycle up to the fence that blocks access to the Safe Harbor Trestle Bridge, I remember saying, “I wonder what’s on the other side?”
The Atglen and Susquehanna Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad was built between 1902 and 1906. Its purpose was to ease congestion on the Philadelphia main line to Harrisburg and connect to the Columbia & Port Deposit line. It was also used for freight traffic that was hampered by much steeper grades on the main line, which is how it became known as the “Low Grade.” However, it did require some feats of engineering that involved the construction of two large trestle bridges. The Safe Harbor Trestle, which is approximately a mile long, carried trains over the Conestoga River, while the shorter Martic Forge Trestle, which connects Martic and Conestoga townships, carried rail traffic over the Pequea Creek.
These two trestles have posed the biggest challenges to overcome since the Enola Low Grade Rail Trail’s inception in 1989. Fortunately, those challenges are being met by the townships involved. Last fall, the Martic Forge Viaduct, which is pictured, opened to the public. The other good news is that Phase 2 (of 3) of the Safe Harbor Trestle project got underway in April.
I recall exploring the Martic Forge area when I was younger. The towering, rust-colored steel structure always had a looming presence and mystique. Now it boasts a new wooden deck that provides trail users with a gorgeous view of the valley below. It is also designed with little ones in mind to ease concerns for parents and grandparents.
Let’s get back to my question of what awaits you south of the Safe Harbor Trestle. With access points in Conestoga, Martic and Providence townships and beyond, the 23-mile section from Safe Harbor to Atglen is host to wonderful sights such as Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve. The finely crushed gravel trail makes its way through heavily wooded areas, making for a very enjoyable hike or bike ride on the way to Providence Township and Quarryville Borough, where more than 8 miles of the trail have been paved (and is excellent for bike riders, persons living with disabilities or parents with strollers).
Work continues on the area between Quarryville and Atglen, so access is limited in places to foot traffic and mountain bikes due to the coarse gravel. As these sections cross their final hurdles to completion, they will provide a beautiful and unmatched passageway through lush Lancaster County farmland. This section will even utilize the beautifully crafted stone arch bridges that dot southern Lancaster County.
A final note: You can also show your support for the project by patronizing local small businesses that are near the trail.
For information on access points, news and how you can volunteer, visit enolalowgradetrail.com. Feel free to stop by Lancaster County magazine’s Facebook page and post your photos from the trail.