Since Debb Kyrsicki and I climbed to the top of the valley yesterday, walking from the family cemetery in Courtdale, and finding the bittersweet she was seeking, thought it timely to post an old article about climbing the mountain on the opposite side of the highway, from the Back Mountain trail. You can see the other side on either climb but the vegetation and much else is different.
Did see many of these lush, bursting Autum Olive shrubs yesterday.
By Bob Quarteroni
“Learn to appreciate what you have before time makes you appreciate what you had,” the Buddha said, perhaps thinking about that underappreciated asset right in our backyard, the Back Mountain Trail.
The 5.5 mile trail from Luzerne to Shavertown has been an unassuming neighborhood gem for so long that we forget just how marvelous it is, not just as a walking and biking trail but also as a splendid showcase for nature.
Perhaps because of its proximity to a highway – and the inevitable noise — many discount it as a natural setting worthy of enjoyment and exploration.
Which is a shame, since there is a lush natural cornucopia all along the trail and in its immediate vicinity.
At the well-loved waterfall itself, I found hobblebush, that wonderfully inventive shrub with huge flowers – that are in fact sterile, and exist simply to attract pollinators – within arm’s length of a beautiful snowball viburnum, as sweetly scented as any I’ve ever been lucky enough to run across.
A few steps further up were a bed of red trillium, those striking – if stinky – spring flowers, and on the very same rocks, some lovely columbines.
And as I climbed I passed early saxifrage, pussy toes, yarrow, Virginia bluebells, tumble mustard, the inevitable garlic mustard, dogwood, trout lily and much more. And all within 200 or so yards.
Along the hard-packed rock and cinder path itself the day I walked it were endless elderberries, small-leaved buttercup, dogwoods, bluets, blueberry bushes, blue-eyed grass, bluets and much more.
And if you’re so inclined, just about a quarter-mile from the waterfall is a switchback trail that will take you to the very top of the mountain, the valley wall itself, past the legendary “White Rock,” where many high school classes, including mine, marked our passage in paint. On the way were lovely stands of oriental bittersweet and sweet shrub.
At the top, past an old wooden bridge, improbably high up (but private, careful), are the upper reaches of Toby’s Creek, where native trout were darting around small pools while I was bathing my feet in the icy water and looking at the entire valley spread out before me.
The trail is also a birder’s delight. Scarlet tanagers, turkeys, hawks, towhees, vireos, nuthatches, various warblers and in what was a surprise to me, fish crows, are there for the curious to observe.
And wildlife abounds. I found fresh raccoon and opossum tracks, and foxes and skunks make themselves known. And that’s not all.
“I ride the trail to work and back daily from Shavertown,” said John Koch, Back Mountain Trail Council board member. “I have seen many deer — one ran alongside me once — and once followed a bear towards Luzerne — at a distance.”A far cry from its origins.
The Back Mountain Trail was originally built by lumber and ice king Albert Lewis 115 years ago. He sold his successful rail line to the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company. LVRR was abandoned in 1963. In 1996 the Anthracite Scenic Trails Association acquired the corridor for public use.
The trail keeps expanding: In 2014 the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation awarded a $130,000 grant for the design and construction of an extension from Overbrook Road to Dorchester Road and in 2016 Luzerne County Council awarded Anthracite Scenic Trails Association $2,500.
Eventually, 14 miles will be developed from Riverfront Park on the Susquehanna River in Wilkes-Barre to Harvey’s Lake.
The ASTA was founded by Judy Rimple in 1985. She started the project, she once said, “because there were no walking spaces in our communities.”
Parking and access, according to the Back Mountain Trail page on Wilkes University’s web site, can be found at the Knights of Columbus in Luzerne, Luzerne Bank parking lot, near DAMA sign on Route 309, Trucksville Fire Hall parking lot, Harris Hill Road near bridge, Shavertown at bank/pharmacy parking lot and East Franklin Street in Shavertown.
More information and a trail map can be found at http://course.wilkes.edu/bmt/.