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Pathways students climb Thousand Steps

by Staff

Four students from Pathways Hybrid-Learning School of East Earl climbed the Thousand Steps. Left to right are Caleb Myers, Marcus Zook, trip leader Bob Wenger, Morgan Zimmerman and Nate Crocker. Missing from the photo are Eli Zook and co-leader Henry Zook. (Photo courtesy of Pathways Hybrid-Learning School)

Four students from Pathways Hybrid-Learning School of East Earl completed a winter backpacking hike Feb. 9-10, climbing the Thousand Steps used by workers during the 1930s and 1940s to access the stone quarries.

After climbing the Thousand Steps, participants Caleb Myers, Marcus Zook, Morgan Zimmerman, Nate Crocker, Eli Zook, co-leader Henry Zook and trip leader Bob Wenger continued to their destination of Shorbs Summit campsite at an elevation of 2,273.

“This is not a club or special group. This is part of the school’s philosophy to enjoy God’s creation, no matter what time of year it is,” Wenger, a volunteer at Pathways, explained.

Pathways students hail from Terre Hill, Mohnton, Honey Brook, Myerstown, Denver, Ephrata, Bowmansville and Morgantown. Ninth through twelfth graders, ranging in age from 14 to 17, all had the opportunity to participate in the trip.

To participate in the hiking adventure, they had to answer questions in an essay format.

“I had previously taken winter backpacking trips and (knew) taking a backpacking trip with senior high students at this time of year would be a challenge,” said Wenger. “I collaborated with the teachers to challenge the students to answer questions about doing the trip by writing the answers in an essay format. A well-written essay was their ticket to participate.”

In addition to answering questions in an essay, the goal of this trip was to surprise the students; they didn’t know where they were going until the group arrived at the trailhead of the Thousand Steps.

“It was a challenge to hike up the 1,000 steps with full packs,” said Wenger. “As we were taking a break after climbing and hiking the steps, a couple asked me if the guys actually climbed up the steps with full packs. They were impressed.”

Wenger said the start of the hike was a challenge for the students to carry full packs since they had to climb 1,137 steps.

“There is also history to why the 1,000 steps, which were built for the quarry workers to go up the mountain to the rock quarries,” Wenger said.

According to Pahikes.com, The Standing Stone Trail — called the Thousand Steps because of the thousand-plus stone steps placed into the mountainside — extends from Greenwood Furnace State Park in Huntingdon County to Cowans Gap State Park in Fulton County. Formerly known as the Link Trail, the trail travels across the tops of Stone and Jacks Mountain, through state parks, forests and game lands, connecting the Tuscarora Trail to the Mid State Trail.

Known as the “Silica Brick Capital of the World” because of the bricks made from the abundant Tuscarora sandstone, miles of railroad track were used to bring silica down from the mountainside quarries and the workers would ride along up on the trains. As trucks replaced trains, workers had to make the climb instead of riding the trains to the quarries. In 1936 a flood wiped out the bridge across the river to Mount Union and the brick factories, idling the workers. As the bridge was being replaced, workers built steps into the mountainside to make the climb up and back easier. Thus the Thousand Steps were formed, according to the Pahikes website.

What Wenger hopes the group of four students gained from this experience is having patience with each other going up the steps and experiencing being in the woods during winter time. He noted that the weather did not cooperate due to the warm weather.

“My goal was to make it to the top at Shorbs Summit campsite. Two of the hikers had issues going up the steps,” said Wenger. “I actually thought I was going to have to take one of the guys back home since he wasn’t doing well, but after taking a number of breaks and refilling with water and granola bars he slowly got better and made it to the top of the steps.”

The group reached the Shorbs Summit campsite before dark.

“The night sky stars were a sight to see at the campsite,” he said.

Highlights of the trip included seeing everyone work together getting a campfire started and helping each other set up tents and hammocks, as well as hiking together as a group as no one was left behind, said Wenger.

“The guys did an overall great job on the trip, especially the two guys that had problems going up the steps but kept going,” said Wenger. “The guys had a great time Saturday morning as they had 5.5 miles of going mostly downhill instead of the day before it was going uphill.”

Pathways is a micro-hybrid educational alternative — a cross between homeschool and school — that uses project-based learning with an emphasis on environmental stewardship and living history.

For more about Pathways Hybrid-Learning School, visit  learningatpathways.org or call Wanda Swarr at 717-715-9953.

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