Adventures in Beaver County

February’s unexpectedly mild weather inspired us to spend more time outdoors.  We shared a pleasant Saturday afternoon together exploring nearby Beaver County.

In Homewood, we stopped at the Buttermilk Falls Natural Area, a mere stone’s throw away from the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  Limited parking is available off Route 18 and additional parking can be found in the Homewood United Methodist Church parking lot. Although there are parking spaces to accommodate the handicapped, the natural area has extensive physical challenges, which include fallen trees and steep stairs.

Clark’s Run hosts a series of small cascading waterfalls.

 

The focal point of the natural area is a 35-foot waterfall known as Buttermilk Falls.

Although the walk from the parking lot to the falls is short, there are many sights to see.

In the 1800s and early 1900s, there were many heavy stone, bituminous coal and limestone quarries established along the Beaver and Connoquenessing Rivers. Homewood Sandstone, a hard gray stone useful in heavy-duty construction, was mined here at the Homewood Stone Quarry.

Homewood Sandstone is a key component of many bridges, tunnels, roadways and buildings, including Western Penitentiary in Pittsburgh.  The walls of the gorge exhibit evidence of the drilling that took place.

Work at the quarry ceased during the late 1870s, freeing the area to become a popular picnic spot.  Legend has it that a group of Civil War veterans named the waterfall after their favorite drink, buttermilk.

We seized the opportunity the warm weather provided and explored the waterfall in-depth.

Aside from a snow-laden rock and a few melting icicles, few traces of winter were present.

On a warm summer’s day, the pool of water beneath the falls appears to be an ideal place to splash around in, but caution should be taken to avoid the broken glass that circles the area.

  

A small cave lies to the right of the falls.

  

Above the falls, other relics of past are visible, including an old railroad bridge and remnants of the Harmony Short Line, a streetcar line that discontinued service in 1931.

In 1987, the Pennsylvania Geological Survey included Buttermilk Falls in its publication Outstanding Scenic Geological Features of Pennsylvania.

Sadly, the area fell into neglect after World War II and became a dumping ground for old tires.  When Beaver County purchased the land in 2000, it launched a massive clean-up effort.  It’s heartbreaking to discover the area is already filling back up with garbage.

A visit to Beaver Falls Natural Area is more of a short walk than a hike.  If you still have energy to expend, there are other parks nearby.  We made a a spur of the moment decision and visited Brady’s Run Park.  We chose this park because it is the largest park in Beaver County.  Covering almost 2,000-acres, it hosts a maze of complex and at times confusing trails.

Would you base your hike off a stranger’s advice?  As we were investigating the park map, we were approached by another couple finishing their hike.  While the woman was very enthusiastic, her companion was more reserved.  We got the impression that he was in the habit letting her do the talking!  I am usually leery of strangers, but she was eager to offer her opinions on the hiking trails to us first time visitors.  She thought we would enjoy the Brady’s Run North Trail, which she described as very steep.  After assuring us the views were worth the effort, we decided to follow her suggestion.  As she said, we’re young and in good shape, it should only take an hour or so…

It was a challenging climb!  Hikers can expect to feel short of breath!

Yes, the trail had pretty views, but was it worth the effort?

Although I wasn’t overly impressed by the trail, it was unique.  You can hear the horse whinnies echoing up from the equestrian arena.

The trail is a mix of deciduous trees and hemlocks.

  

   

It was beginning to seem like the trail would never end.  We were nearly out of daylight and I was running low on motivation.  We had been hiking for over an hour.

After 2 miles, the trail crosses Achortown Road.  Confusion mounts as the terrain shifts and descends into the gorge.  Rather than heading back to our car, it appeared we were venturing even deeper into the forest.  We decided to call it a day and follow Achortown Road back.  It was less than a mile to our car.

Although we saw some spectacular rock formations, it was deplorable to see the garbage people tossed out their windows with such casual abandon.

Sometimes it can be exhilarating to be so spontaneous, but not this time!  Had we continued on the same trail, it would have ended after another mile at Brady’s Run Lake. At this point, there is the option of turning around and hiking another 3 miles back or taking the 2.5 mile Brady’s Run South Trail.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer to know when I’m headed into a 6-mile hike.  I don’t believe we’ll be likely to follow a stranger’s advice any time soon!

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