Explore mysteries along the Schuylkill River Trail with a do-it-yourself cycling tour
Giving Tuesday is a global day of generosity that will take place on December 1, 2020. Please show your support of the Schuylkill River Trail with this special fall ride.
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The 2020 Ride for the River is a Do-It-Yourself cycling tour ride on the Schuylkill River Trail between Pottstown and Birdsboro. You can do the full ride (17.5 miles round trip) OR pick a section to ride.
SHARE YOUR EXPERIENCE: Take photos while doing the tour and use #Ride4River when posting on social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
CYCLING TOUR: The ride route has tour stops as posted signage. Learn about interesting areas along the trail such as mysteries, bridges and historical sites. This is the free online version of the trip guide with the route, tour stops and other helpful information.
TRAIL ROUTE & SURFACE: The route begins with a paved section at Pottstown Riverfront Park. After crossing into Berks County, the trail becomes crushed stone. Most of the ride is flat with a couple hills at road crossings. There will also be an additional hill climb along the Big Woods Trail that is completely optional.
Sly Fox Brewing Company donates funds toward the Safe Crossings Program. The program adds signs and improves road markings at intersections where the Schuylkill River Trail crosses major roadways.
Information about each tour stop such as interesting facts, photos and maps are listed below.
Participants can click the text below to download a copy to print or view at their convenience.
Who dumped the concrete here?
SRG Offices at 140 College Drive are shown as a Gas House on the 1877 Montgomery County atlas. Prior to Pottstown's purchase, It was owned by the Philadelphia Electric Company who would periodically alter the building to suit the needs. Since there were no other recorded uses of the property, the concrete was most likely dumped there when the Gas Works was reconditioned.
Why are industrial remnants by the river?
This is one of many industrial remnants found along Pottstown's riverbanks. During its days as an industrial powerhouse, Bethlehem Steel, forges, furnaces, and Firestone called the Borough home.
When was the park installed?
The park was established in the 2000s from a reclaimed riparian, or river bank, industrial site. The green pavilion was added in 2006. The newest pavilion was added in 2018.
What is this mound?
The mound is actually a berm surrounding a lagoon which impounds runoff from what was at one time a hub of heavy industry bordered by the Reading RR (now Norfolk Southern) and the Pennsylvania RR (now the SRT) railroads from Riverfront Park in Pottstown to Grosstown Road in Stowe.
What happened here?
The site supported a 19th and 20th century maze of industrial railway trackage serving numerous iron and steel works, foundries, casting and milling facilities, and other heavy industries.
What is a "brownfield"?
A brownfield is a property in which the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse may be complicated by the presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. It is estimated that there are more than 450,000 brownfields in the U.S.
How did this site become a brownfield?
Coal and raw materials were brought in and stored. Ash and slag sediment (byproduct of burning coal) were disposed of here over many decades. The soil and groundwater were left significantly contaminated. Former industrial sites such as this, which communities hope to redevelop, are called "brownfields".
Why are there two railroads?
In response to the Reading Railroad's incursions into New Jersey, the Pennsylvania Railroad attempted to bankrupt the Reading Railroad by competing with its Schuylkill Valley main line for coal transport.
Why does the road end at the railroad?
The dead end Reading Philadelphia Pike was the original route between the two cities. Since other routes replaced this road, it was agreed that the Pike could be abandoned when the railroads were built.
If the road was abandoned, why were the bridges built?
A condition of the abandonment underpass access from Douglassville was to be provided to the nearby freight station and the Pennsylvania railroad station at the corner of Pike and Britton St from Douglassville.
What is this mound?
The mound with the "No Trespassing" signs is where treated contaminated soils were placed, then lime-stabilized, and capped. The short vertical pipes you may see poking from the ground are the tops of monitoring wells to measure leached groundwater contaminants. More wells are located in the woods and field across the trail to assess possible contaminant flow into the river.
What industry was here?
The 52-acre Douglassville Disposal Superfund site operated as a waste oil recycling facility by Berks Associates, Inc. and was active from 1941 to 1986. This site included processing facilities, waste oil storage lagoons, storage tanks, sludge disposal areas, land farming areas, and other waste disposal areas. Site operators stored waste oil sludge in drums and lagoons, on either side of what is now the Schuylkill River Trail.
How did this become a superfund site?
During floods in 1970 and 1972 (June 1972 – Hurricane Agnes), millions of gallons of waste oil sludge from the lagoons washed into the adjacent Schuylkill River. The flood events, as well as waste disposal activities and operations at the site, contaminated soil, sediment, and groundwater.
The Douglassville Disposal site was assigned to the National Priorities List of the EPA's Superfund program in 1983.The site continues to be subject to ongoing Five Year Reviews by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), most recently in 2019 To learn more about the superfund site, CLICK HERE.
What's up with this water?
These are vernal ponds (or pools), shallow depressions of standing water that collect during the spring and early summer before drying up. With unusually heavy rains they may become inundated again. In September 2020 there was standing water from the runoff of Tropical Storm Isaias six weeks earlier.
What happens in a vernal pond?
An important ecosystem of soils, flora, and fauna are found at vernal ponds. In particular, due to the lack of fish, amphibians and insects depend upon these pools for reproduction and juvenile development. When you ride the Schuylkill River Trail in early spring be sure to listen for the frogs, and in early summer look for turtles sunning themselves
Do vernal ponds have any other benefits?
Vernal ponds play an important role in stream hydrology. The ponds store snow melt and rain runoff for months at a time, and can reduce the flooding potential of nearby streams and rivers. Soil microbes in the sediment of the ponds play an important role in removing polluting contaminants.
Why is there a trail here?
The trail connects the Schuylkill River Trail to the 15,000 acres of protected woodlands that comprise of the Hopewell Big Woods. The original alignment, to use the former Wilmington and Northern Reading Railroad south of Birdsboro, was discarded after it was learned that it mostly reverted to adjacent property owners.
Why are the Hopewell Big Woods important?
It is the last large, unbroken forest left in southeastern Pennsylvania. Hopewell Big Woods is an exceptional resource with hundreds of plant and bird species, pristine forest, unique wetlands, and clean streams. The woods provide open space and drinking water, as well as unique scenic, cultural, and natural resources. This conservation area encircles French Creek State Park and the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, and is greatly valued as an asset for public recreation. An expanse of over 73,000 acres, or 110 square miles, Hopewell Big Woods is a rarity in our landscape.
So, what does this connect to?
This is the first construction phase for the Big Woods trail. Within the Hopewell Big Woods region, the trail will eventually connect the Schuylkill River Trail to Natural Lands Trust's Crows Nest Preserve, the National Park Services' Hopewell Village, State Game Lands, and French Creek State Park.
Where will the rest of this trail go when completed?
The Big Woods trail will continue through the Hopewell Big Woods and connect to the Horse-Shoe Trail, and the Boar's Back and Sow Belly Trail between Elverson and Phoenixville along French Creek in northern Chester County.
This is a great view!
You can see miles across the Oley Valley to the north surrounded by the weather resistant Reading Prong metamorphic rocks which form the horizon. The Oley Valley is underlain by much weaker limestones and red siltstones and shales along the Schuylkill River. Prominent in the near distance to the east is Monocacy Hill.
How did Monocacy Hill get here?
Monocacy Hill composed of rock which solidified within magma conduits which had fed surface volcanoes roughly 200 million years ago; in essence the rock of Monocacy Hill was part of the 'plumbing system'. Similar volcanic rocks can be found farther down river at Rattlesnake Hill, up river in the Jacksonwald area, as well as behind us in Birdsboro, French Creek State Park and Hopewell Village.
Why does it look like a volcano?
Monocacy Hill superficially resembles a volcano, but it's not. It is composed of hard basaltic composition volcanic rock which is more resistant to erosion than the red siltstones and shales that it intruded. The sloping profile results from the accumulation of volcanic rock boulders which erode from the summit area and are transported down slope on all sides to cover the weaker and softer red siltstones and shales.
Why is there a bridge next to the trail and not under it?
The bridge supported a side track connecting the Pennsylvania Railroad (now the Schuylkill River Trail) across Six Penny Creek to the Schuylkill Valley Stone Company quarry in 1907. A railroad spur was built from the Pennsylvania RR to the quarry in the 1910s. The John T. Dyer Quarry Co. bought the quarry in 1915 as part of a consolidation of five area quarries.
Is the quarry still operating?
It was closed May 13, 1960 when the quarry boss walked out of the office and said it was the last day of operation. All old equipment was shoved into the quarry. That night, they shut off the pumps and the quarry slowly started to fill with water.
What was mined from the quarry?
There was a large crusher plant in Union Township, one mile south of Monocacy, with complete equipment for supplying crush stone and Belgian blocks in great quantities.
Why is there a park here?
Upstream mining activities rendered the Schuylkill River devoid of fish and plant life, prone to flooding, and unavailable for recreation due to excessive coal silt. In the 1940s, the state purchased this land to undertake a huge effort, called the Schuylkill Project, to dredge the coal silts from the Schuylkill River to improve water quality for drinking and for wildlife habitat. This public works effort was one of the first ever Federal and State funded environmental clean up projects during that time. .
How was this property used?
This photo shows a dredge operator. This area was used as a desilting basin to remove coal silt from the Schuylkill River. The desilting basin, a big tub with a drain weir at one end, was constructed to receive coal silt, called culm, that was sucked from the dredge's cutting heads through steel pipes. The silt was later retrieved and recycled for bricketts, fuel, and charcoal filters.
Where did the really cool perimeter trail come from?
The 1.4 mile trial lays on top of the desilting basin's 25 ft. tall berm that created the tub shape. The berm was created by compacting native clay from the site, and to regulate water flow gravel underdrains. The weir were installed to let water seep back into the river.
Are these stone abutments part of a bridge?
Yes, they were built before 1825 by the Schuylkill Navigation Company to accommodate a canal aqueduct to float cargo boats over Hay Creek. It looked similar to the restored Alleghany Aqueduct at Seyferts.
What was the extent of the Schuylkill Navigation System?
It consisted of 18 dams, 53.73 hand dug canal miles, 120 locks, 17 stone aqueducts, one 450 foot long tunnel, 50.50 miles of slack water pools, and 31 houses for toll and lock keepers when it was completed in May 1825.
Love the Trail? Help Us Build More!
Please donate or become a Schuylkill River Greenways Member! Your membership or donation supports the Schuylkill River Trail, and the many other projects and programs that benefit the entire Schuylkill River region. Joining is easy, visit schuylkillriver.org/donate.
We hope you enjoyed your ride along the Schuylkill River
A watershed is an area of land that drains to a specific body of water (creek, lake, river, or bay). This means that when it rains in this area, all of the storm runoff and rain that is absorbed into the ground eventually makes its way to the Schuylkill River. If you live along the Schuylkill, you live within the Schuylkill River Watershed. The Schuylkill River is the source of your drinking water. Did you know that the Schuylkill River provides drinking water to almost 2 million people?
The Schuylkill River Watershed is a part of the greater Delaware River Watershed. Flowing through four states (NY, PA, NJ, DE) This web of rivers and streams provides drinking water for 15 million people.