BRIDGE OVER CALM WATERS

BILL HAGGERTY/The Daily Sentinel
ORIGINALLY BUILT IN 1874, the Schofield Ford Covered Bridge in Tyler State Park, Pa., was burned down in 1991. It was later rebuilt.



This land is your land, this land is my land, from California, to the New York Island, from Pennsylvania, to Colorado, this land was made for you and me. …

With apologies to Woodie Guthrie, the land I want to write about this week is Tyler State Park, consisting of 1,711 acres of lush green fields, thick sweet-smelling woodlands and fertile wetlands along meandering Neshaminy Creek.

Never been there? Me neither, until a trip to a family wedding back East last week. I probably could have written about another great family party, or perhaps another hike close to downtown Grand Junction, but I’ve already covered those topics. So, I figured I’d write about a covered bridge over the Neshaminy near Newtown, Pa., instead.

Originally built in 1874, the Schofield Ford Covered Bridge in Tyler State Park was burned down in 1991. Apparently it was a famous county landmark, so it was rebuilt using authentic materials and methods by a group of concerned citizens who were into such things. The historic 166-foot, two-span bridge was then reopened in 1997 and it’s really cool.

So what?

Well, apparently, you’re not into covered bridges, but then, neither was I until I saw this one.

Early bridges were often made of wood, especially where it was a plentiful resource. However, wooden bridges tended to deteriorate rapidly from exposure to the elements, having a useful lifespan of about nine years, according to my extensive research on this historic topic.

Covering these wooden bridges protected their structural members, thus extending their life to 80 years or more. Covered bridges were also constructed to protect travelers during storms and inclement weather.

(Little known factoid: Pennsylvania has more covered bridges – more than 200 – than any other state. There are only 28 of ’em in Colorado.)

State parks back east are a little different than around here. For one, there are no user fees.

Pennsylvania taxpayers paid for this property through the PA Land and Water Conservation and Reclamation Act. It provided for the planning and development of many public outdoor recreation lands including Tyler State Park, which officially opened in 1974.

The property was purchased from the Tylers (Mr. and Mrs. George F.), who had supposedly developed one of the finest Ayrshire dairy herds in all of Bucks County. They also raised poultry, sheep and pigs, and had a stable of about 25 riding horses. The productive croplands were mainly used to supply feed for their livestock. Today, besides many mowed and agricultural fields, park employees recently planted fields with native, warm-season grasses.

These grasses provide habitat for wildlife and are being developed to encourage the return of field birds like bobolink, grasshopper sparrow and meadowlark.

Mixed hardwood forests here are composed of oak, maples and walnut trees and provide
great habitat for forest birds like warblers, tanagers, thrushes and vireos. Tim, my baby brother, says the fall colors here are spectacular. Last week, the honeysuckle was in full bloom and it smelled great in the woods.

The richest and most diverse habitats of the park are the wetlands. Neshaminy Creek and the riparian zones it borders are home to fish, turtles, wood ducks and tons of unique plants that can survive in this perpetually moist soil.

These parks are unique in another sense. There’s so much more humanoid history back east than most anything you’ll find out our way, although those recently apprehended artifact thieves in southeast Utah and Western Colorado may beg to differ! Aside from historic covered bridges, there are old original stone dwellings in the park dating back to the early 1700s that still stand as fine examples of early farm dwellings of rural Pennsylvania.

In fact, in the middle of the park, Hosteling International Inc., leases two of those old farm dwellings to overnight travelers, and the hostel is also available to groups for outdoor activities and retreats.

Boating is a popular activity on the creek. You can even rent canoes between Memorial Day and Labor Day, weather permitting.

Anglers may fish for warmwater species including sunfish, black crappie, carp, smallmouth bass and other panfish. The creek is also home to large snapping turtles (we found one small one), eels, frogs, water snakes and muskrats. (We didn’t find any of those.)

Since I try to provide directions to each of my destinations, you can get to this park by traveling to Pennsylvania. Then, you can reach the park from exits 330 and 331 of the
Pennsylvania Turnpike.

For a little perspective, it’s not far from where George Washington crossed the Delaware with his troops on that freezing Christmas of 1776. Washington’s Army then turned the tide of the Revolutionary War, and made this land your land and my land, from California to the New York Island, etc, etc, etc.


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