Many know that the Appalachian Trail, one of the United State’s most famous hiking paths, starts in Maine and ends in Georgia. But one of it's key points sits in Cumberland County and is highlighted by a wooden spoon.
The trail's midpoint sits in Pennsylvania’s Cumberland County, and reaching it is celebrated by eating a half-gallon of ice cream in one sitting.
The 2,189-mile trail Appalachian Trail traverses through 14 U.S. states, which includes 46 miles in Cumberland County located just across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg. In fact, a 13-mile portion of the trail in Cumberland County is reputed as being the longest, lowest and flattest section of the entire path and considered one of the most accessible areas for vehicle parking and taking short day trips.
“The Appalachian Trail is a very complex, wild space that man could never duplicate, yet many go to the trail because of the simplicity it has to offer," said Nathaniel Shank, manager of the Appalachian Trail Museum, which is located in Pine Grove Furnace State Park. "When going out to the trail, your glass will go from half full to overflowing very quickly, and that is why I think that trails like this one give people a love for protecting our wild spaces in America."
What’s debatable, however, is exactly where the trail’s halfway point is located. That can change from year to year due to such factors as trail reroutes or erosion control, but it usually does not deviate far. Generally, the halfway point is marked near the Appalachian Trail Museum and Pine Grove Furnace General Store in Pine Grove Furnace State Park near Gardners.
At the Pine Grove Furnace General Store, hikers reaching the trail’s halfway point are presented with a new challenge: consuming an entire half-gallon of Hershey’s ice cream at once.
Pine Grove Furnace General Store employee Haley Eichenlaub said she can’t place an exact number on how many hikers take the half-gallon ice cream challenge each year. "It depends on the year,” she said. “People do it every day. We just had two people who did it this morning."
What Eichenlaub can describe, however, is how hikers react when tucking away an entire half-gallon of ice cream in one sitting.
“Some people say, ‘Wow, I did it!’” Eichenalaub said. “Others say it’s the most cruel kind of punishment.”
What flavor do hikers chose most often for the challenge? It’s Neapolitan, a striped blend of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream.
Those who do meet the challenge are awarded a commemorative wooden spoon bearing the stamp, “Member of the Half Gallon Club.” Store visitors are also welcome to flip through a notebook filled with tales of the hikers who attempted, and even finished a Hershey’s half gallon on the spot.
The neighboring Appalachian Trail Museum, located in a 200-year-old grist mill, is noted as the only museum in the United States dedicated to hiking. Exhibits are dedicated to early trail founders Benton McKaye and Myron Avery, as well as pioneer thru-hikers Earl Shaffer and Grandma Gatewood.
The museum offers changing exhibits, a photo display of more than 10,000 thru-hikers, a hiker’s lounge and an indoor/outdoor storytelling center for visitors to share their hiking experiences. The museum’s ground floor features a children’s area with a cement floor painted with a small fry’s version of the Appalachian Trail. Admission is free. For information, visit www.atmuseum.org.
Also located near Halfway Point is the Ironmaster’s Mansion, a popular venue for overnight hiker stays, weddings and receptions, group events and more. The historic structure was built in 1815 by Peter Ege, son of one of the first operators of Pine Grove Furnace and what later became Pine Grove Furnace State Park. For more information, visit www.ironmastersmansion.com.
The Kings Gap General Store at 1155 Pine Road, Dickinson Township, offers a trip through time. The downstairs is lined with antique bottles and other treasured artifacts for sale. The upstairs deli offers fresh subs, homemade soup, cheese wheel slices, and hand-scooped Hershey’s ice cream. Hikers also can stock up on groceries and sundries at the store, which is located near the entrance to the Kings Gap Environmental Center in Kings Gap State Park on the trail.
The Mid-Atlantic Appalachian Trail Conservancy is on the trail at Children’s Lake in Boiling Springs. Boiling Springs, a historic village situated in Cumberland Valley, is recognized as an official Appalachian Trail Community for its commitment to servicing hikers and promoting the trail’s assets. The Trail Conservancy’s staff members are ready to suggest day trips on the trail. Free parking permits, including long-term parking, also are available at the Mid-Atlantic office. For information, visit http://appalachiantrail.org.