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While the Lebanon Valley might be best known for its chocolate and distinctive bologna, iron ore is what put the region on the map in the 1700s. The 18-mile Lebanon Valley Rail-Trail—and the connecting Conewago Recreation Trail—trace the route of the Cornwall & Lebanon Railroad and its successors, which served the iron mine and foundry until the tracks and mine were wiped out by Tropical Storm Agnes in 1972.
Constructed by millionaire industrialist Robert Coleman in 1883, the Cornwall & Lebanon Railroad competed directly with a railroad that was already serving the Cornwall iron mine and foundry. In the 1890s, Coleman built a vacation resort at Mount Gretna to augment his passenger business. You can still visit these landmarks, which are minutes from the trail.
Coleman’s empire collapsed, and the Pennsylvania Railroad gained control of his rail line in 1918. After it fell into disuse in the wake of Tropical Storm Agnes, neighboring Lancaster County acquired its corridor segment in 1979 and created the 5-mile Conewago Recreation Trail. In 1996 a nonprofit began efforts to develop the trail in Lebanon County and completed the current trail in 2009 (a wood chip side path is for horses, which are only permitted south of Rocherty Road). Future plans call for closing the 10-mile gap to the Swatara Rail-Trail; crews completed two segments totaling 3 miles in 2018. The Lebanon Valley Rail-Trail—along with the Conewago Recreation Trail and others—is part of the September 11th National Memorial Trail that connects the 9/11, Flight 93, and Pentagon Memorials.
Starting in Lebanon, you’re in a good spot to sample Pennsylvania Dutch cooking—from Lebanon bologna to scrapple (pork trimmings) to schnitz and knepp (ham, dried apples, and dumplings). You’ll pass through Lebanon for 2.2 miles from US 422 until you’re out of town and following a utility corridor to Zinns Mill Road. From here, it’s another 1.7 miles to the Cornwall trailhead, where you’ll find a snack stand in the shape of a barrel. In Lebanon, there is a paved four-mile section from the Eighth Street trailhead to the Lebanon Valley Exposition Center & Fairgrounds entrance.
Cornwall was home to the mine and the Cornwall Iron Furnace, which operated 1742–1883. The brick Gothic Revival iron furnace building, part of a National Historic Landmark District, stands today much as it did the day it closed. To visit from the trailhead, turn left onto Cornwall Road/Boyd Street, and then turn right onto Boyd Street and follow it to the end—a total distance of 0.6 mile.
Leaving the Cornwall trailhead, the route trends uphill to Mount Gretna in about 4 more miles, where Conewago Creek meets Conewago Lake. Mount Gretna is also the site of Coleman’s vacation resort and Chautauqua-style arts and education retreat. Much of the town’s architecture and flavor remains. Look for a side trail on the left to take a jaunt into town. Check the Mount Gretna website (mtgretna.com) for such events as a homes tour, art show, and theater productions.
Continuing downhill 2.5 miles, the trail passes through Colebrook, where you’ll find a drive-in and tavern within a couple of blocks of the trail. In another 0.5 mile, the path crosses the Horse-Shoe Trail, an equestrian and pedestrian trail that runs 140 miles between Valley Forge and Harrisburg. Another 4 miles through farmland takes you to the county line, where the trail becomes the Conewago Recreation Trail.
Two short, isolated sections of trail totaling 3 miles have also been constructed north of the main segment. The first segment in Lebanon begins at Union Canal Tunnel Park, where parking and picnic benches are available, and extends north just less than 2 miles to Long Lane. The second segment begins in Bunker Hill near PA 72 and Swatara Creek and extends through Jonestown to US 22.
Parking is available at numerous locations along the trail. View the TrailLink map for all options and detailed directions.
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