Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sideling Hill Turnpike Tunnel

 Sideling Hill Mountain
Abandoned Turnpike Tunnel

Sideling Hill Tunnel Entrance
During the 2008 Social Studies Governor's Institute we took a detour off the trail of the Forbes Road to visit a unique relic from the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  One of the original seven tunnels of the Turnpike, the Sideling Hill Tunnel was the longest at 1.25 miles in length.  When the Turnpike Commission wanted to expand the roadway from two lanes to four, the cost to widen the tunnel was so great, it was cheaper to reroute the roadway along the top of Sideling Hill Mountain.  As a result, the grand tunnel was shut down, abandoned, and sat empty with the newly paved turnpike running above it. 

The Tour Bus Unloads
The tunnel was originally built in the 1880's for the South Pennsylvania Railroad Company, who were in the process of cutting a new line through the region.  However, after several deaths from dynamite explosions and mounting costs, the railroad company decided to abandon the tunnel project and reroute the proposed railway over the mountain.  The Sideling Hill Tunnel remained unfinished until the Pennsylvania Turnpike decided to take advantage of the previous series of train tunnels that were no longer used by the railroad.  The Sideling Hill Tunnel was finally completed and opened for traffic with the newly completed Pennsylvania Turnpike on October 24, 1940.

 In Search of the Tunnel
By the 1950's traffic began to back up on the two lane tunnels of the turnpike and a study was done to explore the possibility of expanding the width of the tunnels or creating an additional twin tunnel to allow two lanes going each way to match the outside roadway.  After extensive research, the Turnpike Commission decided the creation of a single bypasses around the Ray's Hill and Sideling Hill tunnels would be most cost effective.  By November of 1968 two tunnels had been expanded and the Ray's Hill and Sideling Hill bypass project was complete.  The former tunnels were closed and abandoned.

 Entering the Tunnel
Over time, nature began to reclaim the abandoned roadway and the tunnels fell into disrepair and were forgotten.  In 2001, the Turnpike Commission granted the fourteen mile section of the abandoned stretch of the turnpike and accompanying tunnels to the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy who made plans to turn the expanse into a bike and hiking trail.  The project has become known as the Pike2Bike Trail and will encompass an eighteen mile pathway for recreational use when totally completed. The conservancy, known as SAC, is a nonprofit corporation serving six counties in south central Pennsylvania.

 Mike and I Explore the Interior
Our bus found an entrance point that allowed access to park on the original highway but was blocked off in both directions by concrete barriers to prevent any automotive traffic on the trail.  Immediately you took notice to the decay of the former smooth ribbons of concrete.  It was like you were in the middle of the show Life After People that airs on the Discovery Channel, which shows how plant life will quickly reclaim what once belonged to Mother Nature when people have punched out!  We had to walk quite a distance to the tunnel entrance which was out of view.  It was a hot July day and we baked, walking on the roadway that slowly curved to the right.  We passed by a wide open macadam space that once was the home of the Cove Valley Travel Plaza, which was razed when the tunnel closed.  Too bad, I would have liked to stop in for a ice-cold Diet Coke!

 Time to Head Back
Eventually the tunnel entrance came into view and light was not visible from within.  As we got close to the opening, a chilly air was coming from the tunnel, which was a welcome treat in the heat.  We ventured inside and peered ahead into the pitch blackness.  The 6,782 foot long tunnel has a slight sloping crest to allow moisture to drain out the ends.  As a result, you have to walk in more than a third of the way before you can see the first hints of light from the other side, reflecting from the tunnel's ceiling.  The chill and dampness of the tunnel resembled that of a cave. The temperature inside remains constant year round and is less than sixty degrees.  The contrast of the warmer temperature outside causes the air to move and can cause a ghostly fog to appear at times near the tunnel openings.  It was really creepy!  We had a schedule to keep and were called back to the opening.  I hope to return someday to travel all the way through to the other side but not by myself.  Like I said, it was more than a little creepy!

The Return Walk Back
On the way back, we passed by a small film crew who were making a low budget movie about the end of the world.  The story line centered around a few survivors who were trying to make it in the post apocalyptic world.  This setting was perfect, the roadway was being slowly devoured by plant life that was forcing its way through every available crack in the road's surface. The trees were mounting an invasion from each side making slow but steady progress.  I wondered how the SAC would maintain the right of way when the Pike2Bike Trail project was completed and running at full speed.  The site was unique and fun to explore. So, if you ever get tired of the Sideling Bypass in the clouds, take a detour and explore the old school way down under!

 New Sideling Hill Tunnel Bypass
(Image Source / Wikimedia Commons)

  On the Beaten Path


No comments:

Post a Comment

Total Pageviews