New Octoraro Creek Trail opens a path into history

June 29, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

As he led about 50 people on a trail walk along a creek that flows into the Susquehanna River, County Councilman Richard C. Slutzky offered insights into the history of an area that humans have frequented since pre-historic times.

He spoke of paleo-Indians and the tribes who came later and whose stone artifacts are still found today. He described hunting and fishing grounds that warring tribes shared peacefully for centuries and recounted the 1608 Chesapeake Bay voyage of John Smith from Jamestown to the Susquehanna.

Thursday's half-mile trek along the Octoraro Creek on the Cecil County side of the river marked the official opening of a $117,000 trail built by Exelon Power, the utility company that operates the Conowingo Hydroelectric Station on the river.

The 8-foot-wide trail meanders through a forest to what local anglers call one of the best fishing spots on the river. It is the first of several recreational projects the company plans in cooperation with Harford and Cecil counties and several river towns.

The trail, covered in compacted gravel stone to make for easier walking, promises river access to hikers, fishers and kayakers.

Bill Manlove, president of the Cecil County Board of Commissioners, spoke of the Susquehanna, which flows for more than 400 miles from upstate New York, "stimulating local economies all along the way and linking us all to our natural resources."

"This marks the first step to strengthen recreation in our area," he added. "Public and private cooperation is the only way we will get it done."

Harford County Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti said the goal is to create 40 miles of trails linking Havre de Grace, Port Deposit and Perryville. The new pathway brings the trail system to 23 miles, more than halfway to the goal - an effort that has taken 12 years.

Instead of a ribbon, officials cut fishing line at the trail entrance, a few hundred yards from Route 222, and then handed the event over to Slutzky.

"We asked Dick Slutzky to give an interpretive walk because of his love for Native American history in this area and his knowledge of John Smith," said Merrie Street, Exelon spokeswoman.

Slutzky, who called himself an amateur enthusiast, set the tone for the walk with a Native American ritual. He lit a thick piece of sage bark. "Any ritual would involve smoke of some type and sage was fairly universal," he said. "Its smoke would cleanse the individual spiritually and mentally and carry thoughts and words to the spirits above."

When John Smith arrived in his shallop 400 years ago, no tribes were living in the area, but "these were mutual hunting grounds where they all could come," Slutzky said. Smith was able to communicate with tribal leaders and trade for food and water to sustain his crew.

Harold Harbold, artifact collector, chairman of the Port Deposit Greenway Committee and one of the walkers, said the area is rich in artifacts.

"Not a day goes by that you don't find something," he said, adding that he recently unearthed a quartz carving of a horse's head.

At the end of the walk, many lingered at the river's edge, where several saw a golden eagle and blue herons soaring above the waters.

Jeannette Nesbitt Hillyer, 86, a Greenway volunteer, said her ancestors have lived along the river since 1740. She recalled how her grandmother traded with the Native Americans, especially with a Chief Ocela.

Hillyer said she enjoyed the walk and hoped to make it again.

She also has tales to share.

"What I got in my head you don't get out of textbooks," she said. "You get it from living here for 86 years."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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