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The Mt. Gretna Newsletter

            No. 102                                                                             January 4, 2010


First snowfall Photo: Mt. Gretna Lake, December 2009; Judy Bojko

The Year's Top Stories
In a place where not much happens

About this time every year, newspapers in big cities like to run those "Top 10 Stories of the Past Year," the ones that claimed a spot on the tips of their readers' tongu$0 to $30,000 in 12 monthses. It is at such moments, amid such reminders, that we take a certain comfort in realizing that Mt. Gretna doesn't have a Top 10 List. Or even a Top 5.

Here in a town where the population has dropped to nearly half its summertime proportions by this time of year, in a place where the town map is drawn in increments of 500 feet rather than scales of five miles, and in a setting where dozens of people are known to one and all by first names like "Dale," "Emi," "Merv," "Thatcher," "Tap" and "Barney," life proceeds along a narrow spectrum that is comfortable, familiar and intensely personal.

Small town? We once got an emergency building permit at 7 a.m., after the roofer who had promised to do our job eight months earlier suddenly called to say his truck and crew were on their way. After we explained our plight to Cynthia Condrack, then the town permit-issuer, she invited us down to her cottage and, still in her bathrobe, filled out the paperwork before the roofers started pounding. Things like that just don't happen in Philadelphia.

So finding "big" storie
$0 to $30,000 in 12 monthss in Mt. Gretna can be challenging. If pressed, we suppose the biggest this year was the announcement that a huge water park is being planned at a 570-acre site (inset, left) near Cornwall, barely four miles away. Readers wondered how this $250 million development would impact Mt. Gretna -- with its big hotel, 590 homes, marina and other recreation areas. In fact, they clicked on water park stories more than twice as often as any other topic during the past year.

They also showed keen interest in another small item we ran in July -- about ticks and Lyme disease, a malady that afflicted several Mt. Gretnans last summer. Other topics of interest included the sale of the Hideaway restaurant, the annual tour of homes and gardens, and Doodle the wayward rooster.

But do any of these topics really fit on a Top 10 List?

Not in a small community where people know each other well.

In such a setting, neighborliness, confidence and trust are the coins of th
$0 to $30,000 in 12 monthse realm, anchored by the integrity of those who provide public services, bolster our cultural environment and reliably manage their own affairs. "Mt. Gretna? I'd move there in a New York minute," said a Lititz reader with whom we shared a Music at Gretna dinner last month.

Such qualities sometimes may be overlooked by those whose previous experiences were carved in large cities, where size and separation can lead to suspicion and distrust. But in smaller communities like ours, one's close friends are often one's close neighbors. In Mt. Gretna, people tend to rely upon their own internal guidance systems, understanding that the right to question also carries the obligation to be fair. And respectful. They focus on building up rather than tearing down  -- simultaneously lifting hearts, standards and spirits.

That's not only a bracing tonic for the new year, it may also be Mt. Gretna's Top Story of 2009 -- just as it was in 1909. 

Above right: Fourth Street in the Heights, a 2009 photo by Anna McDonald



In Other News

Wal-Mart abandoned plans
to build a 250,000-sq.-ft. supercenter in North Cornwall Township, at a site less than five miles from Mt. Gretna, the HarrNo to Wal-Martisburg Patriot News reported.
"The economics of the project just didn't work," a Wal-Mart official conceded. Citizens who opposed the project, including some from Mt. Gretna, cheered the news. Wal-Mart had planned to build on a site between Route 72 and Cornwall Road, just north of Rocherty Road. The decision means "we don't have to worry about that volume of traffic developing on Cornwall Road," said Chautauqua resident Kathy Snavely, among those who led efforts to discourage the project.



A $2.3 million project to construct a sewer line through West Cornwall Township could temporarily disrupt hikers, joggers and bikers along the Lebanon Valley Rail-Trail this year, the Lebanon Daily News reported. Construction will start near the trailhead at the intersection of Routes 117 and 72 and stretch westward th Mt. Gretna.
West Cornwall Authority manager Steve Ogurcak said last week that if everything falls into place -- including financing steps yet to be completed -- invitations to bid on the project could go out this month, and construction could begin sometime this spring.
Will the new line, which has been in the planning stage for a decade, open the area to new housing developments? "That's always a possibility," said Mr. Ogurcak, "but I am not aware of any specific plans."


Doodle wins a reprieve!

No one knows exactly how many residents of Mt. Gretna have advanced degrees. But the assumption is that the town's ratio of PhDs, lawyers, architects, doctors and other professionals is probably higher than that of most other towns of comparable size.   

However potent its intellectual firepower, that quality proved useless when it came to capturing the town's wiliest newcomer over the final months of 2009.

Doodle the rooster showed up under mysterious
$0 to $30,000 in 12 monthscircumstances last March. Arriving in a pickup (whose nervous driver seemed overly eager to unload what many, sensing fowl play, presumed to be a truckload of purloined chickens), he is still at large.

Thus far, the jaunty Doodle has evaded capture by the SPCA, a crack team of Mt. Gretna firefighters and even poultry industry experts with mesmerizing powers that purportedly freeze runaway birds in their tracks.

With a triumphant flourish that undoubtedly ends forever the myth that chickens rank somewhere near the bottom of the intellectual scale, Doodle has outmaneuvered them all. In the process, he has also deflated the argument that, left to his own devices, he might get run over by a car. If he's smart enough to escape those bent on capturing him, he's smart enough to avoid a passing parade of even absent-minded motorists.
That, at least, was the consensus after even Mt. Gretna bird club volunteers, a crafty bunch themselves, last month scuttled plans to ensnare him. Having thus outsmarted some of the town's brainiest, Doodle will now "winter" over here. And that, one may safely assume, will be something to crow about.



Mamma Mia!
It's Another Italian Night at the Fire Company

Last year, it was the highlight of the 2009 winter season: an Italian night at the fire company when the turnout exceeded expectations by 80%. it wasn't just the pasta and meatballs, the scintillating sauce and the salad, nor even the Italian bread or mouth-watering desserts that drew the crowds. Something more.
This all-you-can-eat, pay-what-you-want buffet, coming up this year on Jan. 23, is an event that brings out the best in Mt. Last year, they opened their wallets and hearts to donate more than $4,200 -- some of it in $100, $500 and $1,000 increments -- to take a whack out of that $400,000 'burn-the-mortgage" campaign at the fire hall.
"We were amazed," said fire company president Joe Shay.
The plans this year are to exceed last year's totals, with Italian-style offerings guaranteed to satisfy hearty appetites.
The event begins at 4:00 p.m. and runs through 7:00 p.m.
Without a doubt, it's the best way to chase midwinter blues and share an evening among friends.



19  Deer claimed by hunters (with 80% of the reports filed) in the special 2009 "limited" hunt authorized in Governor Dick Park last month. Deer population studieElusive quarrys last spring found 32 deer per square mile in the 1,105-acre park, a surprising increase from the 10-per-square-mile estimated two years ago.
Park board member Charles Allwein says that although some hunters during the Dec. 2-5 hunt reported seeing 25 to 28 deer, others failed to glimpse even a single one.
The 2009 total was "quite a bit below our expectations," said Mr. Allwein. He noted that heavy rains on Dec. 2 and a Dec. 5 snowstorm hampered what normally would have been the two peak hunting days.

In 2005, when a court order lifted the ban on hunting that had been specified in park donor Clarence Schock's bequest, 100 hunters claimed 55 deer in four days. The following year, however, only 15 deer were killed. No hunts were authorized in 2007 and 2008.

50 Dogs
A Tail to Tell per week now straining the resources of A Tail to Tell, a rescue clearing house established five years ago by Mt. Gretna resident Cindy Myers. She told the Lancaster Sunday News that her organization, which formerly had found permanent homes for about 30 dogs a month, now must handle some 200 dogs per month, largely because of a recent change in the law setting tougher standards for Pennsylvania breeders. Many breeders, the newspaper reported, have opted to get out of the business. "We're grasping for answers. We don't have time to stop and think," Ms. Myers told a reporter. Her Website appears at

52 Mt. Gretnans and friends boarding Rhoda Long's first bus trip to New York City just before Christmas. The Rockettes
Will she do it again next year? "You bet,"says the zestful realtor, grandmother and organ concert hostess who organized the event. She not only plans a repeat Rocketts trip next Christmas but also a "do-what-you-want" Saturday in Manhattan, probably in mid to late April. Another possibility: a U.S. Open trip for tennis fans. 

$20,000 raised at the Mt. Gretna triathlon last year, reports The Myelin Project, which benefits from proceeds that now (after six races since the first one was held here in 2004) total over $160,000. Chris Kaag: "Don't just sit there, move!"
Race proceeds fund research into neuromuscular diseases like one that crippled race organizer
Chris Kaag himself at age 21. The former Marine's approach to life's obstacles mirrors that Marine maxim, "Improvise, Adapt, Overcome."
Next year's race date has been moved up to May 22, a full week earlier than in previous years. Organizers hope that staging the event before the busy Memorial Day weekend, plus a change in the course route, will ease congestion for Mt. Gretna residents, especially in Timber Hills and Conewago Hill. Maybe so, but that won't make temperatures in Lake Conewago any warmer for 600 triathletes tacking a 500-yard swim when the opening gun goes off.


Preparing for takeoff? Icky the sandhill crane is still around, but any day now he could leav$0 to $30,000 in 12 monthse for sunnier climes.
Now the most-photographed bird in Central Pennsylvania, he continues to hang out near Mt. Gretna's former ice dam, where he's attracted hundreds of visitors over the past several months.
Bird experts warn that although some people have been spotted petting him, making wild animals friendly to people puts them at risk. "They won't know danger when it arises," says Mt. Gretna Bird Club member Evelyn Koppel.
State game land officials posted signs warning of fines for anyone attempting to feed him. Food can attract predators and discourage Icky from returning to locations more suitable for his survival this winter.

(Photo: Jerrie Wolverton, a retired Elizabethtown College Chemistry and Biology Department assistant who once worked for "Poppy" Gene Otto at the lake and whose father, as a boy, loaded ice onto trains at the old ice dam where Icky currently resides.)

Peggy O'Neil, first woman ever to be elected president of  the Pennsylvania Chautauqua, telling a Lebanon Daily News reporter covering the December meeting of the Winterites, a group of year-rounders who've been meeting here for 60 years, "There are more nice people per square inch in Mt. Gretna than
anywhere else in the world."

Bill Care giving a final farewell to the venerable old dump truck
that often was pressed into service plowing snow and dispersing salt on area roadwa
$0 to $30,000 in 12 monthsys. Over the years, it logged 48,000 miles before a Shamokin landscaper finally bought it last month for $30,010. Even though the engine conked out right after the sale and the borough paid for repairs, it was still a good deal. On two previous auction attempts last year, not a single bidder raised his hand.
Meanwhile, at their December meeting borough officials passed a $154,000 budget that calls for no tax increases this year --- one of the few local municipalities able to make that claim.

Conewago Hill resident Laura Feather, returning with husband Joe from a week in Florida last month: "Yes, we are home.  Yes, it is cold.  Yes, our hosts were great.  Yes, it is warmer in Florida.  NO, I do not want to ever leave Mt. Gretna."

How to tell when Alissa Pitt's home: 2008 collegiate champion sprint racer, national ski p
$0 to $30,000 in 12 monthsatrol member and Towson University senior Alissa P$0 to $30,000 in 12 monthsitt, whose motto ("Be Bold, Be Free, Be Truthful") sums up her busy life as a skiier, adventure racer and equestrian instructor is now also a member of Team SOG, a commercially sponsored adventure racing team.
When she stops by for a visit to her parents' Pennsylvania Avenue home, her sports passions are clearly emblazoned on the ski carrier atop her car. After finishing up environmental health and communications studies at Towson this spring, she'll likely return to take part in the Mt. Gretna Triathlon in May.

Sign of an early spring. . . or wishful thinking? Could be, it's a little of both. But when  Nan McKay, who moved to the Chautauqua last October, spotted a
skunk cabbage(officially Symplocarpus foetidus) sprouting near the Jigger Shop on New Year's Day -- at least two full months ahead of schedule -- she thought it worth a picture.
$0 to $30,000 in 12 months"Harbinger of global warming?" we wondered.
Not exactly, says Skippack master gardener Kerry Hountz, who frequently gets away with husband Ron to their Campmeeting cottage on weekends. More likely, she s
$0 to $30,000 in 12 monthsays, it's just a result of last fall's unusually heavy rains or those occasional warm spells in December.
In any event, early-sprouting skunk cabbage isn't likely to replace groundhogs as a prognosticating device. So Penny the Penn Realty groundhog will be on duty again Feb. 2 at her usual spot along Route 117, dispensing coffee, donuts and good cheer before she crosses the road to face her most skeptical inquisitors, Carol Mayer's four-year-olds at the Mt. Gretna Nursery School.



Her distinctive "Red Umbrella" series includes scenes from Paris, London, Venice -- and now, Mt. Gretna.  Walking in Mt. Gretna
Liz Hess (inset, right) is an artist who now, after spending eight years in mission work in Sweden, operates
a colorful art gallery on Lancaster's popular Prince Street "Gallery Row." 
Over the past 10 years, she's been to Mt. Gretna many times. Strolling through the Campmeeting last summer, amid "colorful houses with 'no two alike' shapes and styles," she felt inspired to stop, take out her brushes, and add this scene to the signature "Red Umbrella" collection, which reflects her annual trips to places like Ireland, Tuscany, and the lavender fields of Provence.
Although she often uses oils, acrylics and watercolors, Ms. Hess said the
Artist Liz HessCampmeeting setting called for a "softer approach," so she used pastel chalks instead. The original has been sold, but she offers prints and note cards both at her 222 S. Prince St. gallery and Website.
Ms. Hess plans another original next year, a "dusk or early evening setting with front porches and windows lit up by strings of lights and lamps that are also typical of Mt. Gretna."


Bill GiffordMt. Gretnan Bill Gifford, delving into what some label the "drill, baby, drill" proclivities of previous administrations, last month examined Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's environmental agenda in Men's Journal, where he is editor at large. Author of "Ledyard: In Search of the First American Explorer," Mr. Gifford is a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone, Bicycling, Men's Health, The Washington Post and Slate.



Kerry and Luke, 5Campmeeting resident, author and mom Kerry Royer discovered what every parent of five- and three-year-olds surely must have learned this Christmas: Just when you think Santa has found the perfect gift, youngsters change their minds.
Mrs. Royer (inset, with Luke, 5), author of a
recent children's book, writes about the experience in a Patriot News op-ed piece.



 Wrapping up its 250th anniversary last month, South Londonderry Township hoConewago Hotelpes to appoint a Mt. Gretnan who will serve as the 10th member of its newly formed historical commission, the Lebanon Daily News reported.
Three Mt. Gretna neighborhoods -- Timber Hills, Timberbridge and Conewago Hill (site of the former 125-room Conewago Hotel, inset left) -- lie within the township's southeastern boundary.



Governor Dick ParkGovernor Dick Park's 2010 Polar Bear Ambles begin Jan. 9 with an "Interpreting the Seasons" hike that will answer such questions as "What are trees doing in winter? How do birds and animals survive? What happens to insects?" The hikes begin at the Nature Center, located along Pinch Rd., at 12:30 p.m. For details, call 964-3808 or email


VintaVintage Apronsge aprons and handkerchiefs from Edith Lehman's fascinating collection will be the topic at the Winterites' Feb. 2 meeting, an occasion on which the group will celebrate its 60th anniversary. The session begins at 1:00 p.m. at the Mt. Gretna fire hall.
Next month, Chautauqua resident Kathy Snavely will present an illustrated talk based on her trip to the Canadian Rockies.
The group meets on first Tuesdays of the month, September through April (except January).



Ask a Question

[]  Can you help me find a piano instructor in Mt. Gretna and dance instructor for beginners?
<> We were unable to locate anyone in Mt. Gretna who currently gives piano lessons, but we hope that readers who know of local teachers will pass along their names and numbers.
Finding a dance instructor in Mt. Gretna during the winter months won't be easy, although the options usually expand in summer. Becky Smith, who used to run her Danstation out of the La Cigale building, now gives lessons throughout the year at 1224 Cumberland St. in Lebanon. Tel. 507-4356.

[] Do you happen to know what was decided about the 17 unclaimed canoes?  Might they be put up for sale?
<> The question of what to do about those abandoned canoes was
Canoessupposed to have been decided by the 17-member Chautauqua board last month. But the matter was instead turned over to a building and grounds committee for a recommendation. When we checked last week, the committee still had not been able to meet. 
Meanwhile, the canoes remain in a storage facility where they've been for the past year and a half. At present, no one can say when, or if, the canoes might ever be offered for sale to the public.



Joyce E. Hughes (1930-2009)
For 35 years, she lived the quiet life of a homemaker, devoted wife, mother and friend to many at her home on Village Lane. Joyce Hughes died unexpectedly on Dec. 29 at the age of 79. 
A native of Quebec, Canada, she was the widow of Lawrence R. Hughes, who passed away 14 years earlier. They had one daughter and two grandchildren, who now live in Ontario. She and her husband, a former executive with International Correspondence Schools, enjoyed an active social life with friends that included Jack and Esther Heisley, Tom and Mary Cusack, Jim and Sarah Ellis, Arlo and Pat Shay and others in the Mt. Gretna community. Funeral
services will be held at the convenience of the family.