The Mt. Gretna Newsletter
January 4, 2010
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' tongues. 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" stories 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
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
But do any of these topics really fit on a Top 10
Not in a small community where people know each other well.
In such a setting, neighborliness, confidence and trust are the coins of
the 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
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 Harrisburg 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
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 through 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
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
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 circumstances 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.
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%.
But 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
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. Gretnans. 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 studies 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
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 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 http://www.atailtotell.com/
52 Mt. Gretnans and
friends boarding Rhoda Long's first bus trip to New York City just before
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.
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
leave 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
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
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 roadways. 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 patrol member and Towson
University senior Alissa Pitt, 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
"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 says, it's just a result of
last fall's unusually heavy rains or those occasional warm spells in
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.
"Red Umbrella" series includes scenes from Paris, London, Venice --
and now, 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
Campmeeting 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."
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
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
last month, South Londonderry Township hopes 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 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 email@example.com.
Vintage aprons and
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
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
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.
 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 supposed 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
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.