MOUNT GRETNA’S GENTLE EVOLUTION
In the spring, when Tennyson says a young man’s fancy lightly turns to love, folks returning to Mount Gretna simply ask their year-round neighbors, “What’s new?”
Often as not, they’re relieved to find, the answer is, “not much.” And that’s likely to be what they’ll hear again this spring.
That may be the answer they’ll get. But it's slightly off the mark.
True, cell phone service remains elusive in Mount Gretna. Yet even that may be changing. (See item below.)
And to be sure, only the most observant will notice that a new fire hydrant has popped up along Lafayette Avenue. That otherwise unremarkable event signals an important step in completing a fire main loop around Mount Gretna borough, a project begun two decades ago. Now, over the next few years, new laterals will be added, lifting community-wide fire protection yet another vital notch.
Other changes will be more obvious. The Lodge will have a new lift, an outdoor elevator—making it easier for handicapped folks to dine at Le Sorelle or visit the art gallery.
Veteran Governor Dick hikers may also notice new trail signs that volunteer Bryant Arnold placed there over the winter. They’ll help people coming down the hill select the right trail, the one leading back to the spot where they parked their cars.
And, when the weather warms up, some may even detect that Chautauqua’s community building will have received a new coat of paint.
Yet, even combined, none of these events hint of the biggest change taking hold in Mount Gretna these days. Beneath the seemingly changeless façade is a gentle, rhythmic, steady transformation. In an evolutionary shift, Mount Gretna is broadening its role from a center for “scientific and cultural enlightenment,” as its founders put it, to also become a hub for varied recreational pursuits. Though distinct, all share common characteristics: They occur outdoors, and they depend on muscle power, not internal combustion engines.
So Mount Gretna is gradually taking on dual roles: Summertime cultural center for music, plays and art. Year ‘round haven for those who love hiking, cycling and horseback riding.
When it’s finished in a few months, the Governor Dick Nature Center will be one manifestation of this trend. Growing numbers of hikers along Lebanon Valley’s Rails-to-Trails project, which traverses Mount Gretna, are another. And gathering throngs of cyclists, runners and hikers expand the growing parade.
Adding momentum are plans for a rail-trail extension, leading to Timber Road. That would allow those using the trail to pause, enjoy a Mount Gretna stopover and then continue on their way. A $144,000 grant proposal is now before Lebanon’s planning commission. If approved, the extension could be under construction sometime this fall. (See below.)
Also in the works are plans for a bike shop that could help spur Mount Gretna’s growing reputation as a center for serious cyclists. Nothing’s definite yet. But noted cyclist Bill Gentile, a former Dun & Bradstreet account executive who enjoys international recognition in cycling circles, would like to set up a headquarters here for his growing business in importing, repairing, and selling bicycles that sometimes retail for $5,000 or more. He envisages an “eclectic” retail center that might combine a Velo high-speed Internet café where customers could enjoy coffee and nutritional snacks, view televised cycling events and even rent cross-country skis. It would also serve as a UPS mailing center for parcels, perhaps offering mailbox rentals as well.
None of this, to repeat, is definite. But, even as concepts, the plans are well along in development. And they suggest that Mount Gretna is on the threshold of an evolutionary new chapter in its history. It is, one suspects, an evolution that might please Robert Habersham Coleman.
A RAIL-TRAIL REVOLUTION
It’s surprising in this era of expanding waistlines and seemingly endless hours spent before TV and computer screens. Yet the surging popularity of Lebanon Valley’s Rails-to-Trails, a route that cuts across the heart of Mount Gretna and extends from Elizabethtown to Rte. 72, is inarguable.
Since the first section opened a little more than three years ago, thousands of hikers, bikers and horseback riders have flocked to this 12.5 mile trail. When its projected 15 miles are completed, it will (with an existing connection to the Conewago trail) be the longest continuous bi-county trail in central Pennsylvania. Also one of the most popular. “I never thought we’d see that many people using it,” says public works director Bill Care. Neither did most others.
But its popularity isn’t surprising to John Wengert. Before he returned to the area as plant manager at Wengert’s Dairy, John worked for three years at the national Rails-to-Trails headquarters in Washington, DC. “I gained a good background on how to do it,” he says.
John and others who helped get the rail-trail project started here now hope to win a $144,000 grant. The funds, including $9,000 in local donations, would build an extension connecting the trail with Mount Gretna’s Timber Road. “When they reach Colebrook, many people using the trail tell us they had no idea they were even near Mount Gretna,” he says. The extension would allow rail-trail hikers, bikers and those on horseback to pause, perhaps enjoy a sandwich in Mount Gretna, then continue their journey.
Lebanon County’s planning commission must first approve the grant. Then there are the requisite engineering and environmental studies. But if everything works as John hopes, construction on the rail-trail extension into Mount Gretna will, by fall, be fact.
A CELLULAR SOLUTION?
What’s up with Verizon Wireless? New awareness, plainly, of the need for cellular coverage in Mount Gretna.
When we phoned Verizon last week, a spokesperson said their engineers had just met the previous day to discuss property acquisition in the Mount Gretna area for a cell tower.
“Our network folks are in the real estate process, looking for willing property owners,” said spokesperson Megan Shames. But, she adds, the typical site acquisition and construction cycle is 18 to 24 months. Nevertheless, “We understand that, for many in Mount Gretna, this is issue number one. Our network engineers recognize this and stress that Mount Gretna is a huge priority from their end as well,” she said.
With the need to fill coverage gaps, cellular companies are getting increasing pleas from the many users of area trails. In remote areas during an emergency, cell phones can be lifesavers for hikers, bikers and horseback riders. So as the area grows as an outdoor recreation center, our chances of hastening cellular service are brightening.
And, as we reported last July, an Oklahoma firm signed an agreement with the Campmeeting to offer that 55-foot water tower along Pinch Road as a cell phone antenna site. TowerLink America proposes to use existing water towers for cell phones rather than building new ones. But difficult topography and coverage issues can hamper those efforts. And the WLYH tower atop Television Hill, as we also reported, is seemingly filled. Adding more antennas there could interfere with existing users and bring wind resistance problems, said a station engineer.
COMING IN JULY: A BUS TRIP TO CHAUTAUQUA, N.Y.
You’ll have to hurry, but there’s still time to join that group of Mount Gretnans going to New York’s Chautauqua July 14-17. Reservations must be in by Feb. 17, says Mary Ellen Kinch, who helped organize similar trips during Mount Gretna’s centennial celebration in 1992 and again in 1998.
The Wednesday-to-Saturday trip includes an evening with humorist Mark Russell on Wednesday, a performance by the Chautauqua Symphony on Thursday, and a Randy Travis concert on Friday. Daytime events include lectures on the theme “Applied Ethics: What is the Business of Business?,” theater productions and discussion forums. For details, including costs expected to range between $250 to $350 per person, call Mary Ellen (717) 533-7330. Reserve your space with a $100 deposit (payable to the Pennsylvania Chautauqua), sent to her at 465 Caracas Ave, Hershey, PA 17033.
PENNDOT PONDERS PLUNGES ONTO RTE. 117
For years, the biggest problem at the northbound exit ramp off Rte. 72 onto Rte. 117 has been its severe turn. Cars and trucks regularly slid through the curve, crashing across the opposite lane as they tried to round the corner and head down the hill onto the state road leading westward to Mount Gretna and eastward to Cornwall.
Now, suddenly, there’s been a rash of cars skidding into Rte. 117 as they approach the stop sign at the bottom of the hill. PennDOT’s Dale Good doesn’t know why. Highway engineers, he says, will conduct skid tests to find out whether the cause is too much gravel, oils seeping through the asphalt, or other problems. Meanwhile, until they figure it out, we might approach Rte. 72’s exit ramps these days with a bit more caution.
IN BRIEF (45 words or less)
 Handcrafted fine art furniture-maker and former Mount Gretnan Michael Jones, now living in Espanola, NM, displays some of his latest work, including unique pyramidal designs, cabinets and benches at http://www.michaelsnowjones.com/.
 Gretna Theater kicks off the 2004 season June 4-5 with “Mark Twain’s America,” written and performed by artistic director Will Stutts. Saturday's theatergoers will have a pre-show dinner option at the Community Building, which decorators plan to transform into an antebellum plantation.
 Postmaster Steve Strickler promises he’ll post notices of the new times the post office will be open for after-hours pickups well before that new electronic door lock is installed. He hopes to keep the doors open from 6:00 a.m. until around 10:00 p.m.
 South Londonderry Township officials acknowledge that those long-hoped-for leaf pickups in Timber Hills just aren’t in this year’s budget. “Maybe someday,” says the township’s Rose Mary Kays. Wistfully.
 Shuffleboard and fireplace grill repairs top the list of Mount Gretna Men’s Club projects this year, says member John Condrack, who also helps keep the tennis courts in tip-top shape year-round.
 Lebanon County work-release crews will make Christmas tree pickups after the Feb. 1 deadline. The tree collection site is along Rte. 117, just east of town. Trees only, officials ask, not tree bags or other synthetic materials, since they’ll grind the collection into mulch.
 Le Sorelle Porch & Pantry Café now offers Friday and Saturday night dinners, from 5:00 pm to 8:00 p.m. (Details: http://porchandpantry.com/; tel. 964-3771.) Reservations appreciated. Also in the works: Special Valentine’s, St. Patrick’s Day and “Think Spring” dinners. To receive the café’s e-mailed bulletins, write email@example.com
 Bill Care declares the borough’s new Toolcat is the most versatile piece of equipment he’s ever seen: It scoops snow, moves logs, lifts hay bales. . .even sweeps debris from the streets after windstorms. “You’ll see it going to work every day,” he says.
 “B.C.,” the REAL borough cat, also loves going to work every day. “She leaps into her carrier for the daily commute, greets visitors, and sleeps on the heated floor with her legs sticking up in the air. Unusual for a cat,” says caretaker Linda Bell.
 Borough secretary Linda, constantly looking for additions to the list of vehicles she can drive, plowed snow with the Toolcat last month. “She was a little tentative at first,” says Bill. But, he admits, “She’s better at snowplowing than I am at typing.”
 Vehicle rescue training included one of the toughest certification tests Joe Shay can remember, including those in college. He and five other fire company volunteers spent three full weekends recently learning rescue techniques. Final sessions at a salvage yard simulated four-car accidents involving real people.
 That ultraviolet disinfectant unit now is up and running at Mount Gretna’s wastewater treatment plant. The $30,000 system eliminates chlorine gas, and thus is friendlier to the environment.
 Farmer’s Hope Inn is the area’s newest dining spot. Tim and Terri Brown moved from Lititz to open the former Stagecoach Inn along Rte. 72, north of the turnpike, as a restaurant, tavern and B&B. “Great food, service and a warm, inviting atmosphere,” promises Terri.
 “Yes, we’ll do another Gretna Night at the Playhouse this year,” says Theater manager Keith Volker. “We want to reconnect to the community and get back to our roots as producers, not merely presenters.” Gretna Theater, stresses Keith, is an integral part of Mount Gretna.
 PennDOT will add another inch of asphalt to the Lebanon County portion of Pinch Road this summer. The leveling surface will finish off a project begun two years ago. PennDOT also plans this spring to widen Mine Rd. from Butler to Rte. 117.
 Fire company donations so far are about on par with last year’s. But paying for that $170,000 fire truck remains the biggest challenge. That recent $100,000 federal grant brought funds that can only buy firefighters’ protective gear, not pay off the truck debt.
 Robin and Keith Volker (964-3034) are handling Heights Community Building rentals again this year. The recently remodeled building, now with Ray Petkosh’s freshly painted rocking chairs and historic photos donated by Morris Greiner, is available for use starting in May.
 Heights officials will connect their water supply with the borough’s this spring. The link provides a backup for emergencies like the one two years ago, when an 80-year-old well collapsed. For several months, a long and winding firehose supplied water to 69 Heights homes.
 Soup sales continue to benefit the fire company. Kathy Snavely says her neighbors along Temple, Muhlenberg, Old Mountain and Lebanon avenues have helped raise more than $400, selling vegetable and chicken corn noodle soup at $4 and $5 a quart. There’s some left. (Tel. 964-1866)
 Rev. David and Elaine Pierce plan another 13-day Alaska trip this July. The retired pastor and former art teacher moved to Mount Gretna three years ago. They’ve led overseas tour groups for six years. For details on their Alaskan adventure, call 964-2301.
 Rails-to-Trails fundraisers: Trail benches you can buy, with inscribed plaques, for $500; advertisements on trail kiosks and bulletin boards; or adopt one-foot sections of the trail for $5 each. For details: firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Motor-home maven Evelyn Duncan is in San Antonio, TX. In Florida last month she ran into former Mount Gretnan Andy Mule. Before returning here in July, she plans stops everywhere from New Mexico to Washington state. “I’m a nomad, and I love it,” she says.
 Pat Pinsler’s motor home adventures took her on a six-week western trip last fall, hiking, mountain climbing and biking along rails-to-trails routes across the country. She’s been enjoying occasional long-distance road trips like that for more than a decade.
 Lanie Allen bought gifts for each of the four children in this year’s neediest family. She also provided their Christmas turkey. “Seeing local people helping others having a rough time makes me feel good,” says project coordinator and Cornwall police secretary Shirley Trimmer.
 Lanie, a Lancaster employee relations manager now renting in the Campmeeting, simply adores Mount Gretna and would love to buy a home or cottage here (ideally, a fixer-upper in the $130,000 range). Contact her at email@example.com.
 Cindy Sheaffer, whose family was among the Campmeeting’s earliest residents, spotted a pileated woodpecker here in 1989 and wonders if anyone has ever counted Mount Gretna’s different bird species. Now living in Tucson, she hopes someday to spend retirement summers at her First Avenue cottage.
 Former resident Harry E. Balmer Jr. writes from Manning, SC, that he discovered a 1915 Mount Gretna postcard. It proclaims, “Those in charge maintain the wildwood spirit. . . of a beautiful and in every way delightful community.” Harry hopes it will always remain so.
 Trish Myers wonders whether, with the flock floundering, anyone wants to continue Mount Gretna’s buzzard-lowering ceremony next New Year’s Eve. Entrusted with its keeping after the Myers moved to Hershey last year, Nancy Bressi proffers the flagging fowl free to folks favoring further folderol.
2 Billion Christmas cards mailed in the US annually. But Steve Strickler says the
number sent from Mount Gretna was down 10 to 15 percent last year. “It’s
easy to spend $100 or more on cards and postage,” he says. “People seem to
be cutting back on cards.” (Mount Gretna’s holiday parcel shipments were
up over last year, but overall volume for the year as a whole dropped about
five percent. Yet our post office is still a busy place. See below.)
165,000 Dollars Mount Gretnans spent for postage and box rentals at the post office
last year, placing ours among the busiest post offices in its category.
9,000 Dollars needed in local funds to help pay for that Rails-to-Trails Extension
into Mount Gretna. Send donations to Lebanon Valley Rails-to-Trails, P. O.
Box 2043, Cleona, PA 17042.
2,000 Art show applications mailed late last month. Following a brief lull, suddenly
a spurt of applications, phone calls and questions began flooding in from
artists after the first of the year.
13 Tons of salt used in a typical Mount Gretna snowstorm, says Bill Care. So far,
in the season’s first two storms, he’s used 25 tons and has 120 tons left. He
has access to another 170 tons if, heaven forefend, it’s needed.
12.5 Miles completed so far in Lebanon Valley’s Rails-to-Trails project, which
runs through the heart of Mount Gretna. Organizers hope to add an extension,
making it easier for hikers and bikers to stop in town during their treks.
10 Years in the average lifespan of trucks used by South Londonderry and West
Cornwall townships. Both are buying new trucks this year.
5 Reorders that Reenie and Joe Macsisak had to make for those “University of
Mount Gretna” T-shirts and sweatshirts last year. Only a few XXL
sweatshirts remain. No word yet on this year’s T-shirt design. But Reenie
promises it’ll include a rocker, now easily Mount Gretna’s most identifiable
icon. Their “Remember When” gift shop reopens for weekends May 7 and
full time starting June 4. Call 964-2231 if you need something before then.
Readers have passed along two memorial notices of interest.
Gene Tidwell, formerly an Alcoa engineer who lived on Lebanon Avenue until 1986, died last July in Leesburg, FL. He had been a road commissioner, building inspector and board member. Besides his wife Pat, survivors include a daughter, Patricia Wilmoth of Chicago, and a granddaughter, Kariann Rexrode of Charlestown, RI.
Clyde Mentzer, who formerly owned a cottage at 7th and Boehm in the Campmeeting, passed away Nov. 7 last year at the age of 90. A 1934 Lebanon Valley College graduate, he was a “Hotdog Frank” recipient for his many LVC contributions. His son, R. W. Mentzer, says that his father, an Ephrata native, had made Mount Gretna a part of his life “for almost all of his years.”
FINALLY. . .
Rounding up the news about Mount Gretna is one of the most pleasurable things we do. It brings us into contact with interesting people. The only deadlines are self-imposed. And it’s not a job, so there’s no pressure.
Of course, there’s no money either. But pleasure, staying-in-touch and enjoying the passing parade of good people engaged in worthy pursuits is compensation that’s unmatched.
Our recent conversation with bicyclist Bill Gentile was, well, a gentle reminder. Bill spent 10 years with Dun & Bradstreet. Before that, he was a human resources exec at Donnelly Printing. He gave it all up to follow his heart, even though he doesn’t expect to find riches. “Want to know how to make a million in bicycles? Start with $2 million,” he says.
Yet, says Bill, what he’s observed in life is that “those who live the longest, happiest and truly most profitable lives are those who would do what they’re doing even if they didn’t get paid for it.”
Some thoughts to pass along as a new year begins. Thanks for allowing us to share our hobby with you.
With kindest regards,
Roger Groce, 213 Stevens Ave.
P.S. Please continue to share printed copies of this newsletter with friends and neighbors not having ready access to the Internet. And remember that, thanks to the folks at Mount Gretna Inn, previous issues are posted online at http://mtgretna.com/news/
A Special Note to Our Website Readers: Before preparing each newsletter, we usually dispatch a special alert to our e-mail address list inviting everyone to send ideas for topics of interest and upcoming events. We attempt to make that alert as informative as the newsletter itself. Here is the “Call for Articles” that preceded this issue:
Sent: Friday, January 02, 2004 6:47 PM
Subject: Coming Up: Another Mt. Gretna E-Mail Newsletter
It’s soon time for another edition of Mount Gretna’s (now global) e-mail newsletter. Send your topics, ideas, and other ruminations to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll happily gather them together in our next issue for the sole purpose of keeping informed those who live here, those planning to return someday, and those who merely hold fond memories and wish to keep abreast of all that goes on here.
Meanwhile, a few New Year’s Resolutions in case you’ve already broken some of the ones you made for 2004:
 Dig out last year’s Fire Company contribution envelope you've been intending to mail and send in your donation. We need to pay off that new $170,000 fire truck.
 Tip your hat to those stalwart volunteers who’ve helped the Turkey Vultures find more suitable roosts this year. The flock, which once numbered more than 600, is down to only a few stubborn hangers on, thanks to the persistent, and sensible, efforts of volunteers throughout our community.
 Encourage folks to think first of LeSorelle Porch & Pantry Café when they’re going out for breakfast, especially on weekday mornings. All local businesses need our support. Particularly during the winter months when nearly half of us head for sunnier climes.
 Make it a point to take in at least two (preferably more) performances at the Playhouse this year. If you can’t attend personally, tickets to Gretna Music, Gretna Theater, or Cicada presentations make perfect presents for friends, employees, and relatives.
 When you’re doing anything that makes noise (blowing leaves, giving a party, remodeling a cottage, or tossing empty bottles into recyclable bins) bear in mind Mount Gretna’s century-old tradition as a haven for uninterrupted periods of quiet and peaceful contemplation. Sundays and holidays especially.
 Patronize local artists. They’re some of the best. Besides, everybody benefits: where the arts flourish, communities thrive.
 Say “thanks” whenever you can to the folks who keep our streets among the cleanest, clearest, and safest of any community in the country.
 Reflect, from time to time, on the treasured sense-of-community traditions that help make Mount Gretna different: front porches where neighbors exchange greetings, a well-run post office that serves as a daily hub for friendly conversations, and the can-do spirit of countless volunteers who make things hum to an extraordinary degree.
Of course, each of us probably has dozens of other worthwhile resolutions that we might add to this list. Ours is by no means complete. Just some reminders based on ideas passed along to us over the past year by readers, visitors, and those who've told us they'd love to live here.
Don’t forget to send your news, notions, and notices to us. And please continue your thoughtful practice of sharing copies of our newsletter with those friends and neighbors who, according to the latest surveys, are among the 37 percent of Americans without E-mail. Remember, too, that you can glimpse the latest photos of Mount Gretna goings-on at http://dalesdelights.com/ and review back issues of our newsletter at http://mtgretna.com/news/
With kindest regards,
Roger Groce, 213 Stevens Avenue