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Mt. Gretna Newsletter No. 54 Dec. 12, 2005


Down at Communications Central (a.k.a. Mt. Gretna's Post Office), familiar topics bubble up in conversations among year ‘rounders, now settling in for the frosty months ahead.

Amid their comings and goings, Mt. Gretnans who until recently were wondering whether winter ever would come now wonder why last week's first snow of the season came earlier and seemed deeper than usual. They're also wondering whether that starkly subdued building across the street will ever again spring to life.

Alas, news of progress on that front remains as elusive. Although the prospective operators of that long-planned pizza parlor reportedly are as determined as ever to crack through the regulatory jungles, signs of activity behind those drab, newspaper-covered windows are scarce. Up the road, at the building originally designated as a design center, Mt. Gretnans continue to hold out hope that a coffee shop, offering perhaps newspapers and other daily essentials, may someday soon be announcing the date for a grand opening. For now, however, there’s nothing to report on that front either.

So local residents are now beating a familiar path westward, along Route 117 to that incredibly well-stocked grocery store in Colebrook, which offers everything from subs to sewing thread, plus hot coffee, warm welcomes and friendly smiles seven days a week.

But that’s not all Mt. Gretnans are talking about these days. Last week's limited four-day hunt at Governor Dick Park surprised many who supposed those hunters chosen by lottery might take home, at most, 35 deer or so. As of this morning, with about 80 of 100 permit-holders reporting, the total was up to 53 deer. When all reports are in later this week, final totals will likely be higher. That’s a good start, say forestry experts including Ellen Roane of Pennsylvania’s Department of Natural Resources. A district forester who has studied the 1,100-acre tract carefully, Ellen told us the park was “severely degraded” and warned that a hunt over one year, or even five years, might not be enough to restore the forest’s vitality. Deer populations can double every two or three years, she says, and continued culling will likely be needed to assure a healthy balance of both plant and animal life. Mother Nature sometimes needs a hand, it seems, especially in woodlands where we humans dwell nearby. That, at least, was the talk circulating around town last week.

Talking, of course, is a national sport. And nobody does it better than we Mt. Gretnans, even though our mobile chatting proclivities were severely crimped before Verizon finally activated its cellular tower here last February. So other callers, non-Verizon users, continue to ask when, if ever, Cingular, Sprint and T-Mobile will offer similar services. Along that front, the news is brighter. Sprint says they’re getting their paperwork ready this month and hope to begin offering service, from an antenna perched atop Verizon’s tower, sometime in January. At T-Mobile, the engineer charged with overseeing area cellular service tells us they’ve already set up towers south of here along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, at Mt. Hope and in Elstonville, and they hope to add another link that will serve Mt. Gretnans. We’ve also heard from Cingular’s engineers, who once thought their tower near the RV sales center on Route 72 would guarantee adequate coverage for Mt. Gretnans. It didn’t. When we asked them to take a look at the Verizon tower, they concluded that site didn’t fit into their network, which must assure continuous “handoffs” as customers hop from one coverage area to another. Cingular said last week they're still looking for an alternative site, and they’re keeping Mt. Gretna in mind as they map their plans for 2006. Just what that means, exactly, is anybody’s guess. But at least they know we’re here.

Amid talk about cell phones, wildlife and another winter without a store, Mt. Gretna nevertheless abounds with yuletide chatter and cheer. Neighbors are greeting neighbors, carolers are tuning up for Christmas serenades, and the lights are on once again at the community Christmas tree, located at The Point, where Pinch and Princeton roads join Route 117 (which some readers prefer to call “Mt. Gretna Road,” see “Questions Readers Ask,” this issue).

So with a full year nearly behind us and what’s shaping up to be an equally full year ahead, let’s see what other news is stirring in this supposedly sleepy hamlet where, in Brigadoon-like tradition, the population at this time of year should by now have mostly disappeared. Clearly, as the following stories show, it hasn’t.


Cindy Kercher, who now owns the cottage once occupied by noted author Ann Hark, will present “If Mt. Gretna Cottages Could Talk” at the firehall Jan. 29. Some have called Hark “a woman of today in a Victorian world.” She was fashion editor of The Ladies Home Journal in the 1920s, had a romance with her chauffeur, and owned a cottage overlooking the lake along Route 117. It was there that their relationship ended tragically.
The Mt. Gretna Area Historical Society, sponsoring the 2 p.m. program, invites guests to bring “show and tell” items about their cottages and share stories of their own following the talk.

IN BRIEF (45 words or less)

[] Call-a-caroler? Dial 964-3568 and United Methodist Church carolers will show up outside your door Dec. 21. Organizer Judy Weimer says everyone’s invited to take part. Singing talent? Not required. Hearing a “ruckus” outside, someone once called 911, says Judy. “Guess we didn’t sound especially melodious.”

[] Why do they ask us not to shovel snow into the street? When it re-freezes, it’s a hazard to plow drivers, pedestrians and other vehicles. “We know shoveling snow is tough,” says supervisor Bill Care. Although it’s an ordinance, he says they’re simply requesting cooperation.

[] Bill adds that if residents move their cars after a storm, he’ll return the next day to clean the vacant parking spaces. “That helps us do a better job of clearing snow from curb to curb.”

[] Fans of the Audubon Quartet, a Gretna Music favorite for 25 years, are protesting a court ruling that would liquidate the quartet members’ personal property, including their musical instruments, following a former member’s lawsuit. Details appear at and in yesterday’s New York Times

[] Mt. Gretna’s borough council appointed Virginia Minnich to fill the four-year term of Princeton Ave. neighbor Nancy Bressi, whose name was already on the ballot when she died just before the November 8 election.

[] Preview the first chapter of Charlotte Valentine’s The Buried Treasure of Mt. Gretna online at The author, now living in Charlestown, Md., comes here each summer and says the book “has brought enough joy in its first year to last a lifetime.”

[] Christmas Eve candlelight services begin at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. at Mount Gretna's United Methodist Church. Services on Sunday, Christmas Day, start at 9 a.m. All are welcome.

[] Shhhh. . . it’s a secret. Peter and Mary Hernley (Mt. Gretna’s “flower lady”) will observe their 50th wedding anniversary Jan. 28 during a missionary trip to India. Their children plan a card shower, other surprises. For full details simply drop us a note:

[] Governor Dick Park is adding names to a subscriber list for its free newsletter. Send your e-mail address to The park reopens in April. Meanwhile, enjoy 360-degree views from atop the tower, plus summer, fall and winter scenes, at

[] LeSorelle Porch & Pantry café’s reservations-only theme dinners resume on second Saturdays, starting with “French Night” Jan 14. Regular winter hours: 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fridays-Sundays. They’ll be closed Dec. 23 through Jan. 1. Tel. 964-3771 or see

[] Chautauqua might be listed officially on Pennsylvania’s Historical Places Registry someday. Secretary Linda Bell says officials are considering that possibility, and hope to find a registry category that would nevertheless allow cottage owners to alter their properties.

[] Gretna Music marketing director Susan Kinderdine has joined Susquehanna University’s development office research staff. “I’ll miss Gretna Music and living close to Mt. Gretna,” she says, “but I look forward to enjoying next summer’s concerts as a member of the audience.”

[] Trevor Dixon, who grew up here and whose dad is a Mt. Gretna art show co-founder, recently bought a Campmeeting cottage. A Philadelphia-based photographer, Trevor’s work often appears in catalogs and magazines. Also view it online at

[] Chris Jones, an Eagle Scout who grew up at his grandparents’ Valley Road home, began a tour of duty in Iraq last week. Want to send him an encouraging note? 1st Lt. Christopher Jones, 22D MEU DET A (CE 5-6), Unit 74042, FPO AE 09502-4042.

[] A generator proposed for the area’s best-producing well would assure water for homes and hydrants throughout the Chautauqua, Heights and Campmeeting during sustained power outages. Art show contributions ($6,000) plus funding pledged by municipal and community groups would help purchase the $18,500 propane-powered unit.

[] Firefighters last week warned wood stove owners to burn only seasoned wood and keep chimneys clean. A chimney fire resulted when someone using a stove for the first time burned green wood at low temperatures, causing creosote buildup, says fire chief Ben Sutcliffe.

[] Looking for a gift you won’t find in the malls? The Mt. Gretna Cookbook ($12), an all-time favorite, has just been reprinted in response to continuing requests. . . some from restaurant chefs. Scott Zellers has copies: 964-3233. All proceeds benefit the Fire Company.

[] Cicada Festival organizers say they’ll post next season’s entertainment offerings (including play readings and old time movie nights) on their website,, sometime in February. Brochures will go out in the mail in late May, just before Cicada’s office opens for business June 1.


[] Last month’s Mt. Gretna Newsletter mentioned there were no signs advising motorists to turn west (or left) toward Mt. Gretna at the Route 72/117 exit ramps. But how about road signs at other intersections? Some of them say “Mt. Gretna Road,” others merely refer to the main thoroughfare through town as “Rte. 117.” Shouldn’t they all just say “Mt. Gretna Road”?

<> We’re passing your suggestion onto Tony Travis, PennDOT’s “can-do” sign foreman in Lebanon County, who’s already at work on the signs (which should be up this month) directing motorists exiting Route 72 to turn West if they’re headed for Mt. Gretna.

[] We live in Timber Hills and appreciate the job someone does of keeping our streets clear when it snows. Who’s in charge of snow removal here?

<> Hats off to the three-man team of Mt. Gretna Borough: Bill Care, Joey Wise and Scott Cooling. They’re behind the snowplows scurrying through Chautauqua, the Campmeeting and (for the past five years or so) the South Londonderry Township areas of Timber Hills, Conewago Hills, and Timber Bridge. Scooping snow from the streets of Stoberdale and Mt. Gretna Heights is West Cornwall Township’s amiable road foreman, George Dundore.

[] As a teacher in England, I once visited Mt. Gretna and met Evelyn Duncan, who I understand now travels about the country by motor home. Can you tell me how to get in touch with her?

<> You can reach Evelyn—who loves travel, volunteering and helping others in equal measure—at On the road each winter, she’s just finished a stint as a United Methodist Church volunteer for Katrina flood victims in Louisiana. After visiting Florida this month, she’ll return to Louisiana in January. Meanwhile, she’d like to hear from Mt. Gretnans, especially anyone wishing to help in the continuing efforts aiding those ravaged by the hurricane. She says the church’s Sager-Brown Distribution Center in Louisiana runs year ‘round, assisting victims of natural disasters worldwide.

[] Turkey vultures roost in several trees in back of our home on Valley Road. Directly behind our bedroom window is a dead (but still standing) tree where they love to roost, acting like Anhinga Wannabes. One morning, I couldn’t believe my eyes. When I raised the shade, there was a vulture wearing a large round orange "sticker" with the number six. At first, I thought it was a pumpkin, or maybe a target. It didn’t seem to be uncomfortable, and the bird stayed there quite a while with his confreres. But I haven’t seen him since. Any ideas?

<> What some now are calling “The Legend of Old No. 6” may forever remain a Mt. Gretna mystery, one that local poets and balladeers will likely memorialize along with Grundonmobile Day and other celebratory rites.
Nobody we consulted had an answer, and we checked with experts in three states. USDA officials in Pennsylvania said they weren’t aware of any bird identification programs using orange markers. A wildlife official in Florida who charts bird tracking programs up and down the East Coast says some tag studies are underway, but none use orange tags (they’re all white or yellow, and have three digits rather than one). So we checked with that ultimate authority, the Turkey Vulture Society, headquartered in Virginia. President Ramona VanRiper, says that what our reader probably saw was a scientific marker placed through the patagial skin. It’s the same tag they use on cattle, and it does the vulture no harm, she says, adding that marked vultures should be reported to the U.S. bird banding lab in Maryland ( The Turkey Vulture Society’s website keeps updated information on current vulture tracking studies.
Is there anything you can’t find out by reading The Mt. Gretna Newsletter?


10 Years. That’s how long it took author Charlotte Valentine to complete her first novel, The Buried Treasure of Mt. Gretna. Responses from Mt. Gretna lovers have been gratifying, she says. “I especially enjoy the personal connection, some to folks I’ve yet to meet. Everyone loves to share Mt. Gretna memories. Many have thanked me for writing a book about a place they love so much.”
Charlotte and her husband live at a retirement community near Baltimore where many residents, after reading her book, have become “converts” to Mt. Gretna’s charms. Now busy babysitting her granddaughter, she doesn’t know when she’ll have time to resume writing, but does “have some ideas perking.” She’s grateful to historian Jack Bitner, who helped make the book possible “with his knowledge of Mt. Gretna and his help with historical photos.” She also appreciates “Remember When” gift shop, where the book is sold locally. It’s also available through the publisher, and at Barnes and Noble: $17.50 (soft cover), $23.95 (hardcover).

19 Airbags now installed in some luxury vehicles—just one of the intricate details our volunteer firefighters have to know, since complex propellant and electrical systems can be dangerous when they’re cutting into wrecked cars to rescue accident victims. That’s why they’re regularly attending classes, evenings and weekends, when the rest of us are relaxing at home. Something to think about when we’re writing our year-end donation checks to the fire company this month.

90 Gallons of water flowing per minute from Well No. 3, Mt. Gretna’s biggest producer, located at Yale and Wesleyan avenues. That’s the one officials hope to link to that emergency generator which will assure adequate water (and peace of mind) if electrical power fails for prolonged periods. Otherwise, a four-day power outage could put our firefighting capability at risk, say officials, even with our 250,000-gallon reservoir. What does it take to put out a single fire? At Conewago Hills last March, quenching the blaze required 100,000 gallons.

100 Tons of salt left over from last winter. Our snow-clearing specialists think they have plenty for at least the first few storms this winter. How much salt does a typical storm require? About 10 to 15 tons, says Bill Care. Surprisingly, heavy snowfalls don’t need as much salt as small ice storms. “When it’s deep, we stop salting everything except the hills and just plow. But ice storms need far more salt, up to 20 or 30 tons per storm,” he says.

200 Visitors stopping by the Valley Road studio of Shelby Applegate during last month’s two-day Art Studio Tour throughout Lancaster, Dauphin and Lebanon counties. Eight Mt. Gretna artists displayed their works, including studio tour newcomers Betsy Stutzman and Madelaine Gray. Organizers hope to entice two or three other Mt. Gretna artists to join the studio tour next year.

$1,700 Typical cost of repairing damage to a vehicle following collision with deer and other wildlife. Where do most deer-auto accidents occur? In Pennsylvania, says State Farm Insurance. In the Mt. Gretna area during rutting season, police have reported as many as 12 deer-auto accidents in a single month.

$800 Raised for our firefighters at last month’s third annual soup cook-off. That’s nearly double last year’s totals in what’s clearly become one of Mt. Gretna’s most popular fall events (see
This year’s winner was former airline stewardess Chris Koslosky, who often volunteers at the Gretna Theater box office, specializes in what she calls “heritage cooking” (based on family recipes) and loves strolling through Mt. Gretna, where she escapes to every chance she gets. A South Lebanon resident, Chris competed earlier this year at Hershey’s soup cook-off, but says the offerings here were “more sophisticated.” She says each had an “artistic flair that only could have come from Mt. Gretna.”
Runners-up were Eleanor Sarabia (who also took “best presentation” honors) and Elaine Baum, the hands-down winner in two previous soup challenges. Cook-off coordinator Thatcher Bornman hopes to attract more chefs next year, promising the competition is likely to be even keener.

4,900 Art Show applications mailed last month to prospective exhibitors. That’s nearly twice as many as in previous years. “We’re hoping to attract some new faces and new art,” says show director Linda Bell. Applicant numbers have dropped a bit recent years, so Linda supplemented her standard 2,400-name mailing roster with a fresh list of 2,500 extra names of East Coast artists.

9,540,000 Gallons of water used by Campmeeting residents last year. Surprisingly, that’s 1 million fewer gallons than were used 20 years ago.
Why? Supervisor Merv Lenz says it’s because nowadays the Campmeeting has more residents who are here only during the summer. It’s also true that Merv and his crews have probably gotten better at finding and fixing underground leaks.
On an average day, the Campmeeting uses about 25,500 gallons of water. But during art show weekends (and on some frosty days in February when residents allow faucets to drip), the daily rate can soar to 60,000 gallons or more. During the 1990 art show, water usage skyrocketed to an all-time high, 76,000 gallons in a single day.

So with this wrap-up of news about mysterious buzzards, ruckus-rousing carolers and taste-bud tantalizing soups, we close this final issue of the year, extending to our readers here and around the world warmest best wishes of the season.

With kindest regards,

Roger Groce

P.S. Our continuing thanks to all who ask questions, send news and pass along suggestions for this community newsletter. We also greatly appreciate those who regularly forward copies to friends in faraway places, extending our circulation multifold, and those who kindly print copies for friends and neighbors lacking links to the Web. And we’re grateful for friends like Keith Volker and the folks at Gretna Computing. They not only keep our computer humming but also maintain a website ( where, 24 hours a day, you can recover the latest issue. That’s especially helpful to readers who receive The Mt. Gretna Newsletter by e-mail, then accidentally hit the “delete” key before their spouse has a chance to read it. Keith and his friends will never know what contributions they make to domestic tranquillity. Speaking of which, in our own household, we’re happy to report that domestic tranquillity and delight has been enhanced by 13-year-old grandson Bruce Baxter, now a regular member of the newsletter staff, and contributing news, notices and proofreading skills that earn for him a new title (but no increase in allowance) of Contributing Editor.


{::} Enjoy Mt. Gretna’s beauty through windows that sparkle. Schoolteachers Faith and Brad clean your windows with “sunshiny service that’s sure to please.” Mention this message, and they’ll give 10 percent of their fee to Mt. Gretna’s fire company. Sunshine Window Washing: . Tel. 964-2212.

{::} Tuesdays are Mt. Gretna Fire Company Night at Farmer’s Hope Inn on Route 72, just north of the Turnpike. Tell them you’re a Mt. Gretnan, and owners Tim and Terri Brown cheerfully send 10 percent of your bill as a donation to our firefighters. Tel. (717) 664-4673 or 273-4500.