Friday, January 26, 2001
Girl Scouts brave the elements at Tophet Swamp
Freezing cold, gray skies, and the possibility of getting very muddy didn't deter Carlisle Girl Scouts from venturing out on a hike last Saturday at 10 a.m. It's not every day you get to visit the site where a Native American village may have stood.
The twelve Girl Scouts included two Daisy Scouts, eight Brownies, and two Cadets. Jan Conover, a trained leader and local Girl Scout resource, organized and led the hike. She invited Rebecca Markey, an interpretive ranger at Great Brook Farm State Park, to share her expertise with the girls. Markey spoke about hike safety, animal tracking, and local Native American history. Twelve interested adults and Scout siblings also made the short, but difficult walk.
The group parked in the cul-de-sac at the end of Woodbine Road, and caught the Tophet Loop about fifteen yards into the woods. State park personnel do not maintain the trail as it is muddy most of the year. Possibly due to soil erosion, however, brush has not grown over the trail, and it remains clearly visible. Nonetheless, it's only possible to make this hike safely when ice covers the swampy ground.
"The soil can go into suspension," said Conover, "and there's as much water as soil. You can step into a bottomless pit of mud." Conover likened the result to Carlisle's version of "quicksand."
Due to this danger, Conover cautioned people never to make this walk alone. She equipped the hikers with trash bags secured by tape on their legs as a precaution. Conover led the Girl Scouts in a single file on a ramble over snow banks and through scrambled vines. Nonetheless, she still went through the ice twice. It took the group almost two hours to complete the quarter-mile hike, with frequent stops by Markey to share pertinent information with the Scouts. So why the attraction to come here in the first place?
In the Tophet Swamp, there's an island where Native Americans may have lived, according to an archeological survey conducted by Timelines, Inc., in 1995. Native Americans often settled on such islands, accessible only by canoe, for safety reasons. The site meets the profile of a preferred location, and perhaps someday additional funds will enable excavation. Markey described the "long houses" the Native Americans built as containing several fires. With dried food and warm clothes fashioned from animal fur, multiple families could dwell in a long house through the winter.
The hike, originally scheduled for December, was postponed due to the instability of the ice at that time. Based on the fragile ecological state of Tophet Swamp, it's uncertain how many more groups will be able to make it through safely in years to come. Recognizing the rare opportunity to combine nature and history, it's not surprising that so many ventured out on a cold morning.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito