[Photo Story] Taking a fall foliage hike up to Governor Dick Observation Tower

7 min read296 views and 272 shares Posted November 12, 2019

With Lebanon County now savoring the final days of fall foliage season, join us on a hike up Governor Dick to see the views.

All photos by LebTown photographer Will Trostel.

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Not familiar with Governor Dick? It’s a peak that sits just outside of Cornwall and Mount Gretna, off Pinch Road, named after an 18th-century black collier, or charcoal burner, who labored as part of the iron empire established by Peter Grubb (and later taken over by the Coleman family) and lived on the slope.

As a collier, or charcoal burner, Gov. Dick would have lived in a structure similar to the reconstruction one seen above. This exhibit was installed in the park by Ryan Stammel in 2010 as an Eagle Project with Boy Scout Troop 415 of Cornwall, PA.

Gov. Dick would have lived his life in then-Lancaster County as a slave. Even when Pennsylvania abolished slavery in 1780, he would have remained a slave, due to a provision in the legislation that slaves born before 1780 were to remain slaves for life. According to Lancaster Newspapers, Gov. Dick may have even escaped to Maryland later in his life, where a large free black community existed. Here’s the 1796 newspaper advertisement that suggests this possibility.

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Governor Dick would have spent his days working at a charcoal pit like the reconstruction one seen above. Although no original charcoal pits remain, flattened areas can be spotted around the Gretna area, a tell-tale sign of this former industrial activity. The charcoal pit on Governor Dick was also built by Stammel as part of his Eagle Project.

Accounts as to why Gov. Dick achieved such fame have varied—some claim he was biracial, others say that it was his “mountain doctor” remedies that gave him fame, perhaps it was a dramatic escape that solidified the community’s memory of him—but whatever it was that made Dick a part of the Lebanon County zeitgeist at the time, the name for the Cornwall area summit remained in use through the 19th century.

In the second half of the 1930s, the land of Governor Dick began to be acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Schock, a Lancaster County family that grew wealthy through the Schock Independent Oil Company. Schock, who resisted the consolidation pressure rampant in the oil industry, further bucked common wisdom by converting the company to a nonprofit corporation in 1941 (and later switching to a foundation-model).

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The Schocks made the hill available to the public as early as 1936, and the park continues to bear their family name as the “Clarence Schock Memorial Park,” although it is much more commonly known as Governor Dick. Today the park is managed by six board members appointed by the Lebanon County Commissioners, and is incorporated as its own nonprofit organization with a mission of providing the public with a safe place to enjoy the outdoors.

The Environmental Center at Clarence Schock Memorial Park is open Wednesday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Trails are open dawn to dusk.

Recent additions at the Environmental Center have included the new free-standing restroom facility, seen to the left below, as well as a newly-installed boardwalk that guides visitors through a beautiful walk in the woods, concluding at an untarnished forest vista.

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The boardwalk is ADA accessible, and bicycles are prohibited, making it a perfect spot to take even those with limited mobility. The boardwalk was funded in part with a nearly $200,000 grant by DCNR, which covered about half of the costs. The park continues to raise money for this addition with memorial bricks, which are still available.

So, what is there to do at Governor Dick? Hiking, of course, but bouldering has also taken off in recent years, with an annual bouldering competition having been held at the site for nearly a decade now. This year’s bouldering competition will be held Saturday, Nov. 23.

The event is the creation of Adam Hartman, an Annville-Cleona graduate who began bouldering (paywall) when he was a student at the Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport. Hartman serves as the South Central Pennsylvania Climbers representative to the park. Hartman is also the Central PA chapter chair of the American Alpine Club.

While traveling various trails, you will come across bouldering spots. White spots remain from the chalk used from rock climbers.

Hartman also teaches bouldering clinics at the park for younger climbers.

Another prime bouldering location spotted at Governor Dick.

Governor Dick Bouldering can be followed on Instagram here.

Clarence Schock Memorial Park features 14 miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking, but the main attraction (the Governor Dick Observation Tower) sits at the top. Let’s get going!

Some fall foliage and beautiful colors still remained in the park when LebTown visited earlier this month.

One of the sights along the way, the remains of the “Tower House,” completed in 1938 as a summer home for the Schocks. Locals called it “Déja Vu,” according to a plaque at the site. The structure, a stunning seven floors tall, was torn down in 1974 for safety purposes, and all that remain today are portions of the foundation.

Remains of the Tower House are still present on the trail.

We’re nearly at the top now, and just about to catch our first view of the Observation Tower.

The current 66′ tall, 15′ across structure was built in 1954. Visitors climb up (and down) a series of ladders to access the landings internal to the structure, finally ending up in the metal caged area at the top.

The Observation Tower may be the most popular part of the park. Here, the tower can be seen nestled in between fall foliage.

The Observation Tower sits at the top of the hill, an area that was, incredibly, once accessible by narrow-gauge railroad.

Read More: Before the Pennsylvania Farm Show, there was the Mt. Gretna Farmers’ Encampment

Although the current tower has only been there since 1954, it had predecessors there as early as 1882 when the first wooden platform was installed there by US Army engineers.

A view of the tower from below.

Going up? Let’s do it.

The entrance to the tower.

If the weather is right, you can see Lebanon, Lancaster, Dauphin, Berks, and York Counties from the top of the tower.

Although the top of the tower is caged, it didn’t prevent our photographer from capturing this beautiful and unencumbered shot of fall foliage.

The Pennsylvania Department for Conservation and Natural Resources says that from the tower at Governor Dick, a billion years of Earth’s history are visible. (See more about the site’s geologic importance in the PDF here.)

In addition to the geologic wonder such a view inspires, on full display when we visited was the final color burst of fall foliage season. According to the DCNR, the northeast US is one of only three regions in the world to exhibit fall autumn color. The others are the British Isles and parts of northwestern Europe and northeastern China and northern Japan.

The same view, but vertical. With rich orange and red colors throughout the park, we were catching the tail end of Pennsylvania’s famous fall foliage season.

Let’s head down. Separate “up” and “down” ladder sets provide some traffic control for the Observation Tower, which can get busy at certain times being a popular Lebanon County destination.

Many flights of steps are to be climbed to the top such as these.

That’s all for now. Let’s take one last opportunity to enjoy the beautiful colors before we are deep in winter and hoping for the advent of spring.

Want to plan a visit to Governor Dick?

Here’s the trail map as an image. Click here for PDF version.

Need GPS directions? Punch this address in: 3283 Pinch Rd, Mt. Gretna , PA 17064.

The Environmental Center at Clarence Schock Memorial Park is open Wednesday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Trails are open dawn to dusk.

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There are a few different routes to the trail, with total distance out-and-back ranging from three to four miles depending on where you start. There are also plenty of other trails on the site, with 14 total miles of maintained trails at the park.

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For more information about Governor Dick and Clarence Schock Memorial Park, visit the park’s website here.

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Thanks to scholar Cory James Young who helped us update this article to more accurately describe the conditions of Gov. Dick’s status as a slave following Pennsylvania’s provisional abolition of slavery in 1780.

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