Monday, October 27, 2003

I went walking north of town around the old limestone quarries. The foothills of Bald Eagle Mountain are riddled with abandoned quarries that are more-or-less wide open. Some of the ones up past Zion are fenced in, but the land owners haven't bothered with the ones closer to town. Go figure. I had forgotten just how much of the old buildings were still intact. Free-standing concrete pillars stand everywhere in pretty minimal brush. I don't know just when these quarries went out of business, but it was long enough ago that a full-scale climax forest has grown over what must have been the parking lots, and compounds. The quarry floors themselves are mostly open, with medium-light scrub, except for the one closest to town, which is a near-impenetrable tangle of sumac and so on. That particular quarry is also the one with the fewest ruins - I'm not sure what to make of that. Possibly it's been abandoned for a much longer period of time, and the scrub is finally breaking the quarry floor down into useful topsoil? We're talking limestone, here. It isn't the most resilient of bedrocks.

The ruins that stand between the second, third and fourth quarries (in a more-or-less sequence from Water Street trending northeast towards the interstate) are clustered around a healthy little stream that's fed from the pond in the fourth quarry, although the stream doesn't originate entirely from the quarry complex. It must have preceded the flooding of the fourth quarry, because there's an intact concrete bridge over it that's clearly part of the older ruins. Half-standing two-story buildings, towers, and gutted windows loom out of the forest dark like the shattered remnants of ancient fortresses. The construction is all much more sturdy than today's industrial complexes, unless they were doing some sort of on-site processing that I haven't heard of. Maybe the gravel plant used to be in that complex? There isn't nearly enough ironmongery laying about for that, I don't think. There's plenty of rubbish back there, but it's all consumer-trash - entire wrecked cars, mufflers, busted-up consumer electronics, mattresses, that sort of thing.

I ran into a group of about ten rock-climbers in and around the fourth quarry, including one guy halfway up the eastern rockface, with two guys belaying him below. The rest of them were packed up and making their way out of the quarry area. The sheer bulk of ropes, pinions, and so on is mildly staggering. Every one of them was carrying a full backpack, stuffed as full as if they were on a two-week trek through the backwoods. It left me wondering how rockclimbers got around before the days of nylon, alloys and other light-weight materials.

I suppose I ought to throw in some sort of warning about how old quarries are dangerous, notably lacking in fences, full of rusty rubbish, uncertain footing, and unexpected sudden drops. But from what I've been told these quarries are a part of any Bellefonte childhood, and if you survived a childhood here, you know about them. As I was walking back through town in the twilight, I passed two ten-year-olds racing their skateboards, body-surfing them head-first down a steep suburban street. Kids can find a way to risk their necks anywhere, I suppose.

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