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Touring Carbon County

  • Most stops are marked with maroon Audubon Tour signs, but some are missing or are not easy to find.
    Most stops are marked with maroon Audubon Tour signs, but some are missing or are not easy to find.
Published May 20. 2010 05:00PM

For the past 10 springtimes, the warming weather has served as a cure for cabin fever and a herald to rambling the backroads of Carbon County, much in the way painter John James Audubon did in 1829.

That was because in 2000, the Audubon Society, the Pennsylvania DCNR, and the D&L Corridor Commission published Exploring Audubon's Lehigh, a book and audio kit that leads people on a three-to six-hour loop that follows Audubon's visit to the LehighRiver Great Pine Forest that would later form the northern portion of Carbon County.

Audubon became famous as a first naturalist to paint birds in the natural environment. Initially, he relied on his trusty gun, Tear-jacket, to kill the birds.

He would retrieve the birds along with samples of their habitat and draw life-size sketches that would later become paintings. His series of paintings were later incorporated into Birds of America.

His work would inspire the creation of the Audubon Society and the bird conservation movement.

Seeking to gain samples of the birds of northeastern Pennsylvania, Audubon traveled from Philadelphia to Mauch Chunk, currently Jim Thorpe, for what would be a 10-week trek, making a loop up the west side of the Lehigh River to White Haven, and returning to Mauch Chunk along the east side.

The tour, which is available at several locations including the Dimmick Memorial Library, the Mauch Chunk Museum, and online at, is a driving tour that follows the route of Audubon's ramble.

In 1829, the upper Lehigh was a wilderness that was the purview chiefly of loggers. The Lehigh River Navigation and Canal had been completed just two years earlier.

The Upper Division of the navigation system was still nearly a decade in the future.

The demands of industrialization resulted in the cutting of the trees in the Great Pine Forest along the Lehigh River, and in each year the lumber crews moved farther north.

When Audubon arrived, the lumbering was centered at Rockport, midway between what would become the canal terminals of White Haven and Mauch Chunk.

The Audubon Tour begins at the New Jersey Central Railroad Station in Jim Thorpe and follows Rt. 209 south and Rt. 93 north to the wetlands at the summit of Broad Mountain. Hughes Swamp, the wetland at the top of the watershed are on Pennsylvania Game Commission Lands.

Most stops are marked with maroon Audubon Tour signs, but some signs are missing or are not easy to find, as was the case on a recent tour.

Hughes Swamp is at the top of Rt. 93, Broad Mountain, and visible for half a mile along State Game Lands 141.

There may be more birds there now than in the days of Audubon, as now bird hunting is protected. It is home to egrets, herons and swamp sparrows.

When Audubon came through, elk and deer roamed freely. The elk are gone and the deer, which were driven to virtual extinction in the area, have since been repopulated by the Game Commission.

The tour continues to Weatherly, home of the Schwab School and clock tower, Eurana Park and pool, and the Lehigh Valley Railroad Engine Works before heading to Rockport in Lehigh Gorge State Park. Rockport offers access to the Lehigh River, waterfalls, and the remains of the lumber town.

Next it is on to White Haven, a good midway stop for lunch. White Haven's sites include a stone Canal Depot building and some of the highest stone locks ever built.

White Haven prospered as a lumber town that used the river's waterpower to run a battery of sawmills.

It's said that one million board feet of logs waiting to be sawed were caught up in a flash flood in 1862. The combined power of the water and logs pummeled the Upper Division of the Lehigh Navigation, battering it beyond repair.

From White Haven, the route turns south towards Lehigh Tannery.

Here, native hemlock trees were cut to provide bark for tanning hides. It is reported that up to 80,000 hides per year were tanned in its stone pits.

In 1875, a fire ravaged the Lehigh Gorge from the Tannery to above Stoddartsville, destroying the tannery.

The next stop at Hickory Run is a testament to General Harry Trexler, a visionary environmentalist who preserved vast tracts of open space, including land that would become Hickory Run State Park.

The return route passes the 1847 St. Paul's Lutheran Church which along Rt. 534 near the stagecoach road. Side tours are available to Split Rock Lodge and Eckley Miner's Village.

The final leg passes through the Penn Forest wetlands to the summit of Rt. 903 where a sign marks where one of the "walkers" completed the Walking Purchase of 1737a feat that, by cheating the Native Americans of their land, opened the Pennsylvania frontier, beginning an era of hostile relations.

Finally, the Audubon loop returns to Jim Thorpe where participants are invited to visit the Jim Thorpe Memorial, the Glen Onoko access to the Lehigh River, Glen Onoko Falls, and walk the Lehigh Gorge Trail.

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