Put some gravel in your trip

There’s a lot of wisdom in country songs. For example, there are so many country songs about back roads. It’s like the lyrics to the Rodney Atkins song, “Take a secondary road.” The chorus goes like this, “And it makes me want to take a side road, it makes me want to take the long way back, put some gravel in my journey, relax, let off steam all night.”

I know that one of my favorite things to do on a hot summer evening or on a weekend is to ride the back roads of Juniata County. The vast landscape of hills and valleys, surrounded by beautiful mountains, is dotted with majestic stone farmhouses, meandering streams, grazing animals, and the occasional wandering deer or turkey. There are many historical, gastronomic, leisure and shopping opportunities along the way. One of my favorites, no matter the time of year, is a stop at Pomeroy Academia Covered Bridge for a casual stroll and photo ops.

We are so lucky to have this unique piece of history as it is the longest remaining covered bridge in Pennsylvania at 271 feet, 6 inches long. Its design is the unique double-span Burr Truss, which allows for amazing interior shots. It was built in 1902 and is listed on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places. The bridge is meticulously maintained by the Juniata County Historical Society and was lovingly restored in 2009 at a cost of $1.8 million. I’ve taken many out-of-town visitors here and they invariably marvel at its beauty as it so gracefully spans Tuscarora Creek. There are also other covered bridges to explore in Juniata County, some harder to find than others.

A short distance away is the Tuscarora Academy Museum. You will find it open to visitors between June and August on Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., or Saturday July 23 or Saturday August 13. The museum contains exhibits with artifacts representing Juniata County’s past from businesses, industries, and everyday life. There are also two halls representing the Academy’s boarding schools. This too is owned and maintained by the Juniata County Historical Society. This building was originally built as a church, but was later expanded, and later shared, by Tuscarora Academy. The Academy gradually became one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the country and continued to train students for 80 years.

A very famous student who attended was Dr. Joseph Rothrock, the resident of McVeytown who became known as “Father of forestry.” As a young man in the 1840s, he walked to school up mountains and through valleys between his home in McVeytown and the Academy (you mean walking to school by rising in both directions!)

In the area, another important historical stop is the Book Indian Mound. There is a marker pointing to where the mound once stood. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a very sacred site where burial remains and relics were discovered by archaeologists, before the arrival of Christopher Columbus (AD700-1300!) The individuals buried there were known as the Clemson Island culture. From what I read on the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission website; these types of burial mounds have been found in the Susquehanna Valley as well as here in the Juniata River Valley. Who knew?

If you’re not in the story, that’s okay. What about shopping and food stops? There are farm stands, ice cream parlors, greenhouses, thrift stores, a winery, a distillery, several restaurants, various retail stores, and a cafe. If you prefer fishing, boating and kayaking, you will also find many creeks and the Juniata River here.

Plus, we haven’t discussed the busiest attraction in the entire Juniata River Valley, the Port Royal Speedway, which draws visitors from across the United States as well as international racing fans. That’s a story for another day.

Hope this was enough to whet your appetite for local travel. With gas prices soaring, why not think local for your next adventure. I think Charlotte Eriksson said it best, “There’s a whole world out there, right outside your window. You’d be crazy to miss this. So take that side road and put some gravel in your journey!

For more information on local things to see and do, visit jrvvisitors.com/things-to-do/ and juniatacountyhistoricalsociety.org/historic-site-preservation.

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Rhonda S. Kelley is Executive Director of the Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce.

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