May 6, 2008 – Hiking

Today was hiking day.

We took the two interpretive trails in the park and some of the smaller trails along Passage Creek. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club does some great work on the trails and on the trail signs and interpretive signs. However, many of those signs get stolen each year (sad!) so we were told to follow the trail blazes.

The first one was called the Charcoal Trail. In many of the iron furnace areas, charcoal was made nearby as a fuel supply for the furnace. And we learned how it was made (the first history lesson of the trip):

Ø A circular area 30-40’ in diameter was cleared and leveled
Ø A slide pole was placed in the center of the leveled area.
Ø A triangular wooden chimney was built around the guide pole from the ground up.
Ø Two tiers of wood were stacked vertically around the chimney and smaller wood was then laid horizontally to round off the top. The guide pole was removed and the chimney filled with wood chips and fine kindling. The top was covered with larger wood.
Ø The mound like pit was covered with leaves and charcoal dust from a previous cooling. The pit had to be almost airtight so that the wood would char rather than burn.
Ø A part of the chimney covering was removed and red-hot coals were shoveled on top of the kindling.
Ø The chimney covering was replaced and the top of the pit was again covered by a least a foot of dust.
Ø As the pit burned, a sharpened rod was used to punch draft holes near the base to bring even charring on all sides of the pit.
Ø After about 2 weeks of continuous charring under intense heat the wood was changed to charcoal and the escaping smoke assumed a certain color. A portion of the charcoal was dug out from the edge of the pit with a shovel and, little by little, was raked into separate rings to cool so that if one ring burst into flame it would not ignite the others. When there was no longer danger of the charcoal catching fire, it was hauled by wagon to the charcoal house at the furnace.
Ø This process was repeated until all the charcoal had been dug out, cooled, and hauled away.

(Yes, I copied that but I still think it is interesting!!)

The wagon trail and wagon parts:

The second one was called the Pig Iron Trail. This is part of the Elizabeth Furnace that remains:

A picture of the actual furnace area in operation: (Notice the stone structure.)

A sample of pig iron:

This furnace was built in the 1830’s and was in operation for ~ 50 years. During the Civil War, the furnace supplied thousands of tons of pig iron to the Confederacy. The furnace was destroyed in 1864 when Federal troops penetrated the upper end of Fort Valley during the battle of Cedar Creek. It was rebuilt in 1883 and then abandoned in 1888.

Some other pictures along the trail:

All the wildflowers are also blooming:

Another great campfire night!

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