“That sounds like a bad television program” I said when my friend Troy told me about the Spartansburg Amish.
We were unloading our bikes from Troy’s truck at the trailhead for the East Brach Trail, and Troy was unfolding odd stories about the local Amish community. His tale of Amish women dressing ‘English’ and going to bars at night sounded like a leg pull. But then I remembered the only known murder among these plain people occurred in this region. And then on this very trail there was the incident with the tacks….
Before I get to that, I should present the trail to you. The East Branch Trail is a work in slow progress, with a three some mile paved section above and below Spartansburg, and miles of unpaved, unprepared railroad right of way beyond that. This morning we rode the paved segment, after a good breakfast at an Amish-themed diner in Spartansburg.
The trail itself was flat, paved, and scenic. Troy was, as usual, much faster than me, and was at the trail end waiting for me when I arrived. One benefit of being slower is that I missed seeing the black bear that crossed the trail ahead of Troy. I enjoyed the trail, and if the trail folks get it extended, with either a paved or finished gravel surface, I’d gladly come back to ride it.
After we were back to the truck and done all the goofy stuff we do on the rare occasions we meet, Troy drove us a few miles away to a bridge. The climb from the road to the old railroad right of way was steep, but accessible to horses and buggies, as the slope showed. I huffed and puffed as I reached the top, and walked across the bridge. Troy was standing there taking photos.
“Remember the tacks, Neil? This is where it happened.”
In 2005 the Rails to Trails Conservancy held its annual Greenway Sojourn, a group trip of day rides on rail trails in a given area, in western Pennsylvania. They began in Erie and had little trouble until they came to Spartansburg. Cyclists had to put up with Amish picketing the use of ‘their’ trail by English, and on the stretch of trail I was standing on the trail had been mined with carpet tacks. Reportedly there were two hundred flat tires and the organizers had to scramble to SAG all their riders back to camp. A web search brings up any number of photos of cyclists fixing flats and the Amish picketers.
The Amish complaint, as far as I can tell, is that paving the trail and promoting its use means they will have more problems with “English” using the trail. Such problems can range from photographing the Amish – they object to photographs of themselves because its allegedly worldly – to clogging up the trail obstructing their buggies. I don’t find these objections to be reasonable. I’ve ridden on trails used by Amish and Mennonites in Lancaster and Indiana Counties in Pennsylvania and Holmes County in Ohio, and I’ve not seen buggies or bikes obstructed nor photographers harassing the Amish.
As you can imagine, a sect that shuns to the extent the Amish do can easily form into small exclusive groups, and it appears the Spartansburg Amish are a bitter and strange cell indeed. While conflicts between the Amish and the greater community are more common than one would believe from tourist brochures, most of them avoid rising to the level of trail terrorism. The Amish of Spartansburg have instead embraced it.