A Hike Through History

This article was originally published on DiscoverNEPA as part of the monthly series, Get Your Tail on the Trail. Rachael Stark is PEC’s Northeastern Pennsylvania Program Coordinator.

Rachael Stark, Northeastern Pennsylvania Program Coordinator

Enjoy a 3.5-mile stroll along the Susquehanna River in Wilkes-Barre and Kingston.

Named after the designer of Kirby Park, the Olmstead trail winds through the lush woodlands alongside the Susquehanna River. You may recognize the Olmstead brothers from their work on some of your favorite parks, like New York’s Central Park and Boston’s Emerald Necklace. If you’ve never been to Kirby Park, but have visited one of the hundreds of other parks across the country designed by the brothers during the City Beautiful Movement in the early 1900s, then you should know you’re in for something special! With its serene ambiance and historic urban scenery, the park and trail provide a unique spot in the heart of a thriving city.

An easily-accessible trail.

From the parking lot at Nesbitt Park, head south under the Market Street Bridge. Rather than heading up the incline and onto the Luzerne County Levee Trail, visitors will veer left, where they will find an opening into a wooded riparian forest along the Susquehanna River and back into Kirby Park (adjacent to the tennis courts).  There is a ramp off the levee behind the tennis courts with signage.  Before you go, download the Olmstead Trail Guide for more detailed history about the area and educational information about the flora and fauna!

Photo courtesy of Riverfront Parks

Keep an eye out for the abundant wildlife.

The 3.5-mile trail winds through the Kirby Park Natural Area, a 65-acre riparian floodplain forest on the river side of the levee. The entire area is extremely important to the health of the Susquehanna River and even the Chesapeake Bay. The Kirby Park Natural Area was created by ecological succession, meaning the forest grew on its own after the 1936 flood caused the park to be split in half by the levee system. The riparian buffer serves as a natural flood plain and helps to prevent soil erosion, pollution, and the shade necessary to keep the river at the perfect temperature for the aquatic life that resides there. The Natural Area is also designated by the Audubon’s Important Bird Area list, providing habitat for kildeer, herons, woodpeckers, owls, and more! Patient visitors may often spot birds of prey like Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons searching for an evening meal in the water. Birds aren’t the only species residing here! Guests may also see some small mammals and, if you’re lucky, you may spot the protected flying squirrel!

Photo courtesy of Riverfront Parks

Historical remnants on display.

The site is also home to some magnificent history. When the park was first designed, many of the features for visitors were strategically placed along the Riverfront. The remains of large gardens, a zoo, a caretaker’s cottage, a reflecting pool, and more historical platforms can be found throughout the natural area. If your family has lived in the area for generations, it is likely that they spent time here in the Kirby Park Natural Area, watching the birds, relaxing in the sun, or wading in the reflecting pool!

Just outside of Downtown Wilkes-Barre.

The natural area is open to mountain biking, walking, birding, and natural exploration. Dogs are permitted as long as they are leashed, as to not to disturb the wildlife here! The trail’s ease of accessibility and proximity to downtown Wilkes Barre also makes it a hot spot for local high school and college students looking to get in a run or train for a track meet. The urban setting also promotes outdoor recreation for communities within the city that may not otherwise have access to state parks and trails that require a commute.

Photo courtesy of Riverfront Parks

A little frisbee golf, anyone?

On a long, sunny day, there are endless opportunities for outdoor fun at Kirby and Nesbitt Parks. In Nesbitt Park, visitors can utilize the nine-hole disc golf course for some friendly family competition or solo practice. The course winds through the level, open area of the park, with just a few trees to make things a little more challenging! In addition to the disc golf course, the park has a boat launch and several benches along the Riverfront for wildlife observation. Bring the kids to Kirby Park for some fun on the swing sets, baseball fields, or rent out one of the pavilions for a family picnic! Both parks and the Olmstead Trail connect to the 13-mile Wyoming Valley Levee Trail System, which many locals enjoy walking and biking daily.

Photo courtesy of Riverfront Parks

Keep an eye out for local events.

The Riverfront Parks Committee manages the Olmstead Trail. The committee was formed by the City of Wilkes-Barre in 1991, and it soon became a non-profit. The committee hosts several events including an Earth Day program for local schools and family fun days like Chalkfest, Hydromania, and the upcoming annual Riverfest event on June 23-25! To learn more about the work of the Riverfront Parks Committee, check out this recent article published by DiscoverNEPA. If you’re interested in getting involved with Riverfest or the committee, contact John Mayday at [email protected].

Photo courtesy of Riverfront Parks

Close to it all.

The park is within walking distance of Kingston and Wilkes-Barre, both of which are hot spots for food and family fun! Just a short hike up the levee trail you will find a local favorite – Market Street Burgers. This Riverside joint offers hand-crafted burgers that will satisfy any craving. If you prefer to go into the city, view the restaurant listing on DiscoverNEPA to guide your decision. Mediterranean, Thai, Italian, and Caribbean are just some of the cuisines that can be found in downtown Wilkes-Barre! If you’re visiting from out of town, make sure to buy tickets for a visit to the FM Kirby Center for the Performing Arts (Yes, that’s Fred Morgan Kirby whom Kirby Park is also named after!)

Thank you to Vinnie Cotrone and John Mayday for providing the information for this blog.

Photo courtesy of Riverfront ParksThe 165 Challenge has officially begun! Log 165 miles, the completed length of the D&L Trail, from May 1 through November 13th to earn the 165 Challenge badge and Get Your Tail on the Trail swag! Don’t forget to post your progress and photos on social media using our hashtag, #GetYourTailontheTrail!

 The Trail of the Month for June is the Olmstead Trail at Kirby and Nesbitt Park! Log miles at location “Olmstead Trail” now through June 30th for the chance to win a prize! Make sure to join us on a guided hike of the trail at Riverfest, June 24 at 1 PM. Sign up today for FREE at TailontheTrail.org!