Must See Shelters – Quarry Gap, Pennsylvania
When considering shelters, most A.T. thru hikers would call themselves lucky just to have a tin roof with only one leak in it and a horde of mice whose noise level is slightly below average. As such, when one passes a beautiful, immaculately maintained shelter that features potted plants and coffee table books, one takes note. While most A.T. shelters prize function more than form (as they ought to — after all, it’s more important on the Trail to be dry than to be inspired), Quarry Gap Shelter in Pennsylvania manages to combine both character and utility for a unique overnight experience on America’s favorite trail. The caretaker of this shelter, Jim Stauch, aptly nicknamed “Innkeeper,” takes a great deal of pride in his charge, and his attention to detail and love for the spot is fairly common knowledge among the hiker community.
Quarry Gap Shelter is located just outside Caledonia State Park in Pennsylvania, a short 1075 miles from Springer and only 1110 miles from Katahdin. Note that this is prime real estate on the A.T., just a short day’s hike from the A.T. midpoint sign, the Appalachian Trail Museum, and Pine Grove Furnace State Park, home of the famous “Half Gallon Challenge.” I advise any prospective thru-hiker to take their time through this section, as all of the aforementioned places are worth the time to check out, especially if you have a penchant, as I do, for chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream doled out not in scoops but instead units of measure more appropriately utilized for purchasing bulk feed for livestock.
The country around Quarry Gap is lovely, encompassing friendly and airy stands of deciduous trees, the semi-developed campgrounds and graded walking paths of the state parks (Caledonia has a snack bar, thru-hikers!), and wide expanses of sunny, open farmland. Sparrows, wrens, cows, squirrels, and strolling human couples all put in an appearance in the span of twenty miles. Pennsylvania is known far and wide in long-distance hiking circles as “the land where boots go to die,” but I’m here to tell you that southern Pennsylvania doesn’t deserve that epithet. The trails are well-maintained, the terrain is mellow, and the walking is very forgiving. Perhaps a better name — for the southern half of the state, at least — would be “the land where boots rejoice,” or “the land where you break out the Chacos.”
During my thru-hike, the reputation of Quarry Gap Shelter preceded it. Several days in advance of the Pennsylvania border, I came across southbound section hikers gushing about the quaint and homey spot perched on the shady flanks of Quarry Hill. AWOL’s A.T. Guide mentions “potted plants” in its brief description of the shelter site, which piqued my interest out of novelty alone. When Crazy Chester and I arrived, we were not disappointed. We shared the shelter with a few other thru-hikers and spent a peaceful and restful night surrounded by the freshly painted walls of our temporary home. In addition to two separate sleeping areas (roomy enough to fit eight comfortably) in the shelter proper, there are a few tent pads on site for those who might want the charm of the location but not the snores of their fellows. The privy was immaculate (at least during my visit), and there is a shelf full of magazines, crossword puzzles, and board games in the central picnic area of the shelter. Though it didn’t rain during our stay, this central patio stood out as an impressive feature, because it’s a rare shelter that gives you a place to sit and eat that’s both comfortable and protected from the elements. A small stream of cool, clear water, lovingly landscaped, burbles away behind the rhododendrons opposite the building, completing the ambiance of mountainside idyll.
The building that stands on the site today is relatively new, compared to the majority of A.T. shelters. The original iteration, featuring wireframe beds, was built in the early 1930s by our intrepid friends in the Civilian Conservation Corps. A group of volunteers finally replaced it completely with a new structure made from native timber in 1994, over the course of the year. The quaint and comfortable stopover we have today is thanks to the hard work of these folks from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, and Jim the Innkeeper, who averages around 500 miles and 1000 hours of work each year maintaining 12 miles of trail and Quarry Gap Shelter itself, which he visits an estimated 100 times each season. “The work is never done,” he says. “I try to add something new every year to the shelter area,” a fact that does not go unnoticed by the hiker community. A quick internet search for Appalachian Trail Shelters reveals that Quarry Gap tops many hikers’ lists for “most beautiful,” “most well-kept,” and just plain “nicest.” The one and only Earl Shaffer, first person to complete a thru-hike, on his final walk of the Appalachian Trail, praised Quarry Gap in the logbook as “one of the best.”
Pennsylvania native Jim Stauch’s tenure as “Innkeeper” stretches back to 1981, when he happened upon Quarry Gap during a spring hunting trip with his cousin, at a time when the shelter was maintained by a fraternity from nearby Gettysburg College. “The place was a mess, a trash heap,” he says, “obviously a popular party destination.” Jim began returning to the shelter throughout that summer to clean up the area and improve the site, and soon became involved with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, the organization that currently maintains 240 miles of the A.T. from northern Virginia to southern Pennsylvania. After getting involved with the PATC, Jim continued to work tirelessly to improve Quarry Gap and keep it as spotless and fresh as we see it today. “I have found over the years that if users of the shelter come into a clean site, they are more likely to leave it clean when they leave,” he says of his weekly cleaning trips.
Jim is continually amazed and gratified at the respect and love people have for his shelter, and the reach that the Trail and his work have. People from all over the U.S. and even all over the world have complimented his efforts, and the beauty of Quarry Gap shelter. For the Innkeeper, as for all of us, the Appalachian Trail has been a way to meet people of all stripes, from all backgrounds, to form lasting relationships, and to experience those profound interactions one can only have when meeting someone for the first time in a sun-spotted grove of rhododendron, or on the shaded porch of a shelter with the history of almost a hundred years and the footprints of millions of boots.
I spent only one short night at Quarry Gap Shelter, but it still sticks out in my memory as one of the highlights of my thru-hike. In the waning light on that evening in early June, I treated myself to a refreshing hiker bath with my favorite bandana, a delightful dinner of trail food, and a few pages of my book. I noted that the pervasive sense of peace in which I partook came not only from being out in nature, but in resting at a miniature paradise, the sort of building that is meant to exist in concert with the landscape and atmosphere around it, as much as to protect from the elements. As the section hiker who first advertised the shelter to me said, “if your schedule has you walking past Quarry Gap and staying somewhere else, alter your schedule!”
I am very grateful to Jim Stauch, “The Innkeeper,” for answering my questions about Quarry Gap Shelter, and most of all for continuing a tradition of professional and incredible volunteer trail maintenance. If you would like to get involved with volunteer trail maintenance, or send a donation to keep our favorite shelters upkept in good order, visit the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club at PATC.net.
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