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Discover Delaware’s Amish Country

    By Laura Sparks


Bright-white button-down long sleeved shirts hanging on white rope laundry lines. Dark brown horses pulling a farmer’s wooden plough through the cornfields.  A young girl in a homemade dress playing in the front yard of a white country home.

Delaware's Kent County is home to one of Delaware’s best-kept secrets: it’s Amish Country. No matter which route you take through the countryside, the scenic views and the calm backcountry roads make Dover an ideal cycling area.    

    Historic Dover

While Dover, Delaware is widely known as a popular place to gamble and watch NASCAR races, the historic section of Dover paired with the Amish countryside that surrounds the quaint city, makes Dover one of the easiest, most sought after areas to bike through.              

Whether coming by car or by bike to the heart of Delaware, the center of the historic section of the United States’ first state capital is a great place to start and finish a biking trip.  Within the town, one can tour the former plantation home of John Dickinson, take a tour of the city with a period-dressed guide, and visit the John Bell House on the Green: the oldest surviving workshop in the country. Upon the return trip through the countryside, end the day with a lantern tour of the old cemeteries; a fun and spooky way to learn about the settlers who once lived in the area.    

Not a history-buff? Not to worry. Cycling through Delaware can be the ideal ride for someone looking for a safe and enjoyable ride; and believe me; it is worth the trip for those trying to bike through cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.    
 

The state is also one of the safest to bike through. Delaware was recently named the 10th best bicycle-friendly state in the nation by the League of American Bicyclists for 2012. Delaware's sole Amish country, nestled against Dover in Kent County and covering 800 square miles of the state, exemplifies the recent title.    

While the area features yearlong easy-to-navigate routes, the ideal season to cycle through Dover is fall because the farms are active, the weather is beautiful, and the trees display a painter’s pallet along the countryside. Farmers begin to harvest their crops at the beginning of September and continue into the beginning of October. Cattle are still out in the field before they are to be brought inside for the winter months; and leaves begin their annual change from bright green into golden yellow, dark red, and brown hues.    

    The Amish Countryside    

Cycle not even five miles west of downtown Dover and the roads will transform from cobblestone to flat, paved roads with shoulders that pass through the rolling, flat Amish countryside. The backcountry roads that weave together like a handmade patchwork quilt create multiple loops that range from 15 miles to over 100 miles. As you ride you will pass by the numerous buggy signs that alert riders and drivers to the presence of the Amish. Nothing is better than biking through the charming countryside as you breathe in the fresh air with every cool breeze and ride down the empty back roads.    

Along the way you will pass by traditional Amish homes: hand-built white shutterless houses with barns and laundry hanging on the clothes line that contrast the bright blue cloudless sky. The roads found in the area are a fitting addition to the trip. You will ride a few miles on Yoder Road (Yoder being a traditional and common last name for Amish families), ride past Mud Mill Pond and through many of the back roads, with names like Sandy Bend Road and Daring Farm Road; a telling tale of the naturally beautiful backdrop to the ride. As you weave your way through the countryside, make sure to stop in at some of the little towns for a drink of water or a snack.    

The natural loops of the country roads allow you to pass by many Amish country stores as well. The shops are marked by simple homemade wooden signs posted along the road in front of the homes notating the specialty of the shop. According to the 2005 Delaware Amish Directory, Dover is home to at least eight cabinet shops, three blacksmiths, three buggy shops, 11 furniture or woodworking shops, seven sawmills, three greenhouses, three post drivers, an appliance store, a quilt shop, a butcher, a tax service, a well digger, and many dry goods stores like Byler’s Country Store on Rose Valley School Road that has a delicious bakery, hand-dipped ice cream, and many other grocery stores. I would not advise visiting on a Sunday: they’re closed! 

For a longer route, cyclists can stop at the Country Store and then travel 10 miles south where they can encircle the Norman G. Wilder Wildlife Areas, which feature mature forests preserved for wildlife. Continue further south, crossing over the Killens Pond, which is part of the Killens Pond State Park, and cycle past both Andrew’s Lake and McGinnis Pond, both known as popular local fishing areas. The larger loops of the area allow you to travel through the towns of Dover, Marydel, Camden, Felton, Harrington, Viola, and Woodside, which surround the Amish country.
 
    The History of the Delaware Amish    

The Amish community surrounding the state's capital is Delaware’s sole Amish community. Unlike Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where the Amish are highly publicized, this Amish community is nestled in with the suburbs of Dover. Delaware’s Amish community may not be the oldest or the largest, but when passing through the area you feel the sense of pride and community among the members.     

The Amish first settled in Kent County nearly 100 years ago in 1915. Settlers arrived from all over the country including Wisconsin, Montana, Alabama, and Ohio. The Amish country features nine church districts with roughly 1200-1500 members in about 250-300 households. While the city sprawl has caused some residents to move out into the countryside of Dover, the Amish have still have a large presence and their roots are very strong in the area.    

When visiting the Amish countryside, one should remember to respect the values and beliefs of the Amish members. As a visitor to the area, do not take any photographs in which faces of Amish members are recognizable. The Amish hold humility as a cherished value and believe that personal photographs can accentuate individuality and are a threat to the overall community harmony.

         The Appeal of the Countryside    

Unlike many routes in the mid-Atlantic area, Delaware’s Amish country features nearly a completely flat route with very few street lights. The beauty of area, not only through its visual appeal, is that there are hundreds of route permutations cyclists can venture on. When deciding on a loop originating in downtown Dover, the area allows you to be spontaneous because most roads connect back up to each other.      

With the beautiful scenery, flat laid back roads, and old country charm, you can understand why Dover has become a choice location for bicyclists looking for the best location to ride. If there is one place you need to visit this year it is historic Dover where the simple life is only a short bike ride away.

For more, click on picture of "Current Issue," top left....................................................

Pedaling Paradise in Poolesville

by Brenda Ruby

So often when we talk about favorite places to bike, or fantastic multi-day trips, we overlook the tried-and-true routes that have gotten us ready for those "big" rides--the routes and places we return to time and again to enjoy a Saturday morning with nothing on the agenda but cycling for the joy of it.

One area favorite for local cyclists is Poolesville, Maryland. Just west of Germantown, Poolesville and the surrounding hamlets of Seneca, Dickerson, Beallsville, and Boyds in upper Montgomery County comprise some of the sweetest riding around. Here suburban sprawl finds an end in the rolling farmlands and fragrant orchards that seem to pop up around every turn.

The swath of land between I-270 and the Potomac River remains protected and largely undeveloped as part of the Agricultural Reserve, a nationally acclaimed land-use plan established in 1980 by Montgomery County in response to the rapid disappearance of farmland. The result is an abundance of low-traffic, small country roads that wind through centuries-old pastures. In this biker's paradise often the number of cyclists you see will outnumber the cars. It's not uncommon to realize the impeccable stone wall you've decided to take a break next to was built in the mid-19th century.

Because of its location and varied terrain, the Poolesville area, just 30 miles northwest of D.C., is an ideal starting point for many different rides and types of riders; you can plan an orchard-to-orchard tour, ride to (and up!) Sugarloaf Mountain, visit a winery, access the C&O Towpath, or even decide to take a ferry ride to Virginia. Poolesville itself was established in 1867 and sits right in the middle of the 90,000 plus acre Reserve. 

For more, click on picture of "Current Issue," top left....................................................