Family opens farm for hiking and camping

August 14, 2005|By CANDICE BOSELY


A yellow finch flitted around a thistle bush before landing lightly on the plant, its weight barely bowing a branch. Early afternoon sunlight filtered through the trees, winding its way through an August haze into shady groves.

An underground spring emanating near a walnut tree has gone seasonally dry, but the spring that begins near an old willow tree continues to flow, as it has for countless years.

All of this was taking place in one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation, but not a car could be seen or heard. No houses were visible. Cell phones, if anyone was carrying one, never rang.


This quietness - this serenity - was happening not at a nature preserve or a park, but on a 200-acre farm in Back Creek Valley that easily could be the site of a subdivision.

Geraldine Zinner, 92, still receives frequent calls from developers, many from out of state, asking her to sell her farm.

Her answer is always the same: No.

Like others who want to keep their farms sustainable, but find that working the land is not enough, Zinner and her family have sought alternative income sources.

Two sources in particular: Hikers and campers.

"It just sort of evolved because everyone who came up here to visit us, and we ourselves, love to just walk around, and it's nice to have so much space," Zinner said one recent afternoon from her comfortable living room, inside an addition built onto her circa-1790 home.

Opening the farm to campers and hikers "is going to be along with the cattle and cutting hay."

And, she said, "it's a little defense against the building that's going on. We'll all have the farm."

By "all," Zinner means more than the five family members who make up Willow Run Farms LLC - herself, her daughter Katherine Santucci and son-in-law Ed Cimaglio, and her son Bill Zinner and his wife Eleanor Zinner.

"Hiking is a different kind of sport. It's not the same as taking a walk," Geraldine Zinner said. "This is an opportunity for solitude."

Deer and coyotes and ... bears?

Willow Run Farms LLC officially opened to the public on Friday. It will be open year-round to hikers and campers from 8 a.m. to sunset. For now, it is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, but eventually will be open daily.

Daylong hiking passes cost $5, while campers, who also can hike the farm's four trails, will be charged $20 per night for up to four people per campsite. Additional campers will be charged $8 per night.

Campers are given firewood and a gallon of water.

RVs, generators, firearms and alcohol are not permitted, and cars cannot be driven past designated parking areas. For their safety and that of wildlife and nearby livestock, pets are not allowed.

Each campsite features a fire ring and a picnic table, with campers sharing portable bathrooms. There are six campsites, but plans call for adding more, and possibly adding permanent tepees and one or two more hiking trails.

Other plans include creating a historical garden, with old-fashioned root crops and vegetables.

Campers will be able to buy essential items, such as toothpaste and toothbrushes, at a building on the property called the trading post, which is where visitors check in and out.

The four trails, color-coded and marked, range in length from one-eighth of a mile to three-fourths of a mile.

Each trail has different characteristics.

Middlefields Trail meanders through wooded areas, has "two nice meadow views and rest areas" and is "where the turkeys hang out," according to written information about the trails.

Post Road Trail includes a section along the top of Wilson Ridge and is considered to be a good deer trail, while Owl Hollow Trail is, as its name suggests, "where the owls hang out."

Moonshiner Trail, "like all good secret trails ... takes many twists and turns through dense deer habitat."

A hiker who has trekked portions of the Appalachian Trail, Eleanor Zinner said the trails are not especially difficult and should be navigable by hikers of nearly all skill levels.

Wildlife on the property includes a variety of birds, including ruby-throated hummingbirds, red-tailed hawks and pileated woodpeckers. Deer, squirrels, rabbits, foxes, raccoons and other animals native to the area abound.

Coyotes have been heard, but never seen, and there are rumors that black bears live in the area.

'The way to live'

Zinner and her husband, Paul Zinner, who is receiving care in a nursing home, bought the farm in 1961.

The old farmhouse had no electricity or plumbing. Fences had to be built, drainage ponds were needed and the road needed repairs.

"Mr. Zinner," as Geraldine Zinner calls her husband, worked in Washington as a mining engineer for the Department of the Interior.

The couple discovered Back Creek Valley, which is nestled between North Mountain and Third Hill Mountain southwest of Martinsburg, W.Va., because of friends who lived nearby.

"It just seemed like such a charming area," Zinner said.

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