How Green Is Your Exercise?
A Guide to the Good Life should cover sports and exercise. Sports are, as a rule, healthy, which is a shade of green. Generally, they don’t pollute or consume natural resources. Hiking, swimming — these are clearly activities that leave no lasting carbon footprint.
But, there are exceptions. Some “sports” drip oil: stock car racing, for example. And some destroy natural resources. Duck hunting poses as a sport, though the ducks presumably disagree.
In surveying opportunities for green exercise in Chester County, we ruled out anything that requires fuel other than food. We wanted carbon-neutral sports. Combustible is out. Also, if an athletic endeavor sacrifices anything living, we exclude it. Hunting and fishing are out.
We also exclude team sports or those requiring major equipment, e.g., bobsled, yacht. Even golf is out, given the carts, clubs and country club upkeep. Also, if a truck is required to get started, we axed it. Think the Olympic ideal.
On Your Feet
We begin with walking and hiking. Add a little speed, and you get running. Proper shoes are the main equipment needed, and shoes become specialized as you increase speed. Hiking shoes outfit a true hiker. Lightweight running shoes complete the distance runner.
Walking can be enjoyed in the neighborhood, while hiking requires a trail. Around our parts, think about the Horseshoe Trail, a 140-mile path beginning near Valley Forge and ending at the Appalachia Trail, west of Harrisburg. Lesser trails are located in the several state and county parks: Hibernia, Nottingham, Warwick, French Creek, Marsh Creek, White Clay Preserve, and the Struble Trail, which runs from Marsh Creek to Downingtown.
Anywhere you can walk, you can jog. You can share whatever manner of trail, street or sidewalk that suits you. Except perhaps for the Schuylkill Trail in Philadelphia, there’s little congestion.
If company is what you crave, join a running club. There’s one affiliated with virtually every running shoe store. Wednesday nights are popular for group runs.
Running requires a bit more dedication and planning. If running turns you on, you may want a level surface — something akin to a track. Check out the area high schools for access to their running tracks — Henderson, East, Phoenixville, Owen Roberts, Downingtown, Octorara, Coatesville, Oxford and Unionville. Also, the colleges: West Chester University, Immaculata and the like. Bring your own stopwatch.
Next, there’s swimming. A swimsuit represents minimal equipment investment, at least if there’s a pool or lake available. Goggles are probably a necessity as well. At first we included diving, but then excluded it as falling with style. Though divers have great bodies, they don’t get them just from diving.
The major public pools and lakes are at Marsh Creek and French Creek. These are large and unfortunately crowded: more suited to shouts of “Marco Polo” than 100 laps, and not easy to reach from the eastern side of the county. Practically speaking, dedicated swimmers have three options: the high schools, though you’ll have to abide their limited hours; YMCAs; or a membership in a country club.
Oh yes. There are private pools. They require some size before they’re candidates for more than a dip. Not to mention good friendship with the owner.
Several years ago I was told that Chester County was becoming a hotbed of competitive cycling. Maybe. But I still wish for some dedicated bike paths, especially in the southern part of the county.
For now, the Schuylkill Trail, beginning near Kernside Dam above Harrisburg and ending in Center City, Philadelphia, is the only path that offers any respite from traffic for more than a few miles. Sometimes listed as 125 miles or so, the macadam portion of the Trail is much less than that. A paved section from Phoenixville to Pottstown is “in study/under construction;” Birdsboro to Gibraltar is on-road; and another large section west of Reading is “under study.” Basically, once you’re several miles west of Collegeville or outside the vicinity of Pottstown, you're on the frontier. Still, it’s a path.
On the other hand, some two wheelers don’t necessarily need a trail. A map and some less-trafficked back roads will do. And Chester County has plenty, particularly to the west.
Consider joining a bicycle club. Once or twice a year, clubs sponsor major rides — 50-, 62-, 100-mile circuits — or more. More importantly, members get together for weekly or even daily rides. There’s safety in numbers and experience. Not all drivers expect cyclists on winding, hilly roads. Get in touch with the West Chester, Brandywine or Delaware Bicycling Club.
Maybe you don’t even need a back road. Your style is back country and more intrepid. There is a surprising amount in and around Chester County. Tap your inner pioneer.
The areas known for mountain biking are French Creek, Valley Forge, the Schuylkill Trail, Ridley Creek and Brandywine Creek State Park. Also, Fairmount Park’s Wissahickon Gorge and Forbidden Drive, though outside the immediate area, are also easily accessed and two of the best mountain biking areas in Pennsylvania.
There’s no dedicated facility for in-line or roller skating in Chester County, and flat, auto-free streets are rare. (There was once a roller-skating rink where Route 30 meets the Blue Route, but alas ....) You’ll have to travel to Fairmount Park in Philadelphia if you want some real exercise.
Ice skating is a different story. Ice Line in West Chester offers four separate rinks. Although the place has a busy tournament, camp and practice schedule, it seems like there’s an open time for skating nearly every day. Similarly, there are rinks at the Center Ice at Oaks, Skatium (currently under repair) in Havertown, Power Play Rinks in Exton, Marple Sports Arena, and at Ice Line in Aston. Share the cool space.
Things That Float
Kayaking, canoeing, rowing. Great exercise, especially for the upper body. You’ll want an accessible body of water of some size, though. No one seems to enjoy making tight circles in a pool.
If you have your own boat, Chester County offers several substantial rivers, lakes, and streams with public access. The Brandywine and the Schuylkill are excellent and picturesque. Marsh, French, Pickering and Valley Creeks also have good sections.
There are some excellent outfitters to make this easy: Brandywine Outfitters near Embreeville and Northbrook Canoe Company near West Chester. They will take care of you if you’re an occasional or beginning paddler.
Gyms offer equipment of various kinds. On their machines you can exercise every muscle in your body. Their trainers will show you how. In their classes, you’ll find entertainment and camaraderie.
Fitness facilities are often viewed as a substitute for the “real thing,” and to some extent they are. Walking, running, cycling, rowing . . . all can be done outside the gym. But fitness clubs offer safety and convenience in any weather — say when the temperature hits triple digits.
Some exercises cannot be easily duplicated: for example, the super pullover or the rotary torso. And there’s no substitute if you’re trying to squeeze a workout into a few minutes during, before or after work.
We’ll only name a few of the larger gyms. Of course, there are the YMCAs, ten in Chester County. And there are the university and school gyms, though access to these is uneven. Among the commercial gyms, there is ACAC, located outside of West Chester. Also, Summit Fitness in Chesterbrook. And others. Then there’s the Chester County Hospital Health and Fitness Center, which takes a medical approach, but is open to the public at a fee.
Rolling hills, verdant paths. Certainly, there are few greener, more stylish ways to earn your aerobic points than on the back of a well-groomed horse. And in Chester County, there’s an abundance of trails, on private and public property. The major public trails include the Horseshoe Trail and the Struble Trail, but there are also substantial riding trails in the national, state and county parks, as well as on numerous private farms and land conservancies.
Whatever you choose: Green trails! -CL-
Chester County Parks – ChesCo.org/CCParks
PA State Parks – Dcnr.State.PA.US/StateParks
Horseshoe Trail – Hstrail.org
Schuylkill River Nat’l & State Heritage Area
Struble Trail – 610-344-6415; StrubleTrail.org
Wissahickon Gorge – 8-mile loop along Kelly
Drive and back on West River Drive
Brandywine Bicycle Club – 610-722-5283
Delaware Valley Bicycle Club – 484-483-7456
West Chester – 484-947-4729
ICE SKATING RINKS
Broomall – Marple Sports Arena
Exton – Power Play Rinks
Havertown – Skatium, 610-853-2226
Oaks – Center Ice Family Ice Skating
West Chester – Ice Line, 610-436-9670
Coatesville – Brandywine Outfitters
West Chester – Northbrook Canoe Company
Devon – Devon Fitness Club
Chester Springs – Summit Fitness
West Chester – ACAC
West Chester – Chester Co. Hosp., Health & Fitness
Berwyn – Upper Main Line YMCA
Brandywine Valley area (7) – 610-380-0622
Pottstown area (5) – 610-539-9190
Northern Delaware (5) – YMCADE.org