Wendy Royal Summer 2016
It was a sunny day in March when we set out for Gnome Countryside. I set the GPS and it led us through Amish farmland on winding roads and over bridges spanning the same creek. My companions, Parker and Paityn, gave up their game of “I Spy” for “who can spot the horse and buggy first?” as we passed eight while on a 3-mile stretch. Just before arriving at our destination, we passed three young Amish boys fishing along a creek. Like my fellow adventurers, Amish children had the day off of school too.
When we arrived, Rich Humphreys and his son Kesse greeted us. Mr. Rich, as he likes to be called, looks much more like an overgrown gnome than a business owner. Parker was eager to meet this man, and to my surprise, the usually shy Paityn accepted his handshake with no hesitancy. Like me, my grandchildren could sense this gnome man’s gentle spirit.
When visitors arrive at Gnome Countryside, they begin their tour in the Gnomery, a cozy one-room stone structure. It’s here that children are mesmerized by Mr. Rich’s tales of the gnomes who have taken up residency on the property. In fact, it’s likely that they lived there long before Humphreys created Gnome Countryside nearly 40 years ago. A gifted storyteller, Mr. Rich encourages children to use their imagination as he weaves together magical imagery designed to help children connect with nature in a way that is both educational and unforgettable.
After receiving instructions for the adventure to come, Mr. Rich leads the group along the manicured woodland trail where evidence of gnomes can be found if you know what to look for. Gnome houses, playgrounds and even some odd looking stone structures were discovered on our tour. We learned the story behind the buttercup flower and the essentials needed for a tree to go from seed to a towering home for many woodland creatures that call the Pennsylvania forest home.
The trail leads over large (mostly flat) rocks and past a lovely little waterfall aptly named the Gnome Gniagra. The tour stops at different points along the way so Mr. Rich can tell a story or engage children in hands-on activities, like stone-stacking and crossing the monkey bridge. Speaking of bridges, Parker was especially excited about crossing the troll bridge that spans the stream just below the regular walking bridge.
As an adult, I found the scenery to be beautiful and wondered what it would be like to grow up here as Kesse had. Perhaps his upbringing has something to do with his current vocation as an art teacher at a local school. When asked, Kesse said that he plans to continue his father’s legacy when it is time for Mr. Rich to retire his whimsical hat.
Fortunately, there are still a few places where kids can be kids – where believing in something otherworldly is still possible and without judgment. The magical woodland known as Gnome Countryside allows children to let their imaginations soar while learning an appreciation for the natural environment. And, though the tour is geared toward young minds, I learned a thing or two along the way.
Paityn and Parker are second-generation visitors to Gnome Countryside. Their dad visited while in elementary school, and by the reaction of his children, I have a feeling he’ll be returning very soon.
Gnome Countryside truly is a hidden treasure that creates a love for nature thanks to Rich Humphreys and the mysterious little people who share the land with us.
IF YOU GO:
Address: 63 Bridle Path Road
Kirkwood, PA 17536
Phone: (717) 786-4928
Tour Details: Approximately two hours for individual/family tours. Group tours can take up to three hours.
Hiking shoes or sneakers are best.
The Trail: Not a tough hike, but there is an incline and there are rocks to climb over.
Age: It is ideal for elementary-age children, 5 years and older. Younger children may need to be carried, as the trail is not stroller-friendly.