The Kernsville Dam Recreation Area comprises 252 acres of wilderness and wetlands along the Schuylkill River in northern Berks County.
Popular with hikers, cyclists, bird watchers, kayakers, and other outdoor enthusiasts, the area is considered the gateway to the scenic and historic Schuylkill River Gap.
The gap has been a regionally and nationally important traffic corridor for pedestrian, canal, rail and road traffic for more than two centuries. The dam and its desludging basin, built in 1949, captured coal sludge and removed it from the river. The dam is slated to be demolished to remove hazards and improve outdoor recreation.
After decay, the area known as The Kerny has found new life through 20 years of cleanup and trail development by a group of volunteers in Blue Mountain Wildlife. The land is owned by the Pennsylvania Department of the Environment and administered by Blue Mountain Wildlife. Most of it is in Tilden Township, but 44 acres are in Hamburg, 18 are in Windsor Township and seven are in West Brunswick, Schuylkill County.
History: The Kerny has been a transportation route since the pre-colonial era and was used by automobiles, railways, canal ships, and pedestrians.
According to Blue Mountain Wildlife, there were two dams here in the Schuylkill Navigation Co. canal system. The lower dam, the remains of which can still be seen, was the Little Blue Mountain Dam. The upper dam was the Big Blue Mountain Dam, which is located in the pool of the New Kernsville Dam. The upper locks are still visible on the east side of the reservoir.
In 1926, Reading Co. (Railroad) relocated the Schuylkill River in what is now the Route 61 Bridge, south of Port Clinton, Schuylkill County, to improve rail traffic through the area. At the time, it was referred to as one of the world’s engineering wonders.
The recreation area was named after the New Kernsville Dam, which is located in the northern part of the property.
The dam was built in 1949 to catch coal debris from coal mines in Schuylkill County, but it survived that purpose as those mines have since been shut down. The desludging project is considered to be one of the first large-scale environmental remediation projects in the USA.
To learn more about Blue Mountain Wildlife’s decades of work in the region, check out the 2019 report at https://bit.ly/3o8Zlx1.
Key Features: The recreation area is the starting point for the John Bartram Trail, a 6.2 mile portion of the Schuylkill River Trail. Kerny’s own path system connects the Bartram Trail with the Schuylkill River Trail in Hamburg. There is a parking lot next to the Desilting Monument. According to the National Heritage Area of the Schuylkill River Greenway, the trail runs 6 miles upstream and ends at the Schuylkill River. There is a 1.24 mile portion of the trail known locally as the Therman Madeira Switchback Trail that extends from the Kernsville Dam Trailhead to the Hamburg borough.
The Appalachian Trail, a National Scenic Trail that runs from Maine to Georgia, crosses the Bartram Trail near Port Clinton. The Appalachian Trail continues downhill through Port Clinton and under Route 61 before climbing back up the ridge.
There are 30 cars available in the trailhead parking lot. The Kernsville Dam area is maintained as a nature reserve by Blue Mountain Wildlife.
Predominant vegetation: In the area of the desludged basin, the I-78 bridge bisects the basin from east to west and separates the undulating wetlands / bush forests in the northern half of the basin from the flat grassland in the southern half.
Another area consists mostly of lowlands and wetlands covered by mature hardwood and coniferous forests.
Wildlife: Blue Mountain Wildlife states on its website that the area is abundant in wildlife and is one of the best bird watchers in Berks County. In a March report on ebird, the first documented sighting of Wilson’s snipe in the recreation area is noted. Killdeer, swallows and wood thrushes have been spotted. Go to https://bit.ly/3w68uct to see the species spotted in the bird watching hotspot
Best advice: While the northern part of the Kerny is closed to the public, the southern part is still open. The state-run DEP plans to spend $ 3 million to dredge the Schuylkill River and remove Kernsville Dam, an area near the dangerously popular Peace Rock.
The area was made famous in a 2016 viral video showing people jumping off the 40-foot ledge known for the peace sign spray painted on its face. The video also showed people using the mother’s breast as a water slide.
The dam on the Schuylkill River in Tilden Township near Route 61 and the Berks / Schuylkill county line has been the site of numerous injuries over the years. The area, where four people have drowned since 2009, was declared banned by the state in August 2016. The police must continue to take action against violations.
A map with details of the areas in the area that remain out of bounds can be found at https://bit.ly/3y8gFa0.