Sideling Hill Tunnel

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Sideling Hill Tunnel
Sideling Hill West.jpg
The west portal of the tunnel
County Fulton
Length 6,782 ft
Opened 1 October 1940
(Opening of the Turnpike)
Closed 26 November 1968
(Closing of the Abandoned Turnpike)
South Penn Railroad
Number 4
Planned Length 6,662 ft
Heading Completed 3,276 ft


Sideling Hill Tunnel is one of the Lost Tunnels of Septempontia. It was bypassed in 1968 along with Ray's Hill Tunnel and Cove Valley Service Plaza.

Sideling Hill was the longest of the seven original tunnels on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Like Ray's Hill, it has been used as a test facility for new highway innovations since being closed to public use.

Sideling Hill is the source of the name of the office of Sideling Herald.

Closure

The tunnel closed on 26 November 1968 when the new alignment of the Turnpike opened, bypassing it and Ray's Hill Tunnel. The tunnel formed part of the STAR Facility. Because it is extremely dark in the tunnel, one of Sideling Hill's biggest uses was for testing the visibility of recessed reflectors.

In 2001, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission sold most of the abandoned Turnpike to the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy for $1, and the Tunnel became open to hikers and bicyclists.

Rediscovery

The Emperor raises the then-Flag of Septempontia in the tunnel on the day of its rediscovery

The first recorded visit to Sideling Hill Tunnel by Septempontians took place on 7 August 2004. The expedition included Shawn Knight, Alan Caum, Gracie Gollinger, and Jackie Cipa. Caum and Gollinger, starting at the east portal, managed to penetrate the Tunnel deep enough to see the light at the other end. Knight made the first documented attempt to bowl a cricket ball on the Turnpike, running out of the Tunnel and bowling to Gollinger.

The first Septempontian visit to the west portal took place on 13 March 2005 when Knight, Caum, Gollinger, and a non-Septempontian friend found the portal based on Brian Troutman's directions.

Visiting Sideling Hill

Since the abandoned Turnpike and Tunnels were purchased by the Southern Alleghenies Conservancy, visiting Sideling Hill has been very safe and completely legal.

If you are not concerned with visiting Cove Valley, the western portal is recommended, as there is a shorter walk from a good parking place to the Tunnel; however, a portion of this involves driving on a rough gravel and dirt road, so if for whatever reason you're concerned about your car on such a surface, plan accordingly.

The eastern portal (and Cove Valley Service Plaza)

The eastern portal of Sideling Hill is the farthest drive of the four Lost Tunnel portals from the modern Turnpike. In July 2004, without the benefit of a smartphone, and information about locating the Tunnels much more difficult to come by, Shawn missed the turn from PA-915 onto Mt. House Road, continued up PA-915, and ended up in Saxton, PA, nearly 20 miles away from the portal!

Brief Directions Detailed Notes
Take the Turnpike to Breezewood (Exit 161).
Take US-30 east from the exit for about 3 miles. Go up the mountain (which is actually Ray's Hill) After about 3 miles, you will see signs for PA-915, which comes up from the right and then joins with your course on US-30.
Continue on US-30 and PA-915 for about 1.4 more miles.
Turn left on PA-915.
Continue about 2.4 miles. You are now passing through Buchanan State Forest. You will cross an overpass, going over the current Turnpike again. This area can be quite foggy at times, so be careful.
At the fork, take the road on the right. Continue on the paved and yellow-lined road. The fork is sort of complicated, as a forest path intersects it and it is more like a triangle. There is a small street intersection sign on the left indicating Mt. House Road crossing here.
Continue 2.7 miles on this road (Mountain House Road, State Route 4006). There is one particularly nasty S-curve along the hillside, so watch your speed. You will be traveling with the current Turnpike to your right for much of the way. You may also see signs indicating you are on Bicycle PA Route S.
At the fairly clear four-way intersection, turn right, under the modern Turnpike. Ahead of you at this intersection, you will see Private Roadway signs. That road continues as the access road for the modern-day Sideling Hill service plaza. When you turn right to go under the modern Pike, you may see another Bicycle Route S sign.
Continue 0.4 miles to a stop sign. This is North Hess Road.
Continue straight through the stop sign. This is now Pumping Station Road.
Continue 0.5 miles and pass between a fenced-off road on the left and a low hill of gray stones on the right. There are three things of interest here. The fence, gate, and "Private Roadway" signs is the remaining stub of original Turnpike which leads onto the modern Turnpike. On your right, first there is a small road leading into the woods; this was the access road for Cove Valley Service Plaza and now leads to a piece of private property and the nearby cellular tower. Immediately after the access road, there is a pile of gray stones covering the side of the hill, leading up to the Abandoned Turnpike. This is not a good place to park, so just a little further ...
Continue about 0.1 mile and then turn onto a small access road or driveway to the right. There is a mailbox just next to this driveway.
Continue up this road to the right, and you will come to the jersey barriers and parking area for hiking on the Abandoned Turnpike.

The Tunnel is about 25 minutes from here on foot. You are advised not to wander far from the shoulder of the road, as you may be on private property (though unlike at Ray's Hill, there are not posted signs every few yards to alert you to this fact).

Once the portal is in full view ahead of you, you can find a pathway to the left (south) side of the road, which leads gently up the side of the hill. This is believed to be an old grade of the South Penn Railroad.

Following this path gives easy access to the ground above the Tunnel, from which you can see the back of the ventilation housing and, to the north, a fieldstone wall with a lovely little waterfall running down it from the Hill above.

The western portal

The rediscovery of the western portal of Sideling Hill, 13 March 2005. Gracie Gollinger approaching the tunnel.

The western portal is located near Oregon Road which leads to the old Civilian Conservation Corps Oregon Camp. Oregon Road is gravel-covered and very uneven, so it can be hard on your car. There are two ways to access Oregon Road: from PA-915, which is recommended as it is less of a drive on the rough road, and from US-30, which though rougher is a great deal more scenic.

Via PA-915 (easier for the car)

Oregon Camp sign.

Follow the directions for reaching the eastern portal until the fork of PA-915 and Mt. House Road., but do not turn off PA-915 at the intersection. Instead, continue another 0.7 miles north on PA-915 until you reach an intersection on the left, where a gravel road heads into the forest. This is Oregon Road. Turn left onto it.

Continue about 1 mile on Oregon Road until you reach the old Civilian Conservation Corps Sideling Hill Camp site. At the far end of the camp is another side road turning right into the woods; there's a convenient place there for several cars to park.

At the camp, walk past the yellow gate (it says non-motorized traffic is welcome) and head up the hill. The path comes up to the embankment upon which the old Pike runs, and then heads left. Continue on up the path. You will pass (on the left) a "scary" old rundown shack. A few hundred feet later, the path reaches the old Pike, and the Tunnel is there in all its glory.

Via US-30 (more scenic)

A car stopped in front of the eastern portal on the Turnpike's 65th birthday, 1 October 2005

Follow the directions for reaching the eastern portal until the four-way intersection where PA-915 meets US-30. The left turn of this intersection is a gravel road. Turn onto it.

You will pass under the modern Turnpike and then come to a T-intersection. Do not take the left turn. It can be used to reach the eastern portal of Ray's Hill but it goes through aggressively posted private property. Take the right turn. This is Oregon Road.

Follow Oregon Road on down the hill. The road will run parallel and close to the abandoned Turnpike for some distance and you will have a number of opportunities to park the car and walk onto the old Pike, with the Pike being on your left.

Eventually, Oregon Road passes under the old Pike, and then resumes its parallel course, now with the Pike on your right. From here it is not much further before you reach the old Civilian Conservation Corps Sideling Hill Camp site, and the directions are as above, except the side road for convenient parking is at the near end of the camp, not the far end.

Walking through the tunnel

The first trip through the tunnel by Septempontians took place on 21 May 2005. A group of eight people (Septempontians and friends) walked through Sideling Hill both ways, as a mission of the First Expeditionary Force led by Major Gracie Gollinger. The group started at the west portal, walked through the Tunnel, played some cricket at the east portal and explored Sideling Hill Falls, and then returned through the tunnel to the west portal.

Walking through Sideling Hill is not for the faint of heart, as it is over a mile long and very, very dark. Some visitors have reported bats in the tunnel at times, and it's always possible (though undocumented) that other wild animals might take refuge in the tunnel. Also, there's always small bits of broken glass or rusty metal laying around. For these reasons, you should wear durable footwear and carry reliable light sources.

On a visit in 2006 Gracie and Shawn noticed extensive wear of the ceiling/floor which divides the tunnel proper from the ventilation space, and noted several places where crumbling concrete could cause a problem for someone walking beneath. The overall structure of the tunnel has been deemed perfectly safe by engineers hired for this purpose by its owners, but small portions of the "innards" could be loose and dangerous.