Bella Fontana

A weekly column about life in Bellefonte, PA, reprinted from the Centre Daily Times

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Quarry is no place for spectators

On warm, summer nights, I have heard through the open bedroom windows shouts and laughter coming from the region of the quarry. This would be the abandoned Bellefonte Quarry, owned by Graymont, the lime company with operations in Pleasant Gap and Coleville.

Curious about the site, I asked several people how to get there. No one said it was off-limits.

So when I set out with a friend on a sunny afternoon on a quest for the quarry, we thought this would be just a hike in the woods. The tragedy of another drowning in the quarry pond had not yet taken place.

Thinking about it now, with a police helicopter hovering over the area, the warnings should have been clear: This was an accident waiting to happen.

After a lot of walking along an ATV trail littered with odd bits of clothing, old car parts and even a junked car overturned in a ditch, we came to a "Danger: No Trespassing" sign facing the area we had just come through. We figured we must have missed the quarry and should head out in the opposite direction.

By this time we were surrounded by warning signs. It was time to leave.

An online search for "Bellefonte Quarry" came up with a number of sites that revealed the real reason, other than hanging out, for interest in the quarry. What may seem like a secret to outsiders is a rock climber's paradise. Web sites are filled with explicit descriptions and pictures of the different climbs. Each one has a name, such as El Crackitan and White Lightning, Blade Runner and Realm of the Senseless.

One site declines to give specific directions to the quarry. Others are more forthright, explaining where to park and how to proceed to the Upper Quarry and the Lower Quarry. Only a couple of sources mention that technically everyone who goes in is trespassing.

Many stories have been told about the quarry. Before the drowning, the one I recall most clearly was of the young man in 1996 who dived to his death, having struck his head on a rock ledge. The water's deep color deceives; the pond is treacherous.

Hugh Manchester recalled an earlier incident in a 1996 Big Spring column in the Centre Daily Times: A young man who was reported missing by swimming companions in 1942 showed up back in Bellefonte after the war.

The safest way to see the quarry is to look at pictures online. There, you can see climbers rappelling and belaying and whatever else they do in spite of snakes, the danger of falling and $300 fines.

Two guys sitting on their porch near where my friend and I came out told us, "They haven't started kicking people out yet."

Checking with the police department, I was told "Oh, yes, they have."

And now, one hopes, they will do so more than ever.