Like York County's Conewago Creek that we talked about in the very first 'River of the Month' column, Cocalico Creek just doesn't seem to impress Ed Gertler. In his guidebook, 'Keystone Canoeing', Ed says the creek wanders through 'muddy mediocrity' and that there are better streams to paddle. Most times I agree with Ed's observations, but I have to challenge him when he says there are better streams to paddle. I never met a creek I didn't like and in my philosophy, they are all worth paddling. In fact, I'll go one step further, and say that they all must be paddled. Or, on another note, let's say for a minute that you were obligated to take the family to visit your spouse's Aunt Ida who just happens to live along the banks of Cocalico Creek. (This is not an unreasonable scenario, as there are lots of people who just happen to live along the banks of Cocalico Creek.) You just might find yourself in a situation where you have to choose between paddling Cocalico or paddling nothing. Which really is no choice at all when you think about it.
So, now that we've decided to paddle Cocalico, just where in the heck is it? You'll find it down in Lancaster County where it flows through Ephrata and joins up with the Conestoga River near Brownstown. Until I came to paddle Cocalico, I had never visited Ephrata other than a quick drive through on rt. 322. But my 'take' on the town was that of a busy but small farming center in the vast emptiness of agrarian northern Lancaster County. Wrong! The County is agrarian alright (or at least it used to be), but now it also contains numerous suburbs, with housing developments springing up all over. The combination of old farms and farming communities with new sprawl has made Lancaster the county with the least percentage of forested land in the state. And Ephrata is right in the thick of things with busy corridors extending north and south of town along Cocalico Creek. I recall thinking as I drove up rt. 272 to the put in, 'Dang, I traveled this far out into the countryside to paddle besides strip malls?'
The first 5 miles from Reamstown to Ephrata is the section that, no doubt, gave the creek its bad rap. This is not real pretty paddling. Homes frequently border the creek with trash and kid's toys sometimes in the creek. Where there are no homes there's farmlands with little or no wooded buffer.
When cruising into Ephrata, the scenery actually improves. The neighborhoods are usually wooded and there is a greater variety of things to see. In town watch for a wicked dam with one of the worst hydros I've ever seen. With high concrete walls on either side, it looked absolutely in-escapable. Further along, in what appeared to be a park, a second dam was runable where the creek braids and actually gives one a choice of 3 dams.
More sprawl on the south side of Ephrata before the creek loops away from the highway (rt. 272) and transforms into a typical Lancaster area stream. From this point to the Conestoga (about 7.5 miles), the Cocalico is a good paddling creek for my money. The water is flat and muddy (that's Lancaster County), but now the scenery is quite rural with lonely picturesque farms and old limestone bridges. Some rock outcrops and wooded bluffs complete the picture. No more dams but 3 or 4 fords/low water bridges (it's hard to tell in high water) will need to be approached with caution and possibly carried.
So the next time you have to visit Aunt Ida in Ephrata, take along the boat and check out Cocalico Creek. But choose the lower half, if you don't have time for the whole thing. It's easier to catch up anyway.
Copyright © 2000 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.