The original purpose of this column was to introduce club members to some of our more uncommon local (and not so local) streams. In that vein, I’ve dug up a number of local waterways that did not make it into the standard reference for paddling around here Ed Gertler’s Keystone Canoeing. Now whether these creeks that Ed passed over are ‘paddle-worthy’ or not is another story. Some may be, while others are questionable. Nevertheless, the information was put out here for the benefit of fellow small creek junkies. Which brings us to Hogestown Run and the following simple disclaimer: DO NOT ATTEMPT TO PADDLE THIS CREEK. So why even write it up? Well, there are some lessons here. We can learn more about limestone spring creeks and add to our database of Cumberland Valley springs. We can further our study of rainfall runoff patterns. Most of all, we can delve into the depraved mind of someone who has truly let their sport get the better of them. Yes, I’m talking about the ‘virgin water paddling addict’, a critter that will ignore all logic to throw their boat into ‘new’ water, even if it only amounts to a puddle.
It all started this past winter when my duties as a cub-scout leader led to trips to the Boy Scout store, located just off of route 114 between the Conodoguinet Creek bridge and the new shopping centers at the intersection of 114 and the Carlisle Pike. Behind the scout store parking lot sits an enticing little wooded glen. The first time I exited my car, gurgling sounds from the glen drew me to the edge of the woods before I even took a step toward the store. Moments later I was walking along Hogestown Run, admiring its clear spring water and large beds of watercress, a vibrant green swath in the middle of winter’s gray. The creek and its little gorge just refuse to relinquish their beauty in spite of being hopelessly squeezed by the ugliest side of suburbia strip malls and their sprawling parking lots.
At this point the creek averages about 15 feet wide. Heck, I’ve paddled smaller than this, I reasoned. And then I saw the rapid - a neat slide dropping 3 or 4 feet. My mind was now made up, gotta paddle this one. Further examination of aerial photos on the web, revealed more rapids near the mouth shortly downstream. I had noticed this creek before when driving or peddling on the Carlisle Pike at Hogestown. Sometimes I get it confused with a very similar limestone creek a bit nearer to home, Silver Spring, flowing through (you guessed it) Silver Springs Township.
Opportunity came later in the spring with big rains on an April Saturday. With a very narrow window of time I charged off and was soon locking my bicycle near Sample Bridge over the Conodoguinet. The Cono, which had been running low all spring, was now muddy brown and rising fast. Great! If this big old creek is already showing the effects of the rain, tiny Hogestown Run should be full of runoff. And since it’s a spring creek it won’t need all that much to supplement its springs. The watershed is not all that tiny, I thought. I remember looking for muskrats years ago on one of its tributaries near Trindle Road west of Mechanicsburg.
Well that memory was mistake one. The tributary is Trindle Spring and it is a trib of Silver Spring. Hogestown Run’s watershed is, in fact, quite tiny. I should have faced up to that when I reached the put in. Wanting more privacy and a longer trip than just a paddle past the shopping centers, I selected the first bridge up from the Carlisle Pike, along a nameless back road off of route 114. This would give me about 2 miles.
Now here is where the classic denial of a true addict begins. Voice of reason, ‘You can’t paddle that, it ain’t even a boat length wide and you’re paddling an 8 foot creek boat!’
Voice of denial, ‘It doesn’t have to be a boat length wide, I ain’t going down the creek sideways and the water’s 6 inches deep, the boat will float.’
Voice of reason, ‘what about that huge tangle of willow and greeenbriar right over there and look further down, it may not even be a boat width wide!’
Voice of denial, ‘I’ve gotten through worse strainers and there’s more water hidden in the grass on the sides of that skinny section.’
Like most addicts I was ashamed of myself and stopped unloading and hid behind the car when someone drove by. There really wasn’t time to think, darkness was approaching and I had to get on with it. I hoped that the springs that widened the creek further down would kick in soon and surely the runoff from the shopping centers would have it up good when I reached that point. From 1.25 to 1.5 inches had fallen and it was still raining, albeit lightly.
At the skinny spot I was pushing the paddle against grass and not water to keep forward momentum. Numerous strainers, as well as a kids’ 2x6 single-plank foot bridge had me carrying. It was quite pretty though as the creek flows mostly through a rather wide wet area of low level land with thick dark green grass, a foot or two high, broken by clear pools and bordered by farms and a few suburban homes. Luckily, the land is so flat that most of the time the water runs at least a few inches deep and I made progress. Sometimes it widened to pools of deeper clear water with watercress and other submerged vegetation. But when there was a riffle, it consisted of about a half inch of water running over rough limestone. I was able to stay in my boat most of the time by leaning back and blasting into the rock, then dragging with my hands.
While the scenery was pretty the situation was growing uglier by the minute. I passed two big pools that looked like springs but they failed to significantly swell the flow. Coming into Hogestown obstacles increased. I carried a foot bridge, went through ‘no trespassing’ signs and snapped on my spray-skirt to ‘hand’ under another foot bridge with 10 inches of clearance. All with darkness approaching fast. Once under the Carlisle Pike, I carried another foot bridge, this one in someone’s backyard garden.
It wasn’t just the darkness I was running from. I was paddling in constant fear of being seen. This time I had clearly crossed the line, and was scared I would be identified as the kook I had become. Past the shopping centers, but no runoff! The now more numerous riffles still had no more than an inch of water running over them. Slam, drop the paddle, reach down, pull and push on the rocks, pick up the paddle. Repeat. This was not paddling.
Under route 114 and when I came up on the slide rapid it appeared to have no more water running over it than when I last scouted it during the winter dry period! What gives? I slammed over it and banged my way to the final rapid. It was a little double drop that is so constricted that the boat actually slid through on its own, scraping but with no slamming or help from my hands. So lo and behold, I did get to run one little rapid for my efforts.
I’m just thankful that no fishermen were in that final stretch. The coming darkness and rain must have driven off the trout anglers that I had been seeing when scouting. It would have been terribly embarrassing and a bit of a black eye for fellow boaters to paddle up on a fisherman. ‘See, these kayakers really are out of it!’
Floating down the Conodoguinet to the shuttle bike, I popped open the beer I had stashed in the boat and pondered what went wrong. I reasoned that all those grassy wetlands and underlying limestone must act like a sponge - absorbing the water before releasing it slowly. That theory hadn’t played out on other limestone streams though. I guess we just needed more rain.
The next day, since I was back in Mechanicsburg, I returned, hiked the final section of creek, took some pictures, talked to some fishermen and checked out the shopping center parking lots. The bigger lot on the east side of 114 drains into the Conodoguinet and not Hogestown Run. This is, of course, a good thing for Hogestown Run if not for paddlers. Just above the route 114 bridge I pulled an old discarded kitchen chair from the creek, set it up in the soggy streamside grass and plopped down for some quiet reflection as the sun slowly sank. Watching and listening to numerous birds go about their busy spring business while the creek gurgled and wound through its dark green carpet, I thought about all the poor schmucks just out of sight up in the parking lot hurrying in and out of the supermarket, Red Robin or McDonalds, never bothering to peer over the edge and get a peek at one of Cumberland Valley’s limestone treasures. Then again, at least those ‘poor schmucks’ never tried to take a boat down it!
Copyright © 2006 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.