Raccoon Creek

River of the month #113

author: Pat Reilly

Here is another little local creek that never made it into Ed Gertler’s Keystone Canoeing guidebook. Raccoon Creek is small, having about 20 square miles of watershed. This is about 15 below the smallest streams you’ll see in Ed’s guidebooks. It can be found in Perry County draining one of the narrow little valleys in the heart of the state’s ridge and valley province. Raccoon Creek empties into the Juniata with its mouth just opposite the town of Millerstown.

I used to fish this creek as a teenager and young adult, way back when a kayak was something I’d only seen in books and a canoe was what the ‘unfortunates’ that couldn’t afford motorboats used. When revisiting the creek this past spring, I only gave myself a passing chance at running it. In the Millerstown area to visit an old friend and look for something to paddle, I stashed my shuttle bike at the mouth of Cocolamus (ROM #18) about a half mile below Millerstown and Raccoon’s mouth. Cocolamus was chugging along nicely due to big rains the previous day and it would make a suitable trip.

To at least get a look at Raccoon, I drove up to Donnally Mills, a small village 5 miles up Raccoon’s valley situated between big Tuscarora Mt. to the north and much smaller Raccoon Ridge to the south. The little creek did in fact have sufficient flow. Okay, decision factor #1 is a go, anyway. But up in Donnally Mills, the creek is about 10 feet wide and hopelessly hemmed in by brush and back yards. So I headed down the valley on route 17 back toward Millersburg and pulled off at the only spot where woods and not fenced farmland border the road. Hmm, just enough room to get the car off of the road and it’s not posted. We’ve got parking, check decision factor #2. Now what’s the creek look like? Holy cow! It’s plenty wide here, looking a lot like Dauphin County’s Clarks or Stony. We have a put in. Now what about fishermen, it’s the 2nd weekend of trout season. Heck, there’s none to be seen! Get the boat off the car, all decision factors point to running this creek!

Excited to get on this pretty little un-paddled creek instead of the previously run Cocolamus, I never the less knew what I was getting into. And the strainers began immediately. I carried two right below the put in, then two more within a half mile. But that was it! No more for the remaining 4 miles of creek! Oh, there was the usual banging over, squeezing under and fighting through obstacles, but I was grateful to stay in the boat after the initial 4 carries.

So, what did Raccoon Creek have to offer - exciting rapids, stunning scenery, secret old historic ruins? Nah, none of the above, just pretty mountain stream bordered on the left by farmland and the right by woods with the usual rhododendron and hemlock. About ½ mile from the mouth Raccoon curves to the right and back to the left as it forms a little ravine with woods now on both sides. I was hoping the creek would ‘gorge up’ a bit here and provide some rapids or at least a few appealing rock outcrops. But the little ravine stayed wide and shallow while a big saw mill materialized on river right. Soon the creek flowed under the railroad and out into the big Juniata. So while Raccoon provides no spectacular discoveries, ya wouldn’t know that if you hadn’t paddled it, now would ya!

Pat Reilly

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