Licking Creek

River of the month #115

author: Pat Reilly

The “ridge and valley province”, that Harrisburg lies just south of, is often mentioned in these columns. And for good reason, since it defines the rivers that lie to our north and west. The ridge and valley province or region is a washboard landscape of ridge/valley/ridge… Well, you get the picture. If you don’t, just look at a large scale topo map or get on Google Earth. If you follow the ridges west of Harrisburg, you’ll notice that they slowly arc toward the south. As they do, they appear to squeeze a bit closer together as they approach the Maryland line.

Departing west from Chambersburg in the Great Valley (locally, the Cumberland Valley), you travel from Franklin into Fulton County and find yourself amid a number of great paddling streams aligned north/south in this part of the ridge and valley, instead of east/west like near Harrisburg. There’s Big Cove, Licking, Tonoloway and Little Tonoloway, bordered just out of the county on the east by West Branch Conococheague and the west by Sideling Hill. In the middle of all this, running down the center of Fulton County is Licking Creek.

Licking is a great paddling creek. From near the Fort Littleton Pa turnpike exit Licking makes its way south to the Potomac looping continually back and forth banging into the ridge walls that define its narrow valley. Most times cliffs of shale are visible where the creek collides with the hillsides. A few years back I had a discussion with a CCGH paddler who explored these Fulton County creeks before I did. When talking about Licking he described it as being as good as Sideling Hill (ROM #98). Sorry Phil, I beg to differ. The creeks are very similar, with frequent shale cliffs and lots of lively water. But Licking lacks Sideling Hill’s rapids and wilderness. Licking is a high rated stream in my book, way above average, but still a notch below Sideling Hill.

Ed Getler’s description of Licking begins at route 522, a few miles south of the turnpike exit. Up here the creek is not yet in its skinny valley but flows west through some confused lowlands. There is precious little watershed at this put in. It is one of the uppermost put-ins to be found in Ed’s books. The creek is very narrow in the 1st few miles twisting through pasture and meadow. There so many outrageously tight turns that I was using my hands to brace off the stream banks and rocks and to maneuver the boat, while taking only correction strokes. Now while I’m glad I got in this section, as it led to some nicely secluded deep woods, I would not recommend it to everyone. It is not your Sunday cruise.

After 5 miles, by Mellotts Mill the creek has turned south and by Andover (mile 11) is has found its valley and the classic back and forth meandering comes into play for the next 40 miles all the way to the Potomac down in Maryland. There are farms, but no real towns, just place names on the map. Lickings special feature is all the lonely turns up against steep slopes, often with spectacular shale cliffs. Plenty of lonely un-posted woodlands line the creek perfect for camping.

After the route 456 bridge (mile 40) near the Maryland line, the creek exits its secluded narrow valley but remains pretty and shale cliffs are still prevalent. Near the end you pass a quiet park with a playground and some surrounding homes. You just knew there had to be a town somewhere. Pektonville is where Licking’s gauge is located. Having 51 boatable miles (well, 45 anyway, leaving out the ridiculously small upper creek) you would think Licking is sizable and often up. Keep in mind though, with its narrow valley, there is not much watershed for a 45 mile creek. So, don’t expect it to run too often. About 2.4 on the Pektonville gauge would be bare minimum for the bottom section, 2.5 to 2.7 for the middle section. If you must paddle the narrow headwaters from Knobville on route 522, you’ll need 3.5 anyway.

Pat Reilly

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