Cocolamus Creek

River of the month #18

author: Pat Reilly
date: October 1999

Partially draining the eastern half of Tuscarora County and flowing south through a section of Perry County is the little known Cocolamus Creek. When sizing up Cocolamus on a map, the paddler may be inclined to make comparisons to a similarly sized Juniata tributary draining another portion of northern Perry County - Buffalo Creek. The mouth of Buffalo Creek, which was discussed last October, is found on the opposite side of the Juniata River about 3 miles downstream from the mouth of Cocolamus. Both creeks make good alternatives to the big Juniata if water is high.

While the uppermost section of Buffalo (from RTS 17 to 74) is so overgrown and congested as to discourage most paddlers from attempting it, Cocolamus’ highest reaches are slightly more reasonable. From the town of Cocolamus to the covered bridge at Dimmsville (Dimmsville?) the creek is rural and remote. Yes it braids, makes sharp turns and has strainers, but the obstacles are just enough to challenge the adventurous paddler. But hopefully not so bad as to overwhelm your ability and turn you into a frazzled ball of nerves sitting on the bank staring at a half submerged boat wrapped around a stubborn birch tree.

I don’t imagine any of us like to reflect on unintentional swims we’ve taken while paddling, but when I think of the upper section of Cocolamus, swims come to mind. Lots of them. Other than an epic day on the Cheat in which one club member (who shall remain nameless) had some 6 swims, I can’t recall a boater having more swims on one trip than I did on a late October day in ‘96 on the Cocolamus.

Swim number one occurred when I was ‘handing’ my way under a fallen log. Searching for one more hand hold, I was pushing off the creek bottom with my kayak paddle when it let loose with a sudden snap. I was instantly in the ‘drink’ and since the paddle shaft was brittle carbon fiber, it broke clean in half. One half of the paddle had air trapped in the shaft and was quickly recovered from the water’s surface, but the other half sank and was never seen again.

Okay, you say, no problem, just C-1 it down the rest of the creek on half a paddle. Not so fast, number one - I was in a wildwater K-1, a rather tippy boat meant for the quick bracing effect of a double-bladed paddle. Number two - I was using a wing paddle. These specialized racing paddles have a radical curved lip on a blade that is unconventionally shaped to begin with. They are designed to firmly ‘grab’ the water when they enter at a specific angle and pitch. Anything other than this precise entry and the paddle immediately dives. And in the unstable boat that meant that I immediately dove right with it. I swam 3 more times trying to finesse my way down the remaining 3 miles to the take-out. I did better hand paddling but the water was too cold and my hands kept going numb. Cold and water-logged I was never so relieved to see the take out.

From the covered bridge the creek opens up and strainers are fewer. It’s still very rural but a lonely road now parallels the creek most of the way to the rt 17 bridge. After the 17 bridge the creek leaves the road and finishes in style. This is a fine section of creek, too bad it’s only 3 miles long and still has some braids and maybe a strainer. You have rolling pasture and farm land on river right, to complement big woods rising abruptly up and away to the top of Wildcat Ridge on river left. This combination of habitats is good for wildlife viewing (especially deer) and the farm land rises on gentle hills just high enough to keep distant farm buildings and rt 17 out of view. Tacking this last 3 miles of Cocolamus onto a Juniata trip would make for a nice secluded beginning and give good contrast to the wide open Juniata. So if water is up and you’re contemplating the popular Millerstown to Newport Juniata run, why not try starting on little ole Cocolamus?

Pat Reilly

Copyright © 1999 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.