Paxton Creek

River of the month #20

author: Pat Reilly
date: December 1999

One of the things that I enjoy most about local paddling is the way a creek can tie together many different landmarks that you’ve come to know in the course of a lifetime. The surprise of rounding a bend and coming upon an old fishing or swimming hole, a memorable bridge or a forgotten friend’s house that you didn’t expect adds adventure and a sense of exploration to a local run. Unless you really study the maps, it’s hard to guess the correct sequence of familiar spots when you launch, as creeks always take such a seemingly illogical path.

However, this only really works the first time you boat a creek. I thought my days of discovery on local waters were long over; my first runs down the Yellow Breeches, Shermans, Swatty, etc. being years ago. So when Dave Ertel and I launched our kayaks by the Progress Avenue bridge into Paxton Creek during the winter of ‘96, I was excited to get another chance to play the ‘guess what bridge we come to next’ game. We dodged strainers and strung together familiar landmarks of Susquehanna Township on our way to Wildwood Lake.

Only 2 strainers blocked our path enough to require a carry but some fences were troublesome. A mile or so before the lake the creek rolls through some old wooded bottom lands that have so far escaped development. Then it turns right and parallels noisy rt 81. At the lake we had to contend with the new boardwalk. Although we carried along the boardwalk and re-launched to paddle across the lake to our car, I would not recommend it, as the lake is such an important wildlife area. It may now be illegal to paddle in the lake. Our’s was an after-work paddle so by the time we hit the lake it was after dark and the lake was half iced over so our impact was minimal. With all the lotus plants that choke the lake, paddling it is a pain anyway. The abundant plant and bird life of Wildwood is best checked out by walking along the new boardwalk or by participating in Dauphin County Park and Rec’s annual ‘Canoe Wildwood’ day.

There is precious little watershed above the lake making this one of your nutty ‘it’s-raining-like-crazy-quick-grab-the-boat-and-go’ paddle trips. And with all the recent development in the area, the rise-and-fall-quick nature of Paxton Creek is not getting any better. But still, I can’t help but want to go back sometime and go up even further than Progress Avenue into the area known as Goose Valley before it gets totally suburbanized.

The creek continues on for 4 more miles, from the lake outlet, under rt. 81, by the HACC campus and along Cameron Street through the industrial heart of Harrisburg. Heart?, there are other body parts that more accurately describe Paxton’s path through the city but this is a family newsletter. This section, almost completely channelized and full of smelly drainage pipes, will appeal only to the truly demented or seriously addicted paddler. I won’t speculate which of those categories Dave Ertel falls into, but I’ve admitted to my addiction years ago (step 1, 11 to go). Yes, we paddled this section in early ‘94. Although it was interesting, in a morbid sort of way, I would recommend it to no one. It has the potential to be dangerous. An account of that ‘first decent’ was documented in one of the club’s 1994 newsletters.

Pat Reilly

Copyright © 1999 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.