Spring Creek (Harrisburg)

River of the month #21

author: Pat Reilly
date: January 2000

One of the few things I dislike about paddling is all the traveling. The hours of driving each weekend to reach a good river can really wear on you. And if you ever find yourself discussing how paddling is friendly to the environment, your argument goes flat when someone points out that you just burnt 30 gallons of gas getting your loaded SUV over the Appalachians for yet another weekend on the Yough. So it didn’t take much convincing to get me to go along with a local creek, as per Kris’ suggestion, on that winter weekend in ‘94. After all, water was way up and anything you could possibly want was running. I’m not sure who first mentioned Spring Creek, but it is definitly local, a lot of it being within the city limits of Harrisburg, and it was virgin, none of us having paddled it before. For all we knew, it might even be a first descent.

Originating in Swatara Township as parking lot runoff from the Point Mall and surrounding development, Spring Creek widens to a boat length by the time it hits Paxtang Borough. It is well known to area commuters as the creek that floods rt 441 behind the Harrisburg East Mall every time there’s a good downpour. It was thinking about this common occurrence that got me psyched for the run. I smiled as I formed a mental picture of cars being held up by kayaks paddling across the road. ‘Let’s go for it’!

Dave Ertel, Guni, Kris and myself launched in a small town park in Paxtang after an irate homeowner chased us from our original launch site further up stream. He was determined we were not going to paddle through his back yard. We left after we reached an agreement: We agreed to find another spot and he agreed that he was being a jerk.

Lots of bridges brought us under Derry and Paxton Streets, the railroad and rt. 83 before we arrived at the ‘Harrisburg Greenbelt’ behind the East Mall and Dauphin County Prison. Convicts have been known to hide out here after going over the wall. We saw no escapees but did encounter the best (maybe only?) rapid of the trip formed by an old dam near what is now the ‘Five Senses Garden’. At rt. 441, I was disappointed to see there was only the barest trickle going over the road; we had to carry as my vision of the ‘kayak crossing’ dissolved.

Now the creek shares the Greenbelt with the bike/hike path all the way to Cameron St. Had it been summer we could have fooled ourselves into thinking this was a pretty country setting somewhere, but the absence of foliage allowed us to view the surrounding apartment projects and the Harrisburg incinerator with it’s huge refuse pile, dubbed ‘Mount Ashmore’. At Cameron St. Dave and Guni had had enough. They agreed to run shuttle as Kris and I made it an expedition by continuing out onto the Susquehanna, running at 15 feet. We boated down past Three Mile Island and through the big waves of Falmouth to take out near Bainbridge after dark.

Postscript: Since this was written a year or more ago, the culverts under rt. 441 have been replaced by an genuine bridge. This was necessitated by ever increasing floods. It came to a head at the end of this past summer when big storms brought devastating amounts of water to Paxtang Borough. At least one home was totally ruined. As I read accounts of the floods and examined the damage first hand on a bicycle ride, I couldn’t help but think all one really has to do is take a good look at all the new development (and the accompanying huge parking lots) along Union Deposit Road and East Park Drive to see the reason for these horrific flash floods.

Pat Reilly

Copyright © 2000 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.