The Perfect 'Friendly Little Steep Creek'

River of the month #23

author: Pat Reilly
date: March 2000

How would you design a nice friendly steep creek for central Pa? Let’s see ...You would probably want about 70 feet per mile, not too steep, I said a friendly creek (as in paddler- friendly), not an intimidating waterfall-strewn piece of wild West Virginia. You’ll need a plateau from which to gather waters. And it must be a fair sized watershed, not some tiny micro-stream that is only runable every 3 years, when ‘El Nino’ hits. But of course it can’t be too big either, we want the intimacy of a little creek, and too much water gets too pushy - not friendly. About 55 square miles ought to do it. How about length? To keep it friendly, it should be short, we aren’t talking expedition here. Let’s go for 4 miles. It we make it continuous, that should be sufficient. You can get a lot of paddling out of 4 miles of steady whitewater, if you eddy hop and play.

Now, for the river bed - sandstone would probably suit us best and it’s representative of central Pa’s geology. And lets order a nice mix of ledges and boulder gardens. No big drops, nothing to invite a carry. A short warm up and a bit of a cool down at the end. Throw in plenty of left and rights, some fun chutes between big boulders and a few decision spots where you get to choose between multiple routes. Some sandy beaches for lunch stops would go well.

How about scenery? that’ll be easy. This is Pa. after all, we gotta have hemlocks and rhodadendrum, lots of ‘em. Add a nice mix of hardwoods and some white pines. Easy on the greenbriar at the lunch spots. Development? Nah, we can do without it. Okay, one (only one) rustic cabin, that’s it. No creek-side roads of course, but we’ll settle for one close by, just for safety. As long as we can’t see or hear it.

What about water quality? We want the best, none of Pa’s acid mine drainage for our perfect creek. And no dam releases, we realize they extend the runable season, but we want a natural flow creek to represent Pa’s finest.

Ample parking at the put in and take out, but no regulated, patrolled, guarded or even groomed areas. Just simple parking, no amenities. We won’t specify public land or private, but we surely don’t want any ‘no trespassing’ signs, anywhere.

One more thing, we need a local club of conscientious boaters to keep our ideal stream strainer free - a group that gets on the water right after ice-out to check for and cut out any new logs.

Wow, sound impossible? Well it isn’t, believe it or not this creek exists! And it’s in central Pa. What’s the catch?? What’s the creek?? Well the catch is that even though the Harrisburg area is called ‘central Pennsylvania’ it really isn’t. State College and Centre County are the geographic center of the state. And draining a portion of the Allegheny Plateau, in northern Centre County you’ll find the Black Moshannon, about the closest thing to a perfect, friendly little steep creek the state has to offer.

It’s not all that far from ‘our’ central Pa., you can get there in 2.5 hours and the shuttle is a breeze. The last 3.8 miles of this creek fits the description above and is often up in the early spring. I camp out at the takeout every last weekend of March for the annual Red Moshannon race. A group of us always run the ‘Black’, if it’s up, after the race and usually the next day (Sunday). Checking my log books, I saw that it was runable 7 of the last 10 years. 70 percent! not too bad. During a wet spring it will often run for 2 months before falling off.

Locals from the Penn State outings club and Tussey Mountain Outfitters usually take care of the strainers and the parking areas. It’s a gorgeous piece of steep small creek whitewater, not very intimidating, just waiting for boaters. Last year, a rookie paddler and myself managed to bang down it in a touring K-2 without incident. How tight can it be? No wonder the locals run it 20 or more times in a year.

Pat Reilly

Copyright © 2000 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.