Paddling Towns

River of the month #28

author: Pat Reilly
date: August 2000

Paddling trips aren’t all about water. Last August we discussed how a bike shuttle can be as much a part of the total outdoor experience as the paddling. Now I would like to divert the topic from the water once again. Exploring rivers over the years, I‘ve found it a real delight to check out the towns that go with the water. You may see something unique or maybe have a pleasant exchange of words with a friendly resident. But many times it’s just the subtle excitement of being someplace you’ve never been before or (better yet) didn’t even know existed.

If checking out my list of obscure river towns doesn’t make for the most exciting reading hopefully it will at least stir some fond memories of your own small town discoveries. Or maybe you can ‘play along’ and see how many of these places your travels have taken you to. With the exception of Tha Ton, they are all fairly local. There is one thing all these towns have in common. They were all discovered while paddling or planning a paddling trip. I had never heard of them until I decided to boat their waters.

Klingerstown: In Schuylkill County, just outside the far northeast corner of Dauphin County, this small ‘out-in-the-sticks’ village first got me thinking about all the little rural communities I would never have gotten acquainted with if not for paddling. Klingerstown is near nothing, roughly equal distance from Harrisburg, Sunbury, Pottsville and Lebanon. The ‘seek’ feature on my car radio could locate no station, AM or FM from Klingerstown. It has some good small creek paddling though, as Pine and Mahantango Creeks flow into and converge in Kliingerstgown.

Charming Forge: I love the name of this place. What could be charming about a forge? Basically just a camp-like collection of cabins, it’s the prettiest spot on the upper (above Blue Marsh Lake) section of the Tulpehoken Creek in Berks County. There’s a dam and an old millrace, but I never did see the forge.

Roxbury: Franklin County’s Roxbury serves as the take out for the whitewater section of the Conodoguinet. Yes, the Conodoguinet. Believe it or not, there is some whitewater on the upper reaches of the ‘Cono’. Just as it subsides the creek divides around a big town park. The first time I paddled this section, finishing up after dark with a headlight, I inadvertently took the wrong braid and couldn’t find my car at the takeout. I had parked it on river right, but now it was on river left! There was a bit of head scratching till I figured it out.

Coburn: Teamed with the rustic village of Weikert, Coburn defines one of central Pa’s better paddling trips, through the Seven Mountain range on Penns Creek. While this run makes a good overnighter, I first did it as a competition. And most of my fond memories of the Penns Valley area around Coburn are of running, biking and paddling contests. Every early April, until 1995, the big grassy park next to the confluence of Pine and Penns Creeks in Coburn would fill up with hundreds of weekend competitors for a paddle triathlon, a down-river and a mountain bike race.

Reamstown: One bleak March night I was biking into this Lancaster County community north of Ephrata after paddling Cocalico Creek when up ahead I noticed another blinking light like the one on the back of my bike. Wow!, another biker, very unusual on a back road shuttle ride, especially after dark. After peddling hard to catch up and talk to him, I discovered the other biker was an Amish man. Turns out the bicycle is a common mode of transportation among the automobile-shunning Reamstown locals.

Hollsopple: This mountain town lies in Summerset County and is the gateway to the great whitewater of Stonycreek Gorge. After our first run down the gorge our group of CCGHers checked into a local Holsopple bar for refreshments. One of our party caused heads to turn when he wore his Lycra stretch pants into the bar. Not used to such attire, a couple of local red-necks leaned over to another member of our group, already seated at the bar, and asked, ‘What’s with the guy in the tights?’ Wanting to blend in, the paddler shrugged and disavowed any knowledge of his buddy replying, ‘Dunno, never saw him before’.

Arendtsville: My strongest memory of this Adams County ‘apple country’ town is of one late June evening when I pulled into town with not nearly enough daylight left to paddle the 10 miles of Conewago Creek that lie between Arendtsville and my bicycle. Cursing myself for getting such a late start and not bringing a headlight I came up with a last chance plan. Lo and behold, the Arendtsville mini-mart came to the rescue as they did indeed sell flashlights. I purchased one, duct-taped it to my helmet and got in the 10 miles. It’s amazing the amount of bats you see over a dark creek after a mayfly hatch.

Little Orleans: If you are as enamored about the history of the Potomac River and the C and O Canal as I am, you’ll want to visit this place. In the midst of the big mountain country of Allegheny County, Maryland, Little Orleans is the take out for the beautiful and remote PawPaw Bends river trip. It contains just a handful of houses, an historic old church and ‘Bill’s Bar, Beer, Bait, and Boats’. Long a purveyor of supplies to both river and canal travelers, ‘Bills’ has canoes for rent and a shuttle service. But even better, Bill has lots of knowledge about the river and the canal and enjoys sharing it. Bill has been around for 70 years, the store for 150, and both are full of history.

East Waterford: You travel all the way through Perry County and on into Juniata County to reach this proud little hamlet, lying along pretty Tuscarora Creek. I remember hanging out at the annual Fireman’s Carnival after running tiny Horse Valley Run. The day before it had rained some 8 inches in Horse Valley and the run had devastated East Waterford. The flood was the talk of the carnival as we stood in ankle deep mud on a soggy ball field eating fried chicken and watching a square dance in the town pavilion. Talking to the fire fighters that sold us the chicken, we learned that it’s a toss-up on where to take accident victims in the ambulance, Carlisle, Lewistown, and Chambersburg all being similar driving time.

Fairhope: The take-out for 2 good whitewater runs and the put-in for a third, Fairhope brings back fond memories of a long whitewater weekend back in November ‘97. Deep in the woods, surrounded by steep mountains, this Wills Creek town in Summerset County has few houses but does have a colorful bar, the aptly named ‘Hillbilly Haven’. Here I meant a drunken retired school teacher, who let me camp on his land and pointed me to some great hikes to take after all the white water was exhausted. He also filled me in on all the local gossip whether I wanted to hear it or not.

Wachapreaque: Ever see one of those paintings or little sculptures of a rustic bayside bait shop? They usually feature a pipe smoking grizzled old ‘salt’ standing out front amongst nets, buoys, lobster traps and a sign that reads ‘gas, bait, tackle, soda, ice, beer, food, crabs’. Off the beaten tourist trail, south of Chincoteague, lies Wachapreaque, Virginia, a sleepy seashore town that really has such shops and is a great jumping off point for some truly classic East Coast sea kayaking.

Newton Hamilton: This is not two towns, but a single town with a double name. It may well be the quietest town on the Juniata River. In Mifflin County, well off the main route 522, Newton Hamilton has a PFC access area. Boat not registered with the PFC? I wouldn’t worry about it. You’re not likely to encounter any Waterways officers in this laid back town (they’re all up at Raystown Lake). But don’t be too laid back if you put-in here. Downstream from town is the biggest (maybe only?) rapid on the entire Juniata. Newton Hamilton makes a great take out for the nice ‘Mt. Union loop’ trip.

Whites Ferry: A little riverside shop and just a few cottages mark this Potomac River town in Maryland. I’ve used it as a put-in and a take-out for a pair of overnighters. Besides river access there’s also access to the C + O Canal National Park bike path. But the neatest thing about Whites Ferry is the ferry! Yes, there really is an operating cable ferry here. It all seems so ‘back woods’, yet it’s on the big Potomac only 40 miles from the Nation’s capitol.

Karthaus: Along the West Branch Susquehanna in Clearfield County, Karthuas is well known among boaters as the put-in for the wildest section of the West Branch canyon. But my most memorable experience in this river town occurred one morning before paddling Moshannon Creek. My longhaired buddy and I must have looked a sorry sight as we wandered into the Karthaus Fish and Game Club all blurry-eyed from spending a rainy night sleeping in the cab of my truck. A sign in town had promised an all-you-can-eat breakfast, but apparently they weren’t used to having out-of-towners show up. Dead silence as all heads turned to eyeball us. But the ice broke quickly when they learned how hungry we were. They piled up the pancakes and eggs and swamped us with questions and advice, ‘Where ya from?’, ‘Canoeing the creek, eh?’, ‘Ain’t no fish up there’, ‘that creek’s got rapids!’.

Port Clinton: Yet another ‘confluence’ town, Port Clinton is the take out for two surprisingly good river trips in the Schuylkill watershed. A simple ‘coal country’ town, I like it none the less and find it fun to paddle along the back side of town through the riffles of the Little Schuylkill. Found in the Schuylkill Gap of Blue Mountain along Highway 61 in Schulykill County, it’s on the way to the popular Hawk Mountain raptor migration observation area.

Tha Ton: My fond memories of this river town reflect everything I’ve come to love about Thailand. From a mystical Chinese temple on a steep hill overlooking town one can view the Kok River winding through the gorgeous mountains of Northern Thailand. I’ll always remember the evening before we launched on a multi-day river trip from Tha Ton. Following an upstream kayak paddle to try and attain the Burmese border (too far) I joined my wife searching for bargains in the markets lining the river. We followed shopping with a romantic riverside dinner, after which she retired early at our $3-a-night guest cottage. Too excited to sleep, I headed out for a walk and came upon a group of locals drinking beer at a small open-air restaurant near the river. They invited me to join them and we had a ball communicating with our limited knowledge of each other’s language. I learned the Thai equivalent of ‘bottoms up’. In spite of beer being very expensive for these obviously working class Thais, they refused to let me buy, insisting I was their guest.

Greble: Like a lot of these little paddling towns, Greble was just a name on one of Ed Gertler’s guidebook maps until I actually visited the place and put a ‘face’ to the name. Two roads and a handful of modest houses along the Little Swatara Creek are all that define this Lebanon County village. The town fits the creek, quiet and inconspicuous, and characterizes the unassuming charm of small river communities everywhere.

Pat Reilly

Copyright © 2000 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.