Cedar Run -- Camp Hill's Best Whitewater

River of the month #56

author: Pat Reilly
date: January 2003

Whitewater in Camp Hill? Well, actually it’s in Lower Allen Township but it’s a Camp Hill address. And as short as it may be, this whitewater if for real – a tiny slice of tight steep creek, hiding in the West Shore suburbs! Can you believe it?

West Shore club members probably can’t believe it. So just where is this hidden morsel of ‘hair’ water? We’ll get to that. But first, a tale of woe about a poor little battered spring creek.

I first remember Cedar Run from the early ‘70s, when I worked at Shollys Motorcycle Shop on Slate Hill Rd. just off of rt. 15. The creek ran behind the shop and I used to catch redfin minnows for trout bait in it after work. I was astounded to find fingerling brown trout in the creek with the redfins and even pulled up a 9-inch brown trout in the net one day. Here was this little suburban stream that supported a native population of trout!

I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Cedar Run was a true limestone spring creek with clear cold water all year around. I tried to trace its origins up past the cycle shop, but it doesn’t go much farther. Springs and seeps near Lower Allen Middle School appear to be its source. From Shollys (now Yamaha of Camp Hill) Cedar Run ambles under route 15 and Hartzdale Drive and flows in back of the Capital City Mall before running through a corner of the Camp Hill State Correctional Institution (a.k.a. White Hill prison). It travels for another mile through the ‘burbs before merging into the Yellow Breeches Creek near Cedar Cliff.

When I returned for a second stint at Shollys in 1985, I noticed that in the middle of the dry summer the water in the little limestone run disappeared! How sad! It seemed that the pressure of wells on the aquifer from expanding development had become too great. No more trout, or any other fish, behind the cycle shop, although additional springs kept the creek flowing further downstream.

A few years ago there was some controversy when Hempt Brothers Inc. wanted to expand their huge quarry operation near Cedar Run, in an area between the Yellow Breeches and White Hill prison. After some fighting with local residents they eventually got the ‘go-ahead’ to dig another immense hole into Cumberland Valley’s limestone. Shortly afterward poor Cedar Run dried up below the quarry, leaving trout literally flopping in the streambed. It seems that the creek filters through the porous limestone into the new quarry where it is removed along with the ground water via huge pumps and dumped unceremoniously into the ‘Breeches’. Hempt Brothers supposedly resolved the problem and once again Cedar Run took its original path to its mouth. This situation was briefly discussed in the ‘River of the Month’ write-up for another limestone spring creek, the Quittapahilla, in February of 1999.

When we ran Cedar Run, we paddled into a small impoundment in the prison grounds adjacent to the new quarry. The pool had air bubbles percolating up through the water in a number of places. Weird! It’s my guess that if air is escaping up through the water, the water is still seeping down through the substrate and escaping to the quarry. In addition, there were sinkholes in the pool surrounded by simple dirt dikes to keep the water out. As we peered into these ominous looking holes, gliding by in our kayaks, it wasn’t hard to picture the dikes getting breached and Cedar Run once again tumbling into the quarry.

Club member Brook Lenker, who now lives at the mouth of Cedar Run, reported that in early 2002 there was not a drop of water coming down the little creek. The demands of continued development, the drought, and ongoing seepage into the quarry had totally dried up Cedar Run. Let us pause for a moment of silence to mourn the death of another creek.

Seriously, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Cedar Run could have rivaled Carlisle’s Letort Spring Run - a slightly bigger limestone creek with a national reputation as a quality trout stream. Indeed, in ‘Limestone Legends’, a collection of trout fishing essays published by Stackpole Books, E M Craighead wrote in 1947, ‘Cedar Run afforded some of the finest trout fishing in the state during a period of about 65 years.’ But no more.

Switch now to June, 2002 where I’m peering into a drywall bucket in my backyard and there’s over 2 inches of water where just an hour ago it was dry. This is what we’ve been waiting for to go execute our first descent of Camp Hill’s only rapid. I know I’ve got a partner who’s thinking like me when, upon hearing my voice, he immediately blurts out, ‘do ya think it’s up?’, before he even ascertains my reason for calling. So off we go launching at a railroad bridge across Hartzdale Drive from the Capital City Mall, taking advantage of runoff from the acres and acres of sprawling asphalt.

After the leaky impoundment at the prison, we found ourselves paddling through high grass on a ribbon of water only 3 feet wide. We carried a pair of low water bridges. Then the creek doubled its flow when joined by tributaries coming from the old Hill’s Plaza near Shiremanstown and from Camp Hill Borough. Under Lisburn Road and past shaded lawns as the gradient picked up a bit. Soon we could see the Creek Road bridge where we prepared for the bottom to drop out.

This bridge may go unnoticed to motorists. If coming from Camp Hill on 18th Street, past Highland Gardens, the name changes to Creek Road after the intersection with Simpson Ferry Road. Then, just past Rolling Green Cemetery before turning right by the Hempt Brothers headquarters at a place called Eberlys Mill, the road dips and goes over the bridge. Paddlers often take this route on their way to the popular Spanglers Mill access on the Yellow Breeches. It was at this bridge where I first noticed the rapid as a kid on a bicycle. I took further interest in it after I started paddling. While standing on the bridge you can look down and see a sharp manmade drop of about 3 feet before the creek rolls steeply down and around the corner and over something big as it disappears with a lot of noise. To scout this jagged ‘crux move’ you must either wade the creek (not possible at runnable levels), trespass across someone’s yard right in front of their living room window or cling to a cliff face. We opted for the cliff face walking upstream from Brook’s property prior to starting our run.

Partner Mike ran first and disappeared over the manmade ledge. All I could see was his paddle and I made sure it wasn’t wagging back and forth and not going anywhere - a sure sign he was stuck in the ledge’s hydraulic - before proceeding. Going over the lip of the crux, I realized that the creek had dropped considerably since we scouted. This lower water level exposed a big rock at the bottom that I promptly slammed into before sliding into the bottom eddy beside Mike. Oh well, that’s why we paddle plastic. Less than an hour had passed between our scout of the rapid and our run over it, but the creek was falling fast. Such is the nature of suburban creeking. What a pity to see a quality limestone trout stream reduced to parking lot runoff.

Pat Reilly

Copyright © 2003 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.