East Licking Creek

River of the month #58

author: Pat Reilly
date: April 2003

Now just where does one find East Licking Creek? Well, it isn’t far away, no more than an hour from Harrisburg. And it’s in Gertler’s guidebook, ‘Keystone Canoeing’. So why have most local paddlers not heard of it? I suppose because it’s one of those obscure little out-of-the-way creeks that generally only interest those boaters that must satisfy their urge to paddle new and different water. If you happen to fall into that category you’ll want to check out this creek. Or maybe you’ve been developing the appetite to go exploring unheard of waters but you’ve yet to take the first step. East Licking would be a good place to start, being close to town and having generally easy water with good, if not spectacular, scenery.

Alright already! Where is it? In Juniata County. Head up route 22/322 to Port Royal where East Licking dumps into Tuscarora Creek at the western edge of town. This is a good place to judge the water level. If there is enough water at the covered bridge just up from the mouth there will be enough to do the whole recommended section of creek.

Tuscarora Creek was the 2nd River of the Month, written up in May of ’98. Back then we said that the Tuscarora flows through a wide valley that contains sub-ridges and smaller valleys and is defined by the high unbroken Tuscarora Mountain to the south and equally big Shade Mountain to the north. East Licking has its origins up on top of Shade where the mountain combines with other ridges to the north to form some extensive high woodlands. As close as you can get to a plateau in Pennsylvania’s ridge and valley region, I had targeted this area when pouring over topographic maps searching for new whitewater steep creeks.

However, an on-site examination of East Licking’s headwaters did not prove very promising. The creek is small, braided, with not a lot of gradient and not many features (i.e. boulders or ledges). So I went with a flat water craft and selected the uppermost put-in from Gertler’s guidebook, Factory Lane, off of state road 34004. Even down this far from the headwaters, where East Licking’s little valley flattens out enough for farm fields to replace forest, the creek still did look very inviting. Braided into 2 sections with each only a boat length wide (or not even if your boat is long) I gave much thought to the wisdom of launching here. But hey, Gertler did, so off I went. What I found was one of the most braided, twisted, tight, jammed up, convoluted pieces of water I have ever been on. For the first 2.7 miles you are on a braid as often as not. At one point I could see 4 different passages in front of me. Good grief, which way? – eeny, meenie, miney mo. It must be something about the geology of this valley, as I remember the upper reaches of Tuscarora creek having many braids also. Although on the bigger Tuscarora the passages were not nearly as tight as on this little tributary.

It was quite a challenge and one that I was glad was over when the creek emerged from the woods to parallel the state road as it passed St. Stephen’s Church. This church would make a good put in for a run down East Licking. It has a big un-posted parking lot right beside the creek. And, in spite of one more long braided section just below the church, from here down East Licking is a reasonable canoeing stream. Be my guest, it you want to attempt the 2.7-mile upper section, but don’t say you weren’t warned.

From St. Stephens, you still have nearly 6 miles of pleasant small creek paddling. The scenery is variable from farm, to woodlands with some backyards and picnic areas thrown in. Roads are most always nearby but aren’t too annoying as they aren’t well traveled in this lonely corner of Juniata County. Shortly after the church the creek turns south toward Port Royal, leaving behind the narrow little valley of tortuous water. Further downstream, one of Tuscarora Valley’s sub-ridges, Herringbone Ridge, abuts East Licking forming a low layered-rock cliff on river right that bends back and forth with the water as it continues for quite some time. This makes for good scenic cruising, except for a couple of trailer homes on river left that use the creek as their personal landfill.

You may be able to take out at a park at the 2nd bridge up from the mouth. Better yet, add some contrast by continuing down the bigger Tuscarora for another quarter mile to Port Royal’s new soccer park on river left. Or, what the heck, tack on another ¾ mile of Tuscarora and 2 miles of Juniata River, for some real contrast, and take out in Mexico (Mexico, Pennsylvania that is). Wherever you take out you’ll need around 4.7 feet on the Tuscarora gauge to put in on little East Licking Creek.

Pat Reilly

Copyright © 2003 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.