Little Conewago

River of the month #60

author: Pat Reilly

date June 2003

In an effort to introduce club members to lesser known waterways, ‘River of the Month’ has reported on some 17 local creeks that are not included in the standard reference of most CCGHers – Ed Gertler’s Keystone Canoeing. While some of these creeks make for reasonable paddling, such as Dauphin County’s Manada and York County’s Beaver, some, like Asylum and Cedar, merely make for paddling stories and I wouldn’t be surprised if no one ever actually attempted to boat them.

When pursuing these ‘small’ and ‘even smaller' streams, I always keep an eye out for a creek than Ed may have missed - one that, in terms of size and ease of access, should have been included in ‘the book’. If any local creek fits this bill, it would have to be Little Conewago in York County. Little Conewago picks up water west of York and empties into the Conewago just 4 miles upstream from the bigger river’s mouth in York Haven. With nearly 66 square miles of watershed, Little Conewago is bigger than many of the creeks in Keystone Canoeing, even such popular runs as Black Moshannon at 56 sq. miles and Muddy at 52 sq. miles. More locally, it is over twice as big as Dauphin county’s Powells and Deep creeks, both in ‘the book’ at 32 sq. miles each.

So why was such a sensibly sized creek left out? Access is okay with no shortage of bridges and no over-abundance of ‘No Trespassing’ signs. There are no water-robbing supply reservoirs like on Clarks Creek. Could it be that Little Conewago just doesn’t have much in the way of features to entice the prospective paddler? I’ve looked down at its waters for years when traveling on Interstate 83 going to or from York. It can be seen lazily oozing under the expressway between the Strinestown and Emigsville exits a few miles south of the ‘big’ Conewago. Unlike most steams that I cross over regularly, it took quite a while before I developed a strong urge to paddle it. It looked so flat, so bland, with its still waters turning a stagnant looking dark brown during low-flow periods.

But when a creek is this big (relatively speaking) and this close, I knew I had to give it a try sooner or later. Later came on a gorgeous early April day in 1998. With a bright sun warming the morning and highlighting early spring’s newly emerging life, it couldn’t help but be a good trip. I launched at the Greenbriar Road bridge about 5 miles northwest of York. This is just below the confluence of Fox Run, draining the Dover area, and Little Conewago proper, draining Weigelstown and other suburbs west of York. From this bridge to the mouth is 11 miles of slow moving water, a lot of paddling for a creek not in ‘the book’.

In spite of my observations from the 83 expressway, this creek is not bland, not spectacular either, but certainly not bland. The run is divided into equal lengths by I-83. The first half, on the west side of the highway, is all farmland. There is usually a narrow buffer of trees beside the creek as it moseys along turning right and left, alternating from northbound to eastbound. Little development disturbs the trip, there are no towns and only a few brief encounters with busy roads. The only obstacle of the entire trip is an old 3-foot dam where the creek briefly runs near route 295, the Old York Trail. You can paddle over this dam where it is deteriorating on river left, if it’s deep enough to get through the rocky run-out. Check it out from the road on your shuttle drive.

On the east side of 83, the farmlands are hardly noticed anymore as continuous woods line the creek. Then Little Conewago begins slowly cutting down to the level of the big Conewago. The change is gradual. Little river-wide ledges and riffles start to appear, dividing long pools. The creek begins looping back and forth with some sharp turns and increasingly taller slopes, often with hemlock woods, on one side or the other. Little Conewago is now a quality canoe creek. A short string of houses and cottages around the Conewago Creek Road bridge is the only development that you see. Despite it’s small size the creek is rather wide and thus is usually strainer free. If it’s April, you may see tons of blooming Virginia bluebells along the way and at the mouth.

It’s my belief that there are boaters out there who are looking for an easy creek to paddle that is not in ‘Keystone Canoeing’. If for no other reason, maybe just to kindle a sense of pioneer spirit. This could be their creek. Because of its size, it shouldn’t be as hard to find up as the other ‘non-Gertler’ creeks we discuss. I would look for the Conewago gauge (at Manchester) to be over 6 feet. Then go have a look at the creek.

Pat Reilly

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