Susquehanna River : City Island to York Haven/Falmouth

A Local, Hometown Adventure

author: Eric Sparr
date: October 2005

A trip report by Eric Sparr

Wanting to take my four-year old out for a weekend trip, I connected with Pat Reilly, who was also looking for the same with his 6-year old son.

After a quick stop at the Broad Street Market to buy local made sharp cheddar cheese and locally grown broccoli, we thanked the pseudo-Amish and with a fair amount of gear put in at Pat’s house, just across from City Island. I took what few things I could cram into the kayak and Pat took most everything else, including both kids in an open canoe. Thinking we are just going on a placid stretch of Susquehanna, I was surprised and excited to already be in a Class 2+ rapid just 10 minutes into the trip. Pat, self-declared expert on the Dock Street Dam, and who has regularly snorkeled and walked the dam at occasional safe levels, showed me the lines of the far left spillway. Quickly getting 4 inches of water in my boat without spray skirt, I discovered that a dry bag for the tent isn’t a bad idea. We continued along past many interesting islands, dotted with egrets, great blue and yellow crowned night herons, and learned that the great, dark birds in the water were cormorants, the same kind that fisherman use in Asia to dive for catch. We passed a rock formation I never knew was there, and then we were in a nice Class 2 riffle that was created by the temporary dam as the new turnpike bridge is being built. Stopping to let the kids play on the next island, we also had some food from the cooler and watched and occasionally had to save Tony as he body surfed some fast, clear water moving between islands, another result of the temporary dam. The island had so many nice features, that we had to pause to consider camping there for the night. But the noise from the bridge was too much, so we headed on.

After a few more miles, we saw a jon boat leaving a long, skinny island. Our instincts proved right on target, as we moved right into their spot and discovered a perfect camping spot for kids. Cleared, with enough trees to provide a nice canopy, a picnic table, an oversized sand area for hours of play, a great tilted tree to dry my wet tent in a nice breezeway, and hot coals! We had a fire literally roaring in 20 seconds from setting foot on the island, with plenty of dried out driftwood to toss in. It was a little too perfect, and we expected private owners to arrive and kick us out any minute. The airport runway was on river left and was occasional entertainment for the kids to watch the planes land and takeoff from up close.

After a great night, with our bellies full of fresh mac and cheese and pumpkin pie, we packed up and headed out into the sunny Susquehanna on towards the wonderful towers and ominous containment structures of TMI. Another diversion led us to exploring Shelley Island on foot. Pat identified many plants, most of which I had never known, including yellow jewelweed, the cure for poison ivy; Japanese bamboo or knotweed, an invasive; sassafras trees good for birch beer and tasting; pawpaw, the fruit tree and how you can make a great pie with the fruit. Pat, whether or not he is of Irish decent, had much luck throughout the trip, including finding a ‘wild beer’ in the bush, unopened, that had his name on it.

Back in the boats I had time to check out the many cabins and docks, until we hit open water, a very open section that felt like I was in a bay, where we met up with Mike, a pre-arranged rendezvous, in his racing canoe. He helped us portage all our boats and gear across the football length field around the dam while the kids played in the conveniently placed playground. We put in for the grand finale. Again, Pat managed to find more whitewater, this time coming out of the York Haven Dam, and eddied in for some wave action. We followed up into the most awesome rocks at Falmouth. Both eerie and artistic, paddling in and among this natural maze and stopping to hike the rocks was terrific.

Mike shuttled us and our boats back to Pat’s in a quick 15-minute drive. For an impromptu, improvisational adventure literally in our backyard, I highly recommend the Susquehanna. And while it seems that everyone goes north to Marysville or Duncannon, there is a lot to be said for the trip south to York Haven.

Eric Sparr

Copyright © 2005 Eric Sparr. All rights reserved.