Little Buffalo Creek

River of the month #85

author: Pat Reilly
date: January 2006

Two reasons necessitated that we bag this little Perry County creek. First, another member of the CCGH had paddled it years ago and recommended it. And second, we had arrived at the take-out prepared to paddle it one June Sunday in 2003, only to discover that it lacked sufficient water. As we made are way up to run Cocolamus instead that day, we vowed to return. And so we did on April 3rd, 2005.

We ran the 3 miles of creek from Little Buffalo State Park to the town of Newport. This is a convenient section of stream, not too far out in the ‘boonies’ and with easy access. We launched within the park boundaries using a fishermen’s parking area where New Bloomfield Road crosses the creek below the dam and took out at a large roadside parking area near the first bridge (route 34) in Newport. Convenient access or not, this creek is very little and therefore, seldom running at canoeable levels. With about 15 square miles of watershed, it is way too small for Ed Gertler’s Keystone Canoeing guidebook.

Small or not, we had more than enough water that spring day. The Shermansdale gauge for Shermans Creek read over 6 feet, falling from a level exceeding flood stage. Little Buffalo was chugging along bank full and pushy for a small creek. Doug Gibson paddled a whitewater K-1 as Texas Dan and I ran one of Doug’s rental C-2s. There’s a satisfying simplicity about exploring new creeks in a generic C-2. It’s paddling at its most basic level – just grab your paddles and the ‘ole canoe from out back and have at it!

The creek is not really what you would call whitewater, the gradient is consistent but not very steep. However, being so small and so full of water that day, it presented a good challenge in the C-2. Doug was able to run ahead and scout for Dan and I. As with any small creek, we knew strainers would be a problem and worried about being able to grab micro-eddies in the big heavy boat. In the absence of an eddy, the best way to stop is to drive the bow into the bank and let ‘er spin in the torrent, leaving you facing upstream with the power of your forward stroke to buck the current. However, the creek was so narrow, at least in spots, that we were concerned about having enough room for the 17-foot boat to swing around. If not, we could quickly find ourselves in a bank to bank broach! Not a healthy scenario for staying dry!

We managed to get down without incident, stopping to walk 3 strainers, after carrying a quarter mile to put in below the first two. In the K-1, Doug maneuvered through all but one of the blockages. The last strainer was near the end of the run where the bank was very steep and consisted of a fallen tree with many branches. We climbed out on the tree and lined the boat over and under many limbs to freedom on the downstream side.

Paddling the remaining quarter mile to the mouth would have been the best way to finish Little Buffalo. But there were more strainers as the creek wound through Newport and we would have had to paddle a long way down the Juniata to take out.

Little Buffalo flows through mostly farm country but has woodlands in the form of a few hemlock groves and hardwood buffer zones. I remember some cliffs on river left at one point. There’s some light industry near the end but overall it’s a pretty little creek just sitting up there in Perry County, not going anywhere, waiting for the explorer of small creeks to pay it a visit. Break out the old family canoe and go paddle Little Buffalo the next time you can find it up. If you’re prepared for the strainer dodging, you’ll probably have an enjoyable adventure. If not? Well, it’ll still be an adventure!

Pat Reilly

Copyright © 2006 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.