Clarks Creek

River of the month #97

author: Pat Reilly
date: May 2007

Over the years we discussed how the topography directly north of Harrisburg is a prime example of the ‘ridge and valley’ province. Geologists say that there is no better example on earth of ‘crustal folding’ than this area of Pennsylvania. In the pages of ‘Streamlines’ we’ve talked about nearly every creek that flows in these narrow valleys of northern Dauphin County and beyond. Let’s see, traveling north from Harrisburg, there’s been articles about Fishing, Stoney, Powell, Wiconisco, Mahangtango, and Mahanoy. Conspicuous by its absence is creek number 3 in this sequence - Clarks.

Clarks should be familiar to many club members. I recall a CCGH trip on Clarks many years ago. Although owing to its small size it doesn’t lend itself well to scheduled excursions. Like Stoney directly to its south, Clarks drains a straight narrow value that remains largely forested. The valley has a through-road, route 325, and some scattered farms, homes and cabins. But most of the valley remains wooded, except for a large area of water - Dehart Dam – the reservoir that supplies the city of Harrisburg.

Since we’re primarily river paddlers (and because paddling on the lake is not permitted), we need not concern ourselves about this reservoir except for one reason. It sucks up the entire upper half of the watershed making Clarks Creek hard to find at runable levels. I remember paddling both Clarks and Stoney on the same day during the winter of ’95. In spite of equal sized streams and adjacent watersheds, Stoney was carrying much more water that day than was Clarks. I can only attribute this to the reservoir sucking up Clark’s upper waters. If it has been wet the reservoir may be full and you’ll get all the water. Otherwise Clarks will be harder to find with sufficient water than similar sized creeks. The Patriot News publishes the level of the dam on its daily weather page. The level is given in inches above or below the spillway. Don’t attempt to paddle the upper sections of the creek if the number is negative, indicating below the spillway and the capacity below 100%.

You can put in right below the long sloping spillway if the reservoir is full. If not, you’ll need to go further downstream to a point where you’ve picked up enough water to run. When I ran this upper section with two other club members back in ’96, we contemplated launching right on the spillway (probably illegal) for a fast slide into the stilling pool. But the vertical concrete sides made this tough and we carried to the pool to launch.

The upper creek is very typical of Pennsylvania mountain streams. And this is a good thing! Hemlock and rhododendron line the creek, sometimes nearly enveloping it, for nearly the entire 13.5-mile trip to route 225. Clark's waters gurgle along clean, clear and full of trout. This is a popular fishing stream, so prepare to give way to fishermen, especially in the early season. The many pull-offs and parking lots that line paralleling route 325 for fishermen also make good boater access points.

There are no real rapids, a beaver dam was the biggest drop we ran on the upper creek. But the water is lively and moves along down a consistent, if mild, gradient. Some low bridges can cause problems. Stay alert! A culvert bridge where the Appalachian Trail crosses about 2 miles below the dam, can be dangerous. Watch out for these bridges and strainers too. This is a narrow forested creek, so expect plenty of wood in the water.

For my money, the trip from route 225 to the Susquehanna River is the best of Clarks for a number of reasons. Since Clarks Valley’s southern boundary, Stoney Mountain, ends at 325, the creek is now free to move about the county. And the remainder of its path is a number of curves and a few abrupt turns up against impressive little rock cliffs. There is some development, but overall it remains a rural run. The scenery more than makes up for the homes you’ll see. In some spots it reminds me of Sideling Hill Creek, a stream famous for its attractive shale cliffs and lively water. Some of the riffles in this section could be called rapids. Since this final trip is short (3.5 miles) you can add to it by putting in at one of 2 bridge a few miles above the route 325 bridge. Then, just before the Stackpole fish hatchery, about ½ mile above 225, you’ll get 3 man-made ledges (the first an abrupt 2-foot drop) that really spice up the run. Other advantages? This lower part of the creek is easier to find up, no longer has the paralleling busy road, is closer to Harrisburg and has good access if you paddle out to the Susquehanna and down to Dauphin. Sound good? Have at it, it's only 10 miles from center city! But you'll need plenty of rain.

Pat Reilly

Copyright © 2007 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.