Powell Creek

River of the month #9

author: Pat Reilly
date: December 1998

Nowhere in Pennsylvania is the ‘ridge and valley’ region more evident than northern Dauphin County. As one travels north from Harrisburg, a regular alternating sequence of mountain/valley runs to and beyond the Northumberland County line. It is interesting to take a look at the creeks that run through this washboard landscape and examine their worth as paddle streams. They all take an east to west course in an array of valleys starting just north of Harrisburg with Fishing Creek Valley. From the city going north you encounter, in order:

  1. Fishing Creek - tiny and strainer filled

  2. Stoney - A stream with a true wilderness section ready for the hardy paddler in search of an expedition. Requiring lots of rain, this trip was examined in a club newsletter back in 1994.

  3. Clarks - A lot like Stoney in character - clear trout stream with the watershed almost entirely forested. Clarks has easy access via rt. 325, but can be hard to gauge water levels due to Dehart Dam capturing much of the flow for Harrisburg’s water supply. Clarks has been the subject of numerous club trips and has been written up in trip reports, as recently as the spring of ‘98. The scope of this column is to be little known (or at least seldom talked about) rivers.

  4. Powell - aha, this month’s feature

  5. Armstrong - A small strainer filled brook that actually shares the same wide valley as Powell. I practically ruined a perfectly good wildwater K-1 paddling this creek at a sub-minimal level the summer of ‘97. I don’t plan on returning.

  6. Wiconisco - a worthy canoe creek that was discussed in the March newsletter.

  7. Mahangtango - This medium sized stream forms the county line and has two small paddleable tributaries, Pine and Deep Creeks. Possibly more about these runs in the future.

  8. Mahanoy - A good sized creek with an acid mine drainage problem. It has many good attributes for the paddler, if not for the fisherman.

But now we’re getting out of our range of focus.


Powell, Stoney and Clarks are all small creeks to be floating a canoe on, with roughly equal watershed areas of 35 to 45 square miles. Unlike Stoney and Clarks, Powell does not run through a narrow ribbon of a valley. Rather it drains a wider ‘V’ shaped valley and originates in two forks on a plateau at the point of the ‘V’. The creek becomes large enough to boat (at least for us small creek freaks) at the Rummel Rd. Bridge near Carsonville, shortly below the confluence of the North and South forks. From here to the rt. 225 bridge at Matamoras is 11 miles of rather typical small creek flatwater paddling. Not that it’s all flat, there are plenty of riffles, just no rapids. You’ll see lots of bridges and farms but this section is free of any real development; nice and rural. But there are strainers, lots of them, as you would expect on a creek of this size. And there is one dam to carry, ‘Honky Dam’, a popular old swimming hole that was shut down long ago with ‘no trespassing’ signs.

Rt. 225 to the river is a more agreeable trip. First off, it’s easier to catch at runnable levels. Secondly, strainers are few (only one the last time I was down). And it’s prettier, with old bottomland woods and rock outcrops rising from the creek. One memorable spot stands out after the creek makes a sharp lefthand turn. You’ll encounter a wooded cliff on river right and a old dark hemlock forest on river left. One small dam is runnable. My last trip on this section I noticed many of the old trees were being timbered off. I guess the landowners figure it’s time to cash in.

You may notice some old woods on river right where many of the trees are adorned with blotches of multi colored paint. And if it’s a weekend you may hear lots of shouting and the sharp ‘slap’ of air rifles. You have reached the land of ‘Sargeant York’ and his paintball wars. I doubt if they want ‘civilians’ in their playing fields, but on one trip I couldn’t resist walking up a hill to view a ‘battle’ in progress since the land was not posted (from the creek side anyway). Strange clothes, these guys (and gals) really get into it! But I didn’t stay long, the possibility of getting wacked by a stray paintball drove me back to my boat. If I want a change of hair color I’ll use Clairol, thank you (okay, Grecian Formula).

If you put in at rt. 225 it’s less than 5 miles to the mouth. You could extend your trip by putting in further up or by continuing down the river through the area’s other narrows, the ‘Duncannon Narrows’. As for water levels, you can get a rough estimate using the Swatty’s Harpers Tavern call-in gauge. You probably need at least 2.5 for a scrapy trip down the lower section, and over 3 for the upper. But the view of the water from the 225 bridge gives a good indication of conditions.

Pat Reilly

Copyright © 1998 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.