Sherman Creek

River of the month #101

author: Pat Reilly

Shermans is a popular creek with Harrisburg area paddlers as well it should be. Always rural and usually scenic with 8 covered bridges, this creek defines Perry County flowing from its mountainous western side to the Susquehanna at the county’s eastern end. Consider it one of the big 4 of Harrisburg area creeks, along with the Conodoguinet, Yellow Breeches and Swatara.

At 244 square miles of watershed, Shermans is the 3rd largest of these local 4 creeks, only the Yellow Breeches is smaller. It is by far the most rural of the 4, as it flows through only a few tiny country towns and, as yet, has no suburbs to blemish its banks. There are occasional country homes and cabins along the way, some of which the owners apparently have only a casual notion of maintenance. So, yeah, you’ll see a few trashy spots reminding you how this county got its hillbilly reputation. But generally, these are some of the most scenic cruising miles in the Harrisburg area.

A number of mountain ridges from Pennsylvania’s ridge and valley region squeeze together at Perry County’s western end forming a bit of a washboard plateau. Too hilly and rocky to farm, this area, much of it bound up in Tuscarora State Forest, remains a wooded sportsman’s paradise. Clear trout steams bubble forth from these mountains to form Shermans Creek’s headwaters. Shermans itself flows out of the Big Spring State Park well up in the mountains.

I’ve put in as far up as the covered bridge at New Germantown Road, 49 creek miles from the Susquehanna. The creek is hard to catch at boatable levels up this far and the first 5 miles to and past Blain aren’t the best scenery, even with two more covered bridges. The creek flows mostly through open country and even a few back yards. A better bet is to begin your exploration of Shermans below the confluence with Bull Run shortly below Blain at yet another covered bridge. Shermans has already picked up waters from Shultz Run above Blain and with Bull Run it is now a decent sized creek.

From Blain the creek bounces against big Bowers Mountain for 18 miles to Landisburg as a pattern develops. When near the mountain, sometimes rounding a sub ridge or smaller peak, the scenery is all woods with old big timber and frequent shale cliffs. When looping away from the mountain the view is open farmland. Only once do you get a glimpse of busy route 274, the main vehicle artery between these two towns.

As it makes its way east Shermans Creek continues this pattern of abutting a major ridge to the south while snaking through and around sub-ridges seemingly slicing off sections of the big ridges. This hide-and-seek act allows for Shermans to spend about half of its time in the woods with the other half in lonely farmlands. Not confined to a continuous straight valley, the Creek has very few paralleling roads. Fact is, most of the time you’ll not see a road from your boat and never a heavily traveled one, except when going under bridges!

After the covered bridge put-in below Blain, you’ll encounter three more covered bridges on the way to Landisburg. There’s a low private bridge a mile or 2 below the put-in that may have you ducking if it’s not clogged with a strainer and if water is high. Then after a few more miles you encounter a genuine low-water bridge. These bridge types are designed to be flooded and can be very dangerous to boaters as they have insufficient clearance under them. Only if water is very high will you be able to paddle over this bridge. So be certain to approach with caution!

Riffles, some big, abound throughout the entire length of Shermans Creek but there is only one real rapid and that is manmade. A crumbling dam a few miles above the Hidden Valley Road bridge makes for a fun class II with the best lines on river left. The next dam is below the bridge, in the Hidden Valley Boy Scout camp. It’s about a 5-footer and requires a carry on river left. The camp borders the creek for a few miles and consists of nice old forest with some really big trees.

Shortly after the camp, Laurel Run enters the creek, the last of the headwater trout streams flowing out of Tuscarora State Forest and the only Shermans tributary that has been the subject of this column. ROM #3 reported on an ugly pin that aborted a trip about 10 miles up from the mouth. One of these years I’ll have to go back and run those 10 miles.

You’ll encounter another dam approaching Landisburg, a little sloping and abrasive 3-footer than can be run in many spots if you don’t mind shaving off some plastic. After passing under route 74, the creek runs aside Pisgah Ridge for about 5 miles and passes Warm Springs Lodge, the center of the Perry County arts scene (yes, you read that right). There’s a little spring here that trickles into the creek on river left and it is, in fact, warm.

Shortly after Warm Springs Shermans turns south and cuts through Pisgah Ridge. And soon another little mill dam shows up that can be carried on the left. It can be run on the left too, if you make sure the hydraulic is not working and you miss the rocks below the dam. This is one section that does have a road nearby for a while.

Next the creek flows through its namesake town, Shermanssdale, and is paralleled by a short string of homes and trailers. Then about ½ mile below the route 850 bridge where the creek bends left, you’ll see some impressive cliffs on river right and a multi-tiered low volume waterfall trickling down 40 feet of layered shale. Be careful not to miss it!

Another 5 miles of scenic quiet farmland and you’ll find yourself at yet another covered bridge, the Dellville Bridge, and it marks the beginning of a very popular run to the mouth of Shermans Creek. This 7.5-miler is a Harrisburg boaters’ classic. The normal put-in is near a sharp riffle formed by a broken dam about .3 mile up from the bridge. But as of this writing (winter ’08) there is a new bridge under construction that will bypass the one-lane covered bridge and is currently blocking access to the old put-in. From here at Dellville, Shermans continues its pattern of running up against a big mountain, this time Pine Ridge, only to veer away into the farmland, this time forming a long skinny peninsula, before returning to the mountain. And again Shermans manages to ‘cut-off’ a sub ridge as it turns south directly into Pine Ridge and east again forming a pretty v-shaped forested gorge for its final mile to the Susquehanna River at Duncannon. A ledge at the ‘cut’ into Pine Ridge and a long set of riffles at and beyond the left hand bend to the east form what could be called rapids at certain levels. This makes for a bouncy and scenic finale to a fine paddling creek.

To explore the headwaters above Blain you’ll want close to 4 feet on the Shermanssdale gauge. 2.5 feet ought to do it below the Bull Run confluence and below Landisburg 2 feet is probably enough. For the popular Dellville to the river run, I use 1.6 as a minimum although it’s been paddled lower by many (myself included). If the Susquehanna is over 7 feet, the riffles/rapids at the last bend will begin to wash out as the river backs up into the creek.

Pat Reilly

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