Middle Creek

River of the month #103

author: Pat Reilly

In ROM # 78 we had an extensive discussion about diabase. A narrow blotchy band of this hard volcanic rock arcs across the state’s piedmont region and forms rapids wherever streams cross it. This diabase is probably most prevalent in lower Adams County around Gettysburg where 3 small but boatable tributaries of the Monocacy River cross over the rock. These 3 are: Rock Creek (ROM # 78), Marsh Creek (ROM # 70) and Middle Creek.

Rock Creek hides its diabase in the Gettysburg National Military Park above the put-in used by Ed Gertler for his Keystone Canoeing guidebook, while Marsh Creek’s diabase section is well known to area boaters. Both these creeks form good technical rapids when crossing the hard rock, but their diabase sections are short and begin and end abruptly.

Middle Creek is a bit different in that if flows over the diabase for most of its 8-mile route west of Gettysburg. I’ve launched up as far as the Water St bridge many years ago. However, when visiting the bridge this spring most land was posted and I saw no good place to park. Reasonable parking and a wider creek can be found 2 miles downstream at the Station Road bridge. From either of these launch points, you’ll see the rounded boulders characteristic of diabase littering the stream bed and requiring that you maneuver around them. However, since the gradient is initially very mild there are no rapids in the first few miles.

Scenery is good as you cruise south toward Maryland past old farms. Approaching the route 15 highway, a stream-side cottage has a concrete ford that you will probably scrape over. This signals the beginning of a little gradient and some bigger riffles. Then, just as you go under the highway, a neat 3-foot ledge tells you that the rapids have finally arrived. For the next 2.5 miles you’ll experience constant little rapids and riffles through diabase rocks and ledges that can be quite technical at times. Due to the small size of the creek and only medium gradient, these rapids never quite achieve the level of Marsh Creek’s rapids, at this point only 2 miles away. But this doesn’t mean Middle Creek’s rapids aren’t fun; they may be just the right size for novices and could be challenging in a long open boat.

A mile after the route 15 highway, you’ll go under the old (now called business route) 15 bridge. Shortly afterward, another big ledge appears. Enjoy the next 1.5 miles, after which, the rapids that took so long to build, end very suddenly. A nice complex boulder garden comes to a flat dead end in a short impoundment above the Harney Road bridge. Carry the 6-foot dam and if you want to continue, you’ll have one more thrill running the next dam, a 2.5-footer just below the bridge. By now you have crossed the Mason Dixon Line.

Nearly the entire 2.5 miles that contain the rapids are bordered by undeveloped woodlands and are very pretty and quiet in spite of the 2 route 15 bridges. Paddling in the Monocacy River basin during mid spring one can be overwhelmed by all the red bud, dogwoods and wild flowers in bloom. Red bud especially seems to be everywhere down this way. And the frequent streamside shale cliffs (on the non-diabase sections) usually have columbine growing from them. This is a lovely neighborhood in spring.

Beyond the Harney Road bridge, the diabase is gone and so are the rapids. Fast water and riffles continue along a creek bed that now consists of shale. The creek winds through Maryland farm land buffered by woods until it more than doubles in size when it joins Toms Creek. There is no takeout at the mouth, so to enjoy the final 1.5 miles of Middle Creek flatwater, you’ll need to tack on a mile of pretty Toms Creek and cruise down to a nice quiet takeout at the Simmons Road bridge at Fourpoints.

There is no gauge on Middle Creek but there is one on the Monocacy River, into which it flows, via Toms Creek. However, this gauge is a bit far down in the watershed, so I’ve used the one on Antietam Creek at Waynesboro. A level of 3.4 on Antietam is about minimal for a plastic boat run down Middle Creek. You’ll do a lot of scraping in the rapids but the flat sections will be adequate. And you don’t want to see much less than 4 feet on the Monocacy gauge.

Pat Reilly

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