author: Pat Reilly
date: February 1999
Have you ever looked at the ice on most waterways in February and wondered, ‘How in the world am I supposed to go paddling?’ Tired of waiting for the roll session dates only to find that laps around a pool just didn’t quite fill that paddling urge? Well there are a few creeks out there that run through the coldest of winters.
While the fine features of the Yellow Breeches (which seldom freezes) are well known to most club members, I wonder if many are aware of Lebanon Valley’s river of antifreeze, the Quittapahilla. Limestone spring water, that same quality that endears trout fisherman to certain waterways, keeps the ‘Quitty’ from freezing even in extreme cold. Constant outflow from springs keeps the water relatively warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It also helps maintain a runable level all year. This creek supposedly will run all summer. I can’t attest to that but I have run it when everything else, including the Breeches was frozen.
Beginning around Lebanon and emptying into the Swatara north of Palmyra, the Quittapahilla can be found in Ed Gertler’s ‘Keystone Canoeing’ guidebook. If you put in at Annville or above expect a tiny brook which at times, may be barely wide enough to turn a boat around. To rt. 422 the Quitty is mostly slow moving pools with submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) waving gently in the current. The SAV forms the basis of a healthy under water ecosystem. Riffles or short rapids on which you will scrape at most levels, separate the pools. To get an idea of the conditions of this section stop at the rt. 422 bridge just west of Annville and look upstream at the riffle by the old mill.
Shortly below rt. 422 a bizarre feature is encountered. The creek abruptly empties into a cement trough in the middle of the woods! This concrete stretch differs from other channelized streams in that, one, it runs through the woods and not some industrialized section of town, and two, it doesn’t run arrow straight but has bends and curves prompting me to call it the ‘bobsled course’. With a little gradient and no stream bed obstructions the current moves along rather swiftly weaving right and left under a canopy of overhanging trees. It is long too, going on for about a mile. Care should be exercised by anyone choosing to run this trough as fallen trees can cause strainers with escape over the sloped walls difficult, at least in the first third of the ‘course’ where the walls are higher. In 3 separate excursions down the ‘course’ I’ve never encountered a strainer that couldn’t be pushed through but the potential is there.
I’ve never been told why the ‘bobsled course’ exists but I have a theory. A large quarry is nearby, one of several in the Lebanon valley, which mine limestone (of course). As you probably know, limestone dissolves easily and is prone to forming caves and underground waterways. I believe the quarry engineers channeled the creek to keep it from filtering through the porous limestone and filling up the quarry at it was dug. Pumping out quarries is always necessary anyway but in this case they wanted to prevent having to pump out an entire trout stream. Something similar occurred recently when another limestone creek, West Shore’s Cedar Run, disappeared into Hemp Brothers Quarry and had to have an emergency channelization (sounds like a medical procedure) performed on the grounds of White Hill prison.
After the ‘bobsled course’ ends just above Clear Springs Road, the Quitty develops into quite an attractive canoe stream winding through pretty farmland and under some old arched bridges made of… yes, limestone. It would be wise to stay away from this creek from mid April through May as it is heavily fished. Fishermen have gained the cooperation of local farmers, who have allowed them to build ladders over their livestock fences to access the stream bank. It would be a shame and a black eye for boaters if a pushy canoeist ruined this cozy relationship by demanding his right to the creek. There is plenty of other water to boat during early trout season.
In its last few miles after Bates Road, the Quitty buries itself in a quiet forest of old bottomlands. Dark and remote this is a good two miles, but the price of these big woods may be a few strainers to carry. You can take out at the bridge before the confluence with the Swatara or boat on down the Swatty to a convenient church parking lot.
So, now picture yourself boating down Lebanon Valley's beautiful Quittapahilla some gawd awful cold February Sunday, enjoying the peace of winter’s stillness, thinking of all those poor souls (albeit warm souls) crowded into a pool over in the Cumberland valley.
Copyright © 1999 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.