Lizard Creek

River of the month #114

author: Pat Reilly

In March of 2001, ‘River of the Month’ #35 talked about Black Creek as one of many Lehigh River tributaries that tumble into Lehigh’s gorge offering steeper more technical whitewater than the bigger Lehigh. This Lehigh trib, Lizard Creek, doesn’t really tumble into “the gorge” as it enters the river at Bowmanstown. Bowmanstown is 8 river miles below Jim Thorpe, the town generally thought of as the end of the Lehigh River’s canyon.

Still, Lizard has a mile or 2 of decent rapids as it drops to the level of the Lehigh, gorge or no gorge. And you’ll certainly find these rapids to be steeper and more technical than the Lehigh’s. Though they really aren’t any more difficult, just different. One can find Lizard’s little valley by following the Blue Mountain, the ridge just north of Harrisburg, all the way to Carbon County and the Lehigh River. Lizard’s valley is just north of the ridge. This area can be easily reached via automobile by traveling to New Ringgold on route 443. This route is used by some to access the lower Lehigh Gorge and by others to access the Little Schuylkill. By heading on route 895 instead of staying on 443 in New Ringgold, you’ll soon be at the intersection with route 309 and the headwaters put-in for Lizard.

The first 11 miles are typical small stream paddling. Nothing special in here, just flat water bordered by farms, back yards and some light industry. The fun starts are Ashfield, 3 miles from Lizard’s mouth. And it begins gradually. The first mile below Ashfield is still flat water, but you will begin to notice that it’s starting to liven up. The second mile progresses to easy straight forward rapids as the gradient picks up. By the 3rd mile good technical rapids are appearing, some of them rather long but not particularly steep. About ½ dozen in all, these rapids build as you make your way toward the Lehigh. The biggest rapid is the last, just under the high turnpike bridge (N.E. extension of the TP). This last one is a bit steep and a heck of a lot fun. Then it’s out into the big Lehigh.

If you’re looking for just whitewater and deem Lizard’s 2 miles insufficient in quantity, continue out on to the Lehigh. If water was up enough to run Lizard, the Lehigh will probably be thumping pretty good. And while we’re now well below the popular whitewater runs, the Lehigh still serves up some long wavy rapids to, through and beyond the water gap in Blue Mountain at Palmerton. Straight forward but with some big waves, these rapids are long but widely spaced. The biggest waves are found at a few good ledges below the mountain gap and a few miles above Walnutport. Don’t worry about the dam that your older guidebooks may list 2 miles below the mouth of Lizard, it’s no longer there.

As you paddle through Blue Mountain on the Lehigh you’ll be sure to notice that something is different here. The normal deep green (or is that blue?) color of the heavily forested ridge is replaced by browns and lighter greens of bare earth and scrub brush as the slopes have been grotesquely denuded. What’s going on here? That’s what many AT through hikers must think too, as they pass through on Blue Mountain’s ridge (the AT crosses the Lehigh on the bridge just below the water gap). Well, you’re looking at the “Palmerton Zinc Superfund Site”, complements of the New Jersey Zinc Company’s now defunct smelter, formerly residing at Palmerton on river left on the north side of the mountain.

To catch Lizard’s water at runable levels I’d look for 3.2 on Jordon Creek’s Schnecksville gauge as a minimum. Jordon Creek parallels Lizard on the south side of Blue Mountain. 2.8 on the Little Schuylkill at Tamaqua may work too.

Pat Reilly

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