author: Pat Reilly
date: July 2002
Mill Creek seems to be a popular creek name. There are quite a few in Pennsylvania. This Mill Creek is a tributary of the Conestoga River and flows through the heart of Lancaster County. Now some of you may stop reading right here, remembering that other Lancaster County streams are flat, generally very brown at runable levels and flow through heavy agriculture, congested suburbs or both. Ah, but Mill Creek is the exception offering very nice small creek paddling within easy reach of the city of Lancaster.
Putting in at route 340, east of Lancaster in the town of ‘Bird in Hand’, Mill Creek does begin like most other Lancaster streams. It’s very small here and after passing the ‘Good and Plenty’ Amish Restaurant it winds through open farmlands on it’s way to Dutch Wonderland theme park. The flat water gets even flatter in an impoundment long before you see the amusement park. The creek splits when you hit the park and if you take the river left channel you’ll be literally paddling through the park. You can paddle under the ‘Dutch Wonderland’ bridge and see rides and weird structures only found in an amusement park. And if it’s summer, you may even get to race the little replica paddlewheel boat that I saw in dry dock.
The dam at the end of the park looks runable, but a big strainer just below had me carrying since I was already out of the boat to scout. As you go under wide route 30, another impoundment begins and ends in a capped ledge. These dam types are weird. There is also one on Gettysburg’s Marsh Creek. They take an existing ledge, plug any holes, cap it with concrete and, ‘Presto’, instant dam.
Below the second dam Mill begins to slowly change character. Now the creek is in a bit of a ravine and has woods on both sides separating it from suburbs. After busy Lampeter Road bridge nice riffles form and some fun maneuvering is required. Then after a short strip of creek-side cottages the ‘burbs give way to farmland and the farms quickly give way to what appears to be parkland.
One of Lancaster County’s nicely restored covered bridges comes into view just about the time the paddler realizes that this is not your typical Lancaster County creek. Now a shallow wooded gorge envelops the creek as it loops back and forth with cliffs visible at the turns. The water is interrupted frequently by fun little ledges and a few old rubble dams. With little development in sight these are 3 miles of excellent small creek paddling.
Civilization returns at the high route 222 bridge south of the Lancaster suburb of Lyndon. Just below here is a broken dam that forms a tight little rapid that will challenge you at low levels. The last mile has lots of houses visible but the creek remains in its little gorge. There’s a 6-foot dam to carry just 1/3 mile from the mouth. This final section could be attempted with 4.5 feet on the Conestoga Lancaster gauge. That would probably take at least ½ inch of rain in Lampeter and surrounding townships. However, you’ll need more water to put-in at Bird in Hand and visit Dutch Wonderland.
Copyright © 2002 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.