author: Pat Reilly
date: October 2002
This column has put forth the opinion that ‘Fishing Creek’ is the most popular creek name in Pennsylvania. ȁPine Creek’ may very well be second. There are 3 in Ed Gertler’s ‘Keystone Canoeing’ guidebook and that makes ‘Pine Creek’ the winner there. Probably every boater in the state is aware of the Pine Creek of Pennsylvania Grand Canyon fame, but the other 2 in Gertler’s book are closer and the one in this column is just across the Dauphin County line, in Schuylkill County.
That may not be far from Harrisburg as the crow flies, but Pine Creek lies in a rather remote, little traveled corner of Anthracite Coal country that is not all that easy to reach. You can access Pine Creek’s neighborhood via route 25 from Gratz or by way of a complicated over-the-mountain route from the Tower City exit of I81 on route 125. Either way it’s a long scenic drive to reach a short scenic creek.
The long drive is worth it for the nice variety of scenery this creek supplies. I first slipped into Pine Creek by boating down a little known acid drainage scared tributary, Rausch Run. This put me in the vicinity of Valley View and the beginning of 4 miles of deep hemlock (not pine) woods. There are some impressive old trees in this heavily shaded stretch. The pretty corridor ends abruptly at a coal facility where piles of the black stuff can be seen nearly sliding into the creek.
The scenery remains rough for a bit as the creek goes under rt. 25 and past Spring Glen where a steep bank allows some of the town’s trash to tumble into the creek. But if you bear with it, Pine Creek quickly reverts to woodlands for many pleasant miles. I really liked this section and I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe it’s the way the constant twists and turns of the creek add an element of surprise and bring about subtle change along the way. This is the heart of Pennsylvania’s ridge and valley region but it’s not readily apparent along this section of creek. For more than 7 miles Pine Creek ambles back and forth through deep woods, low wetlands and thick brush with occasional little cliffs and rock outcrops. Nice boating!
There are some dwellings and farms but the character of this run remains very quiet and remote. The water is fairly quiet too, just small riffles over a cobble and sandy bottom. If the level looks inadequate at the sand bar below the rt. 25 bridge, keep in mind that this is probably as bad as it gets before Deep Creek doubles the flow 1.5 miles downstream.
Finally Pine Creek tires of its valley, turns north and heads through a sharply cut gap in Mahantango Mountain to a rendezvous with Mahantango Creek in quaint little Klingerstown. The water livens up through this gap although no real rapids form. Still, it’s a cool finish to a nice run.
In June of ’01 Mahantango Creek was the ‘River of the Month’ subject and I ranted about how Pine Creek should have carried the Mahantango name instead of the much smaller fork you run into at the confluence. We won’t get back into that now but if you paddle Pine Creek all the way to its mouth, you’ll see what I mean.
We’ve also discussed Klingerstown before, in the article about paddling towns, August 2000. Again, I’m not entirely sure why, but I find that I really like this place. Probably I just like discovering that rustic little towns I’ve never heard of and have never been to actually exist, and not so very far from home.
So if one desires to visit this off-the-beaten-path area and paddle Pine Creek, what should they look for in water levels? Well, there is a gauge on this watershed, on Mahantango Creek down near the mouth in Dalmatia. But by the time water registers on that gauge, it may be gone from the upper reaches of Pine Creek. I believe a better choice is too look at the Swatara Creek gauges. The headwaters of both creeks are in the same vicinity. I would want to see the Pine Grove gauge spiking up to 6 feet or more. Gertler uses figures from the Harpers Tavern gauge – 3.3 feet for a Valley View put it or 2.4 for Spring Glen.
Copyright © 2002 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.