Yellow Breeches Creek (part 2)

River of the month #87

author: Pat Reilly
date: March 2006

Continuing with our discussion of the Yellow Breeches started last month. We began by talking about this river’s unique water retaining ability and covering the upper creek from the source to Williams Grove.

As Allenberry Playhouse and Resort comes into view below Boiling Springs, the Yellow Breeches has settled in to its true form - that of a rural/suburban trout stream with older rather elegant development instead of the usual monotonous suburbs. You pass farmlands mixed with nicely kept homes, restored or converted old mills and mansions sited on expansive estates. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning sprawl or streamside development, whether it be old or new. I would prefer wilderness. But considering the creek is flowing through heavily populated eastern Cumberland County, this is as good as you could hope for. It seems too that folks living along side the Yellow Breeches, rather than viewing you as a trespasser, are usually friendly and proud to share ‘their’ creek with fishermen and boaters who appreciate it.

I’ve run the stretch from Boiling Springs as low as 1 foot in a composite boat and it wasn’t too bad. You could probably go even lower in a plastic boat. A crumbled dam, just past the Williams Grove Park’s roller coaster, features a fun rocky chute. Below the bridge at Williams Grove Road is a good take-out/put-in. New development on river right is beginning to mar the once quiet 2 miles that come next. Another dam pool ends these 2 miles at Rose Garden by the high route 15 bridge. Another good put-in/take-out can be found directly under the bridge. The dam at Rose Garden has an exciting runable spot if you can find it. You must paddle river left before the rip-rapped river right section of dam and go around an island and some silt flats. Then circle back to river right against the island for a 3-foot plunge into a benign (at normal levels) pool that’s cleverly hidden by the trees!

Nice cruising in fairly remote surroundings takes you to the next dam by the railroad tracks above Grantham. This old busted up structure has a nice chute in the center that gives an exciting ride. Just don’t broach across the very narrow entrance while negotiating the right turn into the chute (like I did one moonless night).

Development at Grantham is restricted mostly to the school (Messiah College) and is spacious and attractive with a covered bridge and a lit walking trail. More woods, big estates, at least 3 picturesque humped-back bridges, lots of twists, turns and plenty of riffles make for a nice 8-mile trip to the next dam pool at Lisburn. Some say this is the Breeches’ best section. Besides Rose Garden, you can put-in at Grantham and besides Lisburn you can take out where McCormicks Road runs alone side the creek – a spot favored by fishermen and summer picnickers. At Lisburn cliffs appear on river left and from here to the mouth limestone outcrops and cliffs are plentiful, many forming popular swimming holes.

I’ve done this section as low as .9 feet on the USGS gauge and it was okay. That’s getting pretty low for the Breeches, but is not drought level. You could go lower if you’re prepared to push your way over a few low cobble bars with your paddle.

We’ve run the Lisburn dam on river right but it’s clunky. For a couple of years running there has been a better option. The old mill race on river left is now watered. You can carry the rusting gate structure (or squeeze through if you dare), shoot down the ¼ mile narrow passage and plunge through the old paddlewheel chute at remnants of the mill before merging back with the creek. In fact, when the mill race is flowing and the creek level is low, this is your only option since there will not be adequate flow in the creek itself! Whether it is flowing or not depends on how the permanent debris pile on the dam is situated. Check it out and go for it if it’s running.

From Lisburn to the big dam at the Mechanicsburg waterworks is yet another good 6 miles. Plenty of woods, many times lining steep slopes make this section attractive. However, if it’s off-season and trees are leafless, you will see plenty of new development peaking through the woods. Just below Lisburn, Lower Allen Township’s big municipal park lines the creek on river left and actually has some creek-side camp sites. CCGH has taken advantage of these sites with a club camping trip as have myself and my son. The sites make for great canoe kid-camping with big fields and playgrounds just a walk away.

The 6-foot dam at the Mechanicsburg waterworks is easily carried on the left using another good put-in/take-out. I’ve seen this dam washed out once! Late September, 2004 I was going to put in here for a high speed run with the creek right at flood level. You could have run the river left side of the dam with only a few 3-foot waves as obstacles! It wasn’t so much that the level was that high but the single lane humped bridge just below the dam is not designed to allow much water to pass through. It was holding back the water, raising the level below the dam. Weird! There were too many gawkers hanging around to put in. I knew if I did there would be emergency personnel waiting at the next bridge to ‘rescue’ me, so I headed for the Conodoguinet instead.

More nice woodlands, some cliffs and a few really big homes cover the next 2 miles. Then carry Spanglers Mill dam on the right or left. If carrying left and using the PFC handicap fishing access be sure to take out well above the mill race which is a potential death trap. This 5-foot dam has an ugly hydro. Another 2 miles of nice woodsy cruising may be interrupted by an extremely noisy stone crusher at the Hemp quarry. However, since the 2 big quarries are now out of rock, I’m not sure if the crusher is still in use. Now that the quarries have been allowed to fill with water, little Cedar Run’s spring water is flowing much better than when it was discussed in this column in January, 2003. It enters the Breeches shortly before the next dam at Green Lane Farms. Carry this one on the left through private property. This 3-footer looks runable if there is every enough water to cover the hydraulic-busting rocks inserted on river left, but I’ve yet to do it.

The suburbs have finally taken over on the last 3-mile section. Many new homes border the creek. But it’s made tolerable by plenty of trees. In fact, there are few sections of this river that are not bordered by trees. The creek is usually narrow enough to allow for a canopy of enveloping greenery. Great for scenery, but the relatively narrow creek and constant trees add up to a constant threat from strainers. Often times when I paddle this creek, there are some new strainers as well as some old ones washed away. Most you can bust through but some will have you carrying. Approach all with caution.

The big park at New Cumberland makes a nice take out for this final section. Make sure to get out before the last dam – a big one. Below the dam, the final 3 tenths of a mile are fast and full of riffles before the creek dumps into the mighty Susquehanna. I would consider Lisburn to the mouth to be runable at any level (except for the final rocky .3 mile below the New Cumberland dam). I’ve run it at .7 and it doesn’t get much lower than that. You’ll scrape here and clunk there, but most spots will have adequate water.

So there you have it. It’s pretty, convenient, and always running. So if you’re a local flat water paddler and have yet to experience the Yellow Breeches, you’d better have a good excuse!


The Yellow Breeches has been going through some changes. Right after this was published in the CCGH newsletter in the spring of 2006, the dam at Lisburn was removed by the Pa. Fish and Boat Commission. Since then the Spanglers Mill dam has also been removed. And as this writeup is uploaded to the Web (winter, 2009) the Green Lane Farms dam, as well as a few others, is slated for removal. While this is good news for paddlers, I'm sad to report that Williams Grove amusement park is now closed, probably permanently.

Pat Reilly

Copyright © 2006 Pat Reilly. All rights reserved.