Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — April 2006

Helping Out on the Red Mo

by Dave Coleman

The weather turned out to be much better than forecasted; despite temperatures that stayed in the mid 30s, it was fairly sunny and the wind was light. This was the first time in several years I had done any cold weather paddling. But, this was to be an exception — I had volunteered to help out Tussey Mountain Outfitters with the annual Red Moshannon Downriver Race For Canoes and Kayaks.

Moshannon Creek has earned the nickname “Red Mo” due to the staining of rocks from acid mine drainage. Efforts are underway to attempt to reverse the acid mine drainage. Unfortunately, efforts are also underway that could further spoil the environment of the area.

Red Moshannon Race Course

Rendition of the Red Moshannon Creek — Home of Pennsylvania’s longest running downriver race · Map by Mike Halpenny

Held the last Saturday in March — the oldest downriver race in Pennsylvania — in its 39th year, the race is run from the Peale Bridge (near Grassflat) to the Route 53 bridge (below the village of Moshannon). The seven and a half mile race is on Class 2 whitewater and is considered fairly easy by experienced paddlers, although at higher water levels, this creek can be fairly challenging — and potentially dangerous to both beginner and advanced boaters.

This time, however, the water was low — just above what would be considered “minimum”, but it is still a nice run. In fact, all but a few rapids were easily negotiated without scraping on too many rocks. This stretch of Moshannon Creek starts out with 3 miles of basically flat water and simple riffles. The next three miles have alternating distinct rapids and slow water pools. The last mile of the run — The Mad Mile — as its name implies, has the best rapids in quick succession. This progression of the complexity of the rapids allows ample warm-up before the climatic end.

The race attracts a huge variety of canoeists and kayakers from all over the state and country. Many locals that have moved away use the race as an excuse to come back and visit Central Pennsylvania. Some racers are very serious — in fact, Chris Iezzoni, who is on the U.S. Wildwater team, had the quickest time on the course in his kayak this year. The majority of racers are amateur at best and basically participate to just have a good day on a good creek. All told, there were 221 people in 155 boats.

On this day, the safety station that I was stationed was at the aptly named — Raceway Rapid. It is not the most challenging, but certainly not the easiest, rapid of this stretch of Moshannon Creek. Racers must make a left turn missing the shallow side of easier riffles, but then have to make one of two “flumes” to avoid hanging up on larger rocks. We did have to throw a rope and pull a canoe off of one of the rocks, but otherwise only had to offer the fire and hot chocolate to warm a few racers. A father-daughter team made their third warm-up stop at our station (one of eight) — and we were only at the half way point of the course.

With higher water conditions, we would have had several swimmers. In fact, even at this lower level there were 10 swimmers on the last, and arguably the most challenging, rapid of this stretch of the creek — Chico’s Rock. Here paddlers must execute a tight S-turn to avoid the rock.

Before the racers reached our station, we practically had the creek to ourselves. During the race, however, consecutive waves of boats came down for an hour and a half. In addition to the racers, for some still unknown reason to me, dozens of other canoes and kayaks also ran the creek during the race. Even without the racers, there were more folks on the water at one time that I have ever seen, in my 17 years of padding The Red Mo.

The race certainly is not the only opportunity to run Moshannon Creek. During normal years, the Red Moshannon can be run all spring, and frequently into June. Autumn rainstorms usually bring the creek back up for some quite striking fall color runs.

It was not a warm day, but I enjoyed the day on the water. Moshannon Creek, for most of its length, is very remote and scenic. There are numerous tributaries that are clean and unpolluted from acid mine drainage. Many species of animals travel the creek gorge and are frequently sighted. The banks are lined with wild cranberry, hemlock trees line the confluence of tributaries, and pine groves intermix with the oak and maple. This section of the Red Mo is a slowly deepening gorge, fully forested as far as you can see. It almost has a real “wilderness” feel to it.

Red mo downriver race

An annual rite of spring — Racers on the Red Mo

Of course, all of this could change if landfill developers get their way with the proposed Snow Shoe/Rush Township landfill. First there will be the visual impacts. The landfill clearing and filling (with New Jersey garbage) would be visible from Moshannon Creek — especially the section upstream of Peale Bridge. A leachate (landfill drainage juice) treatment facility would be built near, and discharge to, Moshannon Creek somewhere above Peale Bridge. Even if built to the state of the art standards, and operated efficiently, it will still discharge a certain amount of toxic and noxious substances into the water. Besides the potential physical impact to paddlers enjoying a water contact sport in the creek, the psychological effect will likely be strong. If aware of the treated leachate discharge, will the father want to again bring his daughter onto the creek?

But perhaps the largest impact to Moshannon Creek would be the industrialization that the landfill development would bring to the creek gorge. Besides the visual impact of the clearing of forest for the landfill, there will be much noise and odor emanating from the landfill activity itself. More dramatic will be the sight and sounds of freight trains hauling garbage traveling the creek valley, with the terminus switching yard being placed right across the creek from the Peale Bridge put-in. As it is now, the largest man-made commotion on Moshannon Creek is the downriver race itself.

Landfill proponents (both of them) may classify the local landfill opposition as NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard). I will be the first to admit it is nimbyism to me. That is because Moshannon Creek has been one of my favorite backyards for some time now; hopefully, it will be just as it is now for years to come.

If You Go: This section of Moshannon Creek can be reached off of Route 53 in Clearfield County. From the Centre Region, go through Snow Shoe on Route 144; continue north and, in the village of Moshannon (blinking light), go straight on Route 53 for about 5 miles to the bridge over Moshannon Creek. This will be the takeout. Continue on Route 53 south for about 5 miles. Look for a sign that indicates “Grassflat 1 mile” with an arrow to the left.

Turn left here on Firehouse Road, go just an eighth of a mile to a stop sign, turn left, go through the village of Grassflat. Continue straight as the road becomes unpaved and go about 2 miles down to the bridge.

The hand painted gauge on the new Route 53 bridge should read at least one-half a foot for absolute minimum for this section. One foot would be a minimum fun level. At 2 feet and above, this is a much different creek and should be avoided by beginners. At any level, experience paddling on moving water is necessary, and ideally, the trip should be organized and led by someone familiar with the section. This range of 1 to 2 feet at the Route 53 gauge is roughly comparable to 3 to 5 feet on the West Branch gauge at Karthaus (http://waterdata.usgs.gov/pa/nwis/uv/?site_no=01542500&agency_cd=USGS).

For additional information and advice on paddling this and other sections of Moshannon Creek you can contact Tussey Mountain Outfitters at 355-5690.

For additional information on the efforts to stop the Snow Shoe/Rush township landfill, visit the website of People Protecting Communities — www.stoplandfill.com

The Moshannon Group web site includes all past On The Trail columns

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Dave Coleman lives in Patton Township and volunteers for the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club as well as the local Moshannon Group. Dave can be reached at dyatesc@aol.com