Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — August 2007

BALD EAGLE CREEK — Summertime and the Paddling Is Easy!

by Gary Thornbloom

Bald Eagle Creek from Milesburg to Sayers Dam is a pleasant section of stream that is perfect for summertime canoeing. The reliable volume of water that Spring Creek adds to Bald Eagle Creek at Milesburg is what makes this a stream for summertime canoeing.

Ed Bowman, the owner of Tussey Mountain Outfitters, which is located in Bellefonte just upstream from the mouth of Spring Creek, says that “among our local streams, Spring Creek and Bald Eagle Creek are unusual in that they both maintain a cold temperature and both hold adequate water levels all summer.” Ed added that “it is both a superb
fishery and a great afternoon paddle, and you need to be aware that it is a multi-use stream.”

My paddling companion for the day was an aquatic biologist and I hoped to learn something about the watershed I live in, Bald Eagle Creek watershed. I paddled a solo canoe, and my friend paddled a kayak. We put in at Milesburg and paddled to Lower Greens Run, about 8.0 miles. This makes for a nice day on the water. You can also take out at several other places that would make the trip shorter or, by paddling further into the lake, longer. The Dowdys Hole or Nursery Road takeouts will get you out just as the current of the stream is ending in the upper stretches of the lake.

Solo boats are an excellent choice for paddling this stream. Each paddler can explore or fish at their individual pace. With less weight in a solo boat it floats higher and allows you to paddle through shallow sections, whereas in a tandem boat, with two persons in it, you would be wading and dragging the boat when the water level is at its lowest levels. However, paddling a tandem canoe will work, and on a mid summer day wading can be refreshing.

At the low summer levels of water, Bald Eagle Creek has long, straight, slow sections with pools that end in gravel bars, sometimes fairly shallow, where the current quickens and after bouncing over some waves, you are pushed into the next, calm section. The current keeps things interesting. The bends on this section of stream are easy on the novice and are not nearly as tight as those upstream from Milesburg.

It came as no surprise that while we were out to enjoy paddling on Bale Eagle Creek, there were also fishermen enjoying some reliable midsummer fishing. The ones we spoke with had success with both trout and bass. When canoeing streams that are popular with fishermen, avoid the prime weekends in April, and later in the season give them the space you would like if you were the one fishing. This meant that several times during the day we drifted slowly downstream giving the angler a few more casts before we approached, and then only on the opposite side of the stream.

paddling bald eagle creek

Streamside habitat provides excellent opportunity for wildlife encounters along the Blad Eagle Creek · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

If you look at any map you will see that streams are often the only undeveloped areas that work their way through many rural, as well as suburban and urban landscapes. These greenways are the corridors that wildlife often uses. Streamside habitat provides excellent opportunities for wildlife encounters. On this day the only mammal I saw, a mink, scurried among the rocks only a few feet away, paying no attention to my canoe gliding silently past. Deer and raccoon tracks are commonly seen in mud and sand along the stream.

Bird songs kept us constantly serenaded or, perhaps as often, we were being scolded. Vireos and thrush sang for almost the entire trip. Blue jays scolded from back in the woods, and kingfishers from streamside perches. Red-winged blackbirds never failed to note our passing. Large oval holes in tree trunks and the occasional loud rapping of pileated woodpeckers let us know of their presence.

Numerous ducks, many mallards and black ducks, scooted downstream ahead of us, sometimes sailing into narrow backwaters as we passed, and sometimes taking flight.

Oo-eek oo-eek identified at least some as wood ducks taking flight.
Wood ducks would be one of the likely inhabitants of some of the many cavities in streamside sycamore trees. Sycamore trees have a beautiful mottled bark of many colors — green, tan, white, lemon. The bark makes easy work of identifying these trees. Some of the trees we paddled past were huge.

Large carp and suckers were also very visible as they shot out of the shadows, sometimes passing under the canoe in their haste to seek cover. An occasional trout also shot away from us.

Great blue herons lurked silently until we encroached upon their space and only then did they rise up and depart, looking like prehistoric creatures. A much smaller green heron skirted from tree to tree along the backwaters of Sayers Dam. A cormorant, also in the backwaters, stood drying its wings.

It is no surprise that the two sections of stream with the most wildlife, were farthest from the highway, and also contained the only mature forestlands. The flute like notes of wood thrush floated through the forest. The bold color of a scarlet tanager stood out as the bird darted amidst the green canopy. A look at the map revealed that the best habitat along this section of Bald Eagle Creek is land administered by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. It almost never an accident that the most beautiful lands are public lands.

As summer wears on and many local streams fade to a trickle, head for Bald Eagle Creek. While even Bald Eagle Creek may have low water, it almost always has enough water. Ed Bowman pointed out what every avid paddler knows: low water is better than no water. Low water on Bald Eagle Creek is also a great situation to learn or to hone paddling skills. Bald Eagle Creek is a great place to be on hot summer days that are perfect for paddling. It does not get any cooler then gliding silently on water, above fish, shaded by a forest canopy arching over the stream, with bird song in the air.

If You Go: Leave a shuttle vehicle where you want to end your paddling. Take right-hand turns off SR150 at any of these roads: from I-80 and SR 150 it is about 1.8 miles to Curtin Road where you can takeout at the bridge; 2.6 miles to Dowdy Hole Road — go ¼ mile after the right and at the bend in the road go straight onto a dirt road and this ends at the creek; 3.6 miles to the Nursery Road — after the right make a left at the “T” and take that to the end of the road which also ends at the creek; 4.4 miles to the right turn for the Upper Greens Run launch area. It is about a 4.0 mile paddle to Curtin Village, 5.0+ to Dowdy’s Hole, 6.5 to the Nursery Road, and 8.5 to Upper Greens Run, although you can take out at a small inlet ½ mile before the large parking area.

Put in at the Milesburg Community Park — turn onto Commercial Street across from Brothers Pizza in Milesburg [Editor’s Note: The tan stucco-sided building on a sharp curve on Main Street used to be the Brothers Pizza location].

The Bald Eagle State Park map includes all of this, and it is available online or at the park office. Bald Eagle State Park and Tussey Mountain Outfitters partner on trips down Bald Eagle Creek. Check with the park office for the next trip.

Tussey Mountain Outfitters rents canoes and kayaks as well as offering a shuttle service — in fact, Ed will help you with all of the logistics necessary for you to enjoy a day on the water including helpful advice and the current water level.

The water level should be around –.30 according to the USGS gauge reading (online) for Bald Eagle Creek at Milesburg.

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Gary Thornbloom is the Chair of Sierra Club Moshannon Group, and can be reached at bearknob@verizon.net