Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — August 2010

Bald Eagle Creek — Summer paddling you can count on!

by Gary Thornbloom

Bald Eagle Creek has several great sections of class I summer paddling. Eagleville Bridge to the Fish and Boat Commission Access at Mill Hall is one section that has reliable summer water levels. My most recent descent was with eleven members of the Canoe Club of Centre County.

The Blanchard Station stream gauge, which can be accessed from the CCofCC website, read 3.24, and at this water level I expected to do some walking. Judicious choice of routes kept me paddling, and even poor choices would have resulted in only minimal walking.

The forest walls throughout this section add to the feeling of getting away. The creek cuts through its floodplain occasionally wandering, but far from meandering. State Game Lands 255 protect much of the ridge and some of the lower forests on river right. Forests and streams protected by their inclusion into our Public Lands are time after time the reason for quality hiking or paddling experiences, and this outing is one more example.

Sycamore trees, although not nearly as many as further upstream, remain the most unusual looking tree along the banks. Sycamores have a beautiful mottled bark of many colors—green, tan, white, lemon. This bark stands out anytime, and almost always elicits a comment from those seeing it for the first time. The numerous and varied cavities that sycamores develop provide needed habitat for streamside dwellers.

While talking about wildlife Rick, who has paddled this section many times, commented on our pace — fast — and the heat of that late afternoon day, as reasons we were not seeing many animals: I have seen deer, turkeys, mink and a bobcat. I have seen a bald eagle at close range a couple of times. In the spring and fall the creek is loaded with ducks and geese. In the summer I see a lot of small turtles on the logs in the water. I prefer to go early morning and only paddle enough to keep my kayak straight to minimize my movement.

Many birds can often be found along waterways, and we did see some bird activity. Herons that will move ahead of you downstream in a cycle of taking flight and landing, taking flight and landing. Mergansers, with their red heads and clown like antics, usually running up or downstream on the water, but in this day’s heat they drifted into the cover of overhanging branches. Red-winged blackbirds flew shore-to-shore complaining about our intrusion, and barn swallows darted about plucking insects from the air.

Having an experienced birder along adds to the experience as many of the unseen birds calling from deep in the woods or high in the forest canopy are then revealed. In this case it was the red-eyed vireos, which while constantly chattering like a group of gossips talking to themselves, remained hidden. Red-eyed vireos are a bird that while rarely seen provide constant chatter throughout even the hottest days. They are important to the health of the forest because of the many insects, including gypsy moth caterpillars, which they consume.

Even with ten kayaks and canoes in our group — and I was the sweep, or last, paddler — I was able to share the excitement of looking up into a tree where a mature bald eagle sat patiently watching us float by. Sitting in the gathering dusk it was not a great photo opportunity, but as for memories, well they are what are most important.

According to Edward Gertler in Keystone Canoeing the string of islands as you near the take out may be what is left of an old logging boom. The paper milldam downstream of the bridge at the take out creates some dead water for the last short stretch of paddling.

Water has always drawn humans to it. We are mostly water. There is life in and around water. Waterways reveal our relationship to the land. Did the culture live gently and leave few traces? Or, do the waterways reveal harsher realities? Look closely and you can see the memory, the markers of our past that waterways still contain.

Bald Eagle Creek, Eagleville to Mill Hall, at summer water levels can be a gentle paddling experience, with reliable water, easy access, a short shuttle, some history, and nice wildlife viewing opportunities. Throughout this section of Bald Eagle Creek fields, forests, and Bald Eagle Mountain insulate the paddler from highways and let nature’s sounds come to the fore. This is an excellent paddle that will refresh you by getting you back into the natural world.

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