Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — October 2011

Penn’s Creek: Paddling Coburn to Cherry Run

by Gary Thornbloom

padding Penns Creek

Paddling Penn’s Creek along the proposed Penn’s Creek and White Mountain Wild Areas · Photo by Gary Thornbloom

Paddling Penn’s Creek from Coburn to Cherry Run will take you through the proposed Penn’s Creek Wild Area and the White Mountain Wild Area. This means you can spend the day paddling and, for most of the day, not hear any machine-generated noise. Camps dot parts of this section of Penn’s Creek but with no major highways and no railroads, it will be you, woods, great water, eagles, herons and kingfishers.

At Coburn, Penn’s Creek — joined by Sinking Creek just upstream — receives additional water from Pine Creek which was joined by Elk Creek just upstream. The four streams add up to a decent sized stream for paddling as you enter Seven Mountains. The put-in is at the confluence of Pine Creek and Penn’s Creek. Penn’s Creek’s path through mountain gaps and the protected areas within Bald Eagle State Forest provide the solitude of this paddle. The stream begins with limestone springs, and eventually is joined by water from freestone mountain streams in the Seven Mountains area.

Typically you are able to paddle this section in the spring or after rain. In Keystone Canoeing, Edward Gertler recommends 2.5 feet on the Spring Mills gauge. You can find links to that gauge as well as to many others at the Canoe Club of Centre County website: www.ccofcc.org. When I paddled it with a group of Canoe Club of Centre County members in mid-September, the gauge was at 3.8 feet. That is a reasonable level for paddlers with some experience.

Moving water can always present dangers. The most challenging situations we encountered were narrow channels around islands where swift water pushed against stream banks thick with brush, in some instances the very prickly and invasive bush, barberry. (Yes, the same plant commonly sold in nurseries). These plants spread aggressively and can be seen in notable patches in old fields as well as along forest edges. Strainers, trees that fall into and sometimes across streams, are another dangerous hazard in narrow spots with fast-moving water.

While paddling through the Bald Eagle State Forest you will find many nice campsites. If you are not comfortable carrying camping gear in your boat, you can have friends meet you to camp at Poe Paddy State Park which is just off Penn’s Creek, 6 miles from where you put in at Coburn. Several opportunities for exploring, such as the 250-foot railroad tunnel, now part of the Mid State Trail, can be accessed by crossing a bridge over Penn’s Creek. There is also premier trout fishing.

Because Penn’s Creek is famous for trout fishing and for the nationally famous green drake mayfly hatch in late spring, it would be considerate to paddle this stream in early spring before trout season or after enough rain brings the stream up to paddling levels throughout the summer and fall.

The hardwood mountain forests you paddle through will be particularly beautiful in the fall. Trees along streams tend to change color earlier, so plan your paddle before you are looking at fall colors on the mountains surrounding State College. Black gum trees are magnificently, and brilliantly, red in mid September.

We saw numerous great blue herons move from stream to tree, and tree to stream as they accompanied us downstream. Belted kingfishers were other constant companions, chattering and then darting and dipping back and forth across the stream. There were also two eagles, one immature and one miles later with the bold white and black plumage of an adult. The adult sat in a tree above the stream, unperturbed, as we ferried back and forth to get a better look. Common mergansers were another noteworthy presence — these red headed clowns entertained us with the antics of big webfooted runs across the water, and only settled down on the water once they had placed some distance between us and them.

Penn’s Creek is one more reason life in Centre County is good. Choose a warm day and the challenge of paddling the many small rapids and riffles in this beautiful central Pennsylvania setting will provide you with warm memories as winter settles in.

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