A few weeks back I visited the lower Susquehanna River and the Head of the Chesapeake Bay paddling with the Jersey Shore Sea Kayaking Association (JSSKA) and the Chesapeake Paddlers Association (CPA). This multi club gathering took place over a weekend with a number of day trips scheduled for all likes and abilities. Unfortunately I was only able to take part in one of the trips on the first day of the meet up, a crossing of the bay from Havre de Grace, Maryland to Elk Neck State Park which sits on the Eastern side of the bay. You can read about my experience on that paddle in the post The Head of the Chesapeake.
From the web:
The Susquehanna River is a river located in the northeastern United States. At 464 miles (747 km) long, it is the longest river on the American east coast that drains into the Atlantic Ocean, and with its watershed it is the 16th largest river in the United States, and the longest river in the continental United States without commercial boat traffic. It flows through three states: New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. It forms from two main branches, with the “North Branch”, which rises in upstate New York, regarded by federal mapmakers as the main branch. The shorter West Branch, which rises in western Pennsylvania, joins the main stem near Northumberland in central Pennsylvania.
The river drains 27,500 square miles (71,000 km2), including nearly half of the land area of Pennsylvania. The drainage basin (watershed) includes portions of the Allegheny Plateau region of the Appalachian Mountains, cutting through water gaps in the lateral mountain ridges in a broad zigzag course to flow across the rural heartland of southeastern Pennsylvania and northeastern Maryland. The river empties into the northern end of the Chesapeake Bay, providing half of the Bay’s freshwater inflow. The Chesapeake Bay is in fact the ria of the Susquehanna.
One of the trips I missed that weekend was an outing further up the Susquehanna River by the Holtwood Dam. I had looked into visiting this area in the past and was disappointed I did not get the opportunity to paddle there with the two clubs. So when I had the chance to paddle this past weekend I decided to finally go see what I had been missing. I put in at a public launch situated off of River Road below route 372 on the Southwestern side of the river. See here.
From the web:
Holtwood Dam (also Holtwood Hydroelectric Dam, Holtwood Hydroelectric Plant, McCalls Ferry Dam) is the oldest of three major dams built across the lower Susquehanna River, and the middle location of the three. It was constructed as the McCalls Ferry Dam between 1905 and 1910 by the Pennsylvania Water & Power Company. The dam was renamed Holtwood in honor of two company executives. PW&P merged with the current owner of the dam, Pennsylvania Power & Light (PPL), in 1955.
Just below the dam where the Route 372 bridge sits the river is broken up by a myriad of small islands interspersed with thousands of boulders rising from the surface of the water. As the river flows it divides into tendrils, snaking through maze like corridors, winding it’s way around and over schist rock. Some of the larger islands are forested with a mix of hardwood and conifer trees as well as thick brush. The water levels were quite low on my visit and paddling the channels in my glass boat was like paddling a mine field. The bright, low sun and the glare of the light reflecting off the water made it hard to see submerged rocks lurking just below the surface. On a number of occasions a sudden stop and a grating rumble from under my boat alerted me to the fact I indeed have another scratch to attend to on my hull.
The weather of the day was spectacular, sunny with temperatures hovering in the the low fifties, light winds from the Northeast about 5 to 7 mph. The sky was clear and crisp. A quintessential fall day. I wound my way through the maze of islands and boulders having to turn around a number of times when the water levels became to low to pass or a dead end was reached. I never made it up further than the Route 372 bridge which sits just below the dam. The area of river in between the dam and bridge is mostly exposed rock with a few channels of shallow water rushing over granite. It would be a great place for play boats, specifically plastic ones, but I had inflicted a number of scrapes already on my boat and was not interested inflicting further damage to the glass.
Although the area is quite beautiful and the scene it sets almost surreal once in the maze of rock and water, I kept finding myself pulled out of the moment by the constant humming of the electric plant which sits on the Eastern bank of the river. The criss crossing high tension lines also mar what I can only imagine of having been a truly spectacular site when the first visitors happened upon the area when nothing existed but nature.
More images to view in the Gallery.