Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet

On The Trail — March 2003

Canoeing Beech Creek

by Dave Coleman

Bandit looked back at me as if to say “shouldn’t we be moving on?” He was concerned that Gary and Rick had disappeared around the bend and we were stopped on the side of the creek with the bow of the canoe pointed up a picturesque side stream. After taking a couple of photographs and further inspecting the creek, I turned the canoe back around and continued down Beech Creek. When I take him canoeing, Bandit, my Border Collie/Cocker Spaniel mix, doesn’t like to have others in the party too far ahead of us nor does he like them to be too far behind. We caught up to the other canoe just around the bend because Gary and Rick had stopped on the opposite side of the creek at an inviting gravel bar. We stopped there to stretch our legs and one of us sniffed the rocks and the plants that grew between them.

We were paddling Beech Creek from Kato to Orviston. This section is not on the top of the whitewater paddler’s must-do list, but whitewater paddling was not why we had picked that section.

This segment of Beech Creek transects a tract of forest that was to be the newest acquisition by the Bureau of Forestry for the Sproul District Forest. Known as the Litke tract, these 12,000 acres fill in a good part of an “inholding” that the now retired district forester Robert “Butch” Davey had referred to as “A Perfect Fit”. I had been shown the area by Butch on several occasions from the dirt state forest roads, on cross-country skis and on foot. Butch had told me that he had hiked the railroad grade that weaves back and forth across Beech Creek. Thanks primarily to Butch’s efforts, we now have additional state forestland in Centre County and have an exceptional stream corridor protected from sprawl, and unsustainable resource exploitation.

We were paddling the creek to get a different outlook on the Litke tract. From the riparian perspective, we were able to quickly cruise through the width of the area, quietly sneaking up for glimpses of wildlife all the while enjoying the almost hypnotizing bends and unbroken forest surrounding the creek. There are several wild trout streams (two exceptional quality watersheds included) flowing into Beech Creek, which is somewhat polluted from mine drainage into the northern branch.

There are several steel railroad bridges still intact in the first few miles. Further downstream, seven bridges were removed within the Litke tract, but the concrete and stone abutments remain, from which the abandoned railway can be accessed. In the driest parts of the summer, you can hike the length of the abandoned rail bed by wading the creek at the old crossings. Some day this may be a fully functioning rail-trail.

The best part about Beech Creek is its remoteness. Very few canoeable streams in Pennsylvania can boast 12 miles of roadless length between road crossings. Now state forest, this parcel of wilderness will be forever remote.

There is not much in terms of rapids in this section, although the water is swift the entire length. In the last couple of miles, the rapids pick up approaching Class 2 in size and complexity. The largest danger of this run would be the potential for strainers (logs, brush, etc.) lodged in the stream. During our run, we encountered only one strainer which was easily carried around.

We spent the afternoon stopping at interesting features along the way, casually trading the lead — much to Bandit’s consternation. He quit worrying so much who was in the lead when we negotiated the stretches of waves the last mile of the run. I would purposely splash through the larger waves just for fun.

Trying to find a dry place on the bottom of the canoe, Bandit would look back at me as it to say “Was that really necessary?” My dog may have posed a good question. But who’s to say? Give Beech Creek a try and see for yourself.

If You Go: Canoeing Beech Creek should not be undertaken by a group of beginners not only because of the technical difficulty beginners would have on this stretch, but due to the remoteness and potential difficulty for rescue. However, groups of 4 individuals or more with at least a couple of experienced canoeists should have no difficulty on this creek.

Orviston can be accessed from a township road from Mill Hall. This town can be reached in less than 45 minutes from State College. Vehicle(s) can be left near the bridge as this will serve as the take-out. The put-in at Kato (nothing but a bridge over Beech Creek) can be reached directly from Orviston by the aptly named Kato-Orviston Road if the shuttle vehicles have the clearance necessary for this rocky and rutted un-improved road. Four-wheel drive vehicles would be required if there is any snow or significant wetness present. An easier alternative shuttle route (although less scenic and longer) would involve backtracking to Orviston, taking Route 150 back to I-80 to the Snow Shoe exit and taking Fountain Road to the dirt road that leads to Kato. Either way, allow plenty of time for the shuttle. Road and Creek navigation can be accomplished with the Sproul District Forest Public Use Map. More exact road and topographic features (such as the abandoned railway) are shown on Snow Shoe SE quadrangle.

For adequate water level check the USGS gauge on Beech Creek at Monument on the website http://pa.waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/rt. The level should be at least 7 feet for an enjoyable float, but can be tried down to 6 feet with some scraping.

Alternatives to paddling Beech Creek in this area would include hiking the rail-trail along the creek or exploring the Hayes Run watershed — an area proposed for a state forest wild area.

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