|By Hank McComas
Our launch area was the ramps at Peach Bottom Nuclear Plant. This Maryland State Park is open from 9:00 AM to dusk. There is no fee for launching. There are two portable toilets located near the ramps. There is no water available. The ramps are heavily used by fishing boats and jet ski trailers.
We arrived at 10:30 after a 35 minute drive from Bel Air. We launched from the floating docks. Twenty minutes later we were paddling across the lake formed by the Conowingo dam which is approximately 8 miles downstream. The lake lies in a NW to SE direction. With the SE wind there was a fetch of approximately 4 miles. Waves were small with a 5-10 mile per hour breeze. We headed upstream toward Holtwood dam, favoring a course to the northerly shore so as to not be overheated from paddling directly downwind.
About 1.5 mile from the launch site there are several islands in the middle of the lake. This is where the current begins to flow. Depending on the status o the Holtwood Dam and the operations of the peak electricity generation plant on the North bank, the current here can be substantial or nearly absent as it was this day. Watch for submerged rocks beginning approximately 300 yards south of the islands.
The islands form a number of interesting and beautiful channels as the river/lake carves down between rocks with cliffs up to fifty feet high. At times of high water and high dam release, the currents in some of these channels exceed 5 knots and can therefore make passage difficult if not impossible. These channels lead upstream and eventually pass under Pennsylvania Route 372 bridge. Low water will leave most of the channel impassable. There is a narrow passage against the Northeast bank. CAUTION: The current in this passage varies greatly and quickly with changes in the Holtwood dam release. While we were there, the current in this passage changed from 3 knots to 6+ knots in a 5 minute period. The dam blows a siren and flashes a strobe when changing its release flow. This shallow, narrow passage will have serious hydraulics and the area where the current meets the lake proper will have boils and whirlpools. Unless comfortable with these conditions, I do not recommend venturing up this passage. However, if you are interested in getting experience in these conditions, the end of the passage provides an area where conditions improve rapidly downstream, allowing rescue operations to be effectively mounted.
On the return trip we entered a small creek (Muddy Run) on the southwest shore of the lake. This creek is navigable by kayak for approximately one half mile until there is a shallow stoned riffle that stops further progress. This day the creek water was quite clear and the bottom was easily seen at 5 to 7 feet. After the first quarter mile, the development gives way to steep rocky banks with hemlock, rhododendrons, ferns and mountain laurel.
Returning to the lake we proceeded upwind and stopped briefly at the ramps for a break. After a 30 minute stretch, we boarded our boats and struck out down the lake past the nuclear plant. The Conowingo dam is approximately 8 miles south of the launch ramps. We paddled for about 4 miles passing a large rock cliff where weekend lake users were jumping 30-40 feet into the water. Water ski and jet ski traffic was heavy and the resulting cross wakes made the lake surface chaotic.
We returned to the ramps at 6:00 PM. Boat recovery was heavy and we exited onto the floating docks, which are higher than comfortable for kayak entry and more appropriate for jet skis and boats. In even a light chop and with the boat wakes, I would recommend this type of entry and exit only to those who have prior experience at wharves and docks. The ramps are concrete and quite steep. The shore line is covered in rip-rap (large stones). There is no beach or mud/sand shore here.
Other nearby trips
Havre de Grace to Swan Creek
Havre de Grace to Rock Run
Susquehanna Flats Three Lighthouse Tour