MD - Conowingo Dam pool - 2003/06/16

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The Susquehanna River breaks through the Piedmont plateau just before Havre de Grace and the Susquehanna Flats at the head of Chesapeake Bay. This created the high banks and narrow channel for hydroelectric power plants to be built in the depression of the 1930's. Now there is a beautiful lake for kayaking along the laurel studded green wooded hills of northern Maryland and southern Pennsylvania.

This spring had been the wettest that I can remember. Day after day either rain, showers or thunderstorms rolled into the area from the south. Last years drought was gone and an overabundance of clouds and rain made us begin to think that the whole area had been moved to Seattle. Although this day broke clear and sunny, the forecast called for increasing clouds and rain that afternoon. I was determined to get in at least a half day paddle. Because there would not be much time before the monsoon afternoon, I needed to go somewhere close. Conowingo Dam Pool, 15 miles from home, was just the place.

I dropped the kayak onto the roof rack and pulled out from the garage, heading north up U.S. 1 toward where it crossed over Conowingo Dam. This dam, built during the depression, supplies power to Philadelphia. A dam further north on the Susquehanna provides Baltimore with power, a quirk of history and ownership.

I looked up the available launch sites on my Chesapeake Bay Susquehanna River Public Access Guide. It listed 4 choices for access to the lower end of the lake behind Conowingo dam. Three were on the Harford County side. I decided to investigate the two northern sites, Glen Cove Marina and Broad Creek Landing. The first is located at a small marina in a very small cove off the lake. The ample parking here is well up from the very small ramp area. It is privately owned and charges a $5.00 fee. I would suspect that on weekends, this would not be a good place to launch as the ramp will be used by fishing boats doing a quick launch on the ramp and probably would not have much tolerance for the inefficiency of a kayak launch. With so little room, it would not be possible to stay out of the way of the usually impatient boaters. Avoid this site on weekends.

The next site up the lake is Broad Creek Landing. This is also a small ramp, with even less parking. There is a muddy shore to the right of the ramp which serves very nicely for kayak launching. Parking may be a problem on the weekend. There is no fee here. When I arrived there was one boat on the ramp and one car in the lot. I off loaded the kayak, placed the gear on the deck and paddled down Broad Creek toward the lake.

The wind had come up and there was a very light chop on the water. The breeze was coming up the river. On the lake, the wind is channeled up and down the river between the high cliffs with little regard to how the wind is blowing over the land or open water of the Bay. I paddled out to the nearly vertical cliff wall on the north side of Broad Creek. The waves were reflecting off the silver stone walls and creating an intersecting train of waves. When the waves are larger, this reflection can be very disconcerting as the two intersecting wave trains double and cancel out the crests and troughs, leaving one to ride a very jerky and unpredictable wave pattern.

I turned the bow down river and paddled along the shore toward the dam in the distance. The shoreline was only sparsely developed with cabins of various sizes hanging unto the steep banks in the tall wooded forest that lined the lake. I paddled down past Cove Marina with its two small floating docks full of boats. The next indentation in the shore line comes just before the boat exclusion zone. This 400 yard zone was established after 911. Boats entering this restricted area above and below the dam are subject to seizure and the occupants to arrest. The line is marked by two large signs on either bank and a series of buoys across the lake.

I saw no indication of the launching site that is listed in the guide and labeled as Conowingo Pool. I also saw little indication of the place at which one should land for portage around the dam. In past years the dam would provide passage of a canoe or kayaker across the dam with reentry to the river below the dam. I would suggest contacting the Conowingo dam personnel if you are planning to paddle the river and need portage around the dam, otherwise you will have to exit at Cove Marina and provide your own transport.

In the small bay before the restricted zone, a small mature bald eagle took flight from a tall hickory tree, made a large circle around the bay and my kayak and settle back on the very limb he started from. I watched without thinking for about half the flight and then went after my camera, but by the time I got it out, he was once more up in the tree where a picture without a zoom lens would be of little value.

I paddled across the lake just outside the restricted area buoy line to the other side of the lake. There a small culvert under the train tracks led back to a shallow pool. The pool had a number of turtles hauled out on a downed tree trunk protruding into the water. I exited back to the lake and continued along the shore to the next bridge, where I turned into the pool behind. There is a medium sized parking lot and a good sized concrete concrete ramp on the south bank. This place is Conowingo Creek. At the east end of the pool is a steep and very pleasant little falls where Conowingo Creek comes tumbling out of the steep bank.

I returned once more to the lake and paddled up lake until I came to a high cliff. There the train tracks enter a tunnel, leaving the cliff face to extend right out to the water. On warmer summer weekend days, there are often several groups of the young and foolish climbing the slopes and jumping off into the water. This cool cloudy Monday found the cliff face empty and brooding.

I turned and paddled directly across the lake to my starting point. I paddled into Broad Creek and on past the launch area. There are many cabins some much more like houses than the part time summer getaways they are used for. The steep sides of the creek were awash in pink and white mountain laurel. The foliage was a deep green and the musty smell of the damp earth mixed with the sweet perfume of honeysuckle.

I followed the creek until the small riffles of the creek over a shallow rock bed stopped any advance. I turned the kayak around and paddle back to the launch area, practicing various turning strokes. I loaded up the kayak and returned along Castleton road to US 1 and back home. The rain had held off and I had successfully managed to steal a pleasant half day of kayaking from a poor weather forecast day.




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