Moshannon Creek, perhaps better known as the Red Moshannon or Red Mo, is a stream that receives consistent use in early spring, but much less throughout summer.
An abundance of rain this June and July has provided an excellent opportunity for exploration of streams that cannot reliably be paddled in summertime.
Recently, the Moshannon Creek water level was right — just above 1.5 feet on the state Route 53 bridge abutment gauge. According to Edward Gertler in Keystone Canoeing, the USGS gauge at Karthaus (you can obtain the reading online) should be at least 3.8 feet (it was 4.0 feet and falling when we paddled). You can also check with Ed Bowman at Tussey Mountain Outfitters in Bellefonte for current conditions.
The Red Mo is for paddlers. You will not find anyone fishing it, as the stream is dead. The stream was killed by the many mines throughout this watershed. The red comes from the water seeping out of those mines. Many of the mines were small mines dug by individuals using a donkey, pick and explosives. In addition, strip mines dot the landscape that recedes away from the gorge. A deep mine abuts its headwaters. Moshannon Creek’s water quality is a casualty of it.
Moshannon comes from the Indian word Moss-Hanne, or moose stream. As I paddle Moshannon Creek, it does not take much to imagine moose on these streams. Also, it’s not much to imagine Indians paddling or walking the banks.
Putting in at the Winburne bridge (south of Winburne between Kylertown and Black Moshannon State Park) and paddling to the Peale bridge (west of Grassflat) — will have you paddling 11.2 miles. Putting in at the mouth of Six Mile Run shortens this by about 4.0 miles.
This section begins with pools and short riffles. The gradient gradually increases, but the section noted for its whitewater begins after the Peale bridge. The current is steady and there are many rocks, so you do need to pay attention. Swift current against some of the bends can also be a challenge, so this is not a stream for beginners.
The thickly forested gorge, the rock ledges along the stream, and the sense of solitude make Moshannon Creek one of my favorites. There are some old bridges, and bridge abutments, and there is the ruins of the Winburne brickyard. Downstream there are also the bridges of Interstate 80.
And then from the railroad era, there is the 120 feet high and almost 800 feet long Great Moshannon Viaduct which was an impressive work of iron built in the late 1800’s. These are glimpses into the human history of the area. But overall the solitude of the natural world .
One highlight of midsummer paddling on Moshannon Creek is the rhododendron bloom. A blanket of rhododendron covers the landscape from the edge of the stream and on up the sides of the gorge receding into the forest. Thick with blossoms, this is a stunning display. As blossoms fell from branches overhanging the stream, we were enchanted by the constant small white and pink boats that accompanied us throughout the day, and floated through small riffles at our feet.
The water’s high acidity provides perfect cranberry habitat. The low growing plant with feathery green leaves and distinctive red berries carpets large areas streamside as well as on cobble and sand bars stretching into the stream.
Summer includes more wildlife sightings than other seasons. Songbirds serenaded us. Kingfishers made their rattling sounds as they moved bank to bank, and up and down the stream. Raptors soared overhead. A doe with her two fawns waded and then swam across.
After Six Mile Run, is the Moshannon State Forest. Large stretches of unbroken forest and clean streams are usually good indications that you are looking at public land. We first listened for the streamsside sound of running water and then looked for the oasis created by the small waterfalls back in the thick rhododendron that marked the mouth of these streams as Moshannon Creek is not pristine, but with time and better decisions it is healing.
It has the feel of wilderness. It is an excellent stream to explore and to enjoy. And, there is magic in getting on the water and immersing yourself in this wildness. Summertime water is only occasional so take advantage of it.
See you on the water.