Mill Creek (French Creek Trib, Venango County, Pennsylvania, US
|Usual Difficulty||II(III) (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||34 fpm|
|Max Gradient||50 fpm|
|French Creek at Utica, PA|
|usgs-03024000||7.00 - 10.00 ft||II(III)||01h03m||3.3 ft (too low)|
Description courtesy of Matt Pascal:
Directions: Getting to Utica, PA is simple with a map or Internet directions. In town, follow Grant Street only about 1/4 mile to the one-lane take-out bridge. From the take-out in Utica, take a left onto Academy St and travel several miles. You can see the bottom section of the run from the drive. After crossing the creek it will disappear from view on the right. Take the next right onto Mill Creek Rd. After a mile or more, turn right at the stop sign onto Foster Rd. The put-in is about 100 yards down the road at the bridge.
Min: 24 inches of clearance under the bridge at the put-in. At 6 inches of clearance, the run takes on class 3 characteristics.
Nearby Gauges: French Creek at Utica should be high (at least 7 feet). In the winter, snowpack with a half-inch of rain should do it, but in the summer the watershed will need several inches of rain. This creek does not stay up for long.
Length of run: Approx 2.5 to 3 miles
Gradient: Negligible for the first mile, approximately 40 – 50 ft per mile thereafter.
Access: Limited parking is available at the put-in and take-out, which are both at bridges on public roads. At the take-out, care should be taken to avoid private property.
Hazards: There are several man-made and natural strainers. Boaters should continue with caution.
Description: Mill Creek is a fun and beautiful NW PA run for boaters with class 3 skills and cold weather paddling equipment who wish to experience creeking. The first mile of paddling is flat, through a marsh with thick vegetation, and the remaining mileage increases to continuous class II (class III at higher levels) water as it drops toward French Creek Canyon. Boaters should be able to eddy out quickly because strainers can come suddenly and several of them are dangerous. In addition, boaters should be tolerant of brush-choked sections of flatwater and able to use momentum to lunge over logs in the stream.
Mill Creek runs very seldom, more often in the winter when snowpack and rain can contribute to good flow. It is a diverse run that begins with class B flatwater meandering through a marsh thick with vegetation. Branches and beaver lodges make navigation tricky but interesting. At higher flows there will be many portages.
The first man-made obstacle is toward the end of the marsh, around an iron bridge that is really a flatbed tractor-trailer. At higher flows it is runnable on the right. At low flows it is easy to pull to the side (you’re still in a marsh with a little current) though attempting to lunge over it or to get onto the bridge would very risky. The second portage is around a down tree about 100 feet past the flatbed bridge, so boaters portaging the flatbed should portage on the right and just walk all the way past the second obstruction.
After the current picks up a bit, at least two more footbridges may require portages at normal flows.
As the current and gradient increase, the creek takes several sharp bends. It is likely that this creek changes substantially after each high water event.
After flowing under the road into Utica, Mill Creek gets much more exciting even though there are no signature rapids (in fact, it might be worth putting in at this bridge and skipping the marsh if access is reasonable). At high flows, watch out for low bridges and power line crossings.
In total, boaters should expect a minimum of two portages at low water, and at least five with good water.
Take out at the one-lane bridge on Grant Street in Utica, or continue onto a swollen French Creek.