Bear Creek (Allegheny River trib.), Pennsylvania, US
|Usual Difficulty||I-II(III) (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||49 fpm|
|Max Gradient||55 fpm|
|Slippery Rock Creek at Wurtemburg, PA|
|usgs-03106500||1200 - 10000 cfs||I-II(III)||01h20m||494 cfs (too low)|
This is a fun creek, with some easy rapids and a couple of harder ones. There are also a couple of hazards to keep in mind. There is relatively little wood in the creek, but since many rapids are around blind corners it's important to keep an eye out for strainers. There are also several abandoned 3"-4" gas pipelines in the valley, with the occasional piece of pipe in the stream to be aware of.
Put in just upstream of the foot bridge in Bruin Park. There is a pipeline crossing the creek just downstream of the confluence at the park, but there is about 3 feet of clearance under it at medium water. The rapid just downstream has a big, flat boulder on river right that is deeply undercut (there are lots of undercuts here). A little further and you come to Trestle Rapid, a right turn under the wooden railroad trestle. Keep in mind that the stretch after the trestle tends to snag strainers. It's an easy scout on river left. There are three more rapids before the bridge by the water treatment plant.
The first rapid after the bridge is a narrow sweeper to the right into a small pool. The creek then splits into two channels around a couple of boulders, which are known to collect strainers. Downstream the creek has a bunch of class II rapids, with lots of blind corners.
About a half mile down from the treatment plant there is a long class II. After making several moves, notice the two huge boulders downstream on river right, and the current breaks diagonally to the right then straightens out again into a sizeable hole before a pool. At 1800 cfs on the Slippery Rock Wurtemburg online gauge this hole is sticky enough to hold an unwary boater, or if not the top one then one of the next two. There is an easy portage on river right (if you can spot the hole in time!)
After some more class II you'll see a cabin sized boulder on river right, with a channel straight ahead and a narrower channel cutting to the right behind the boulder. This is Long Island Rapid, and drops about 8 feet across several ledges. The left side is wider, but has some abrupt technical moves midway. The right side is narrower and easier, but watch the undercut boulder on the right at the very bottom of the island. It's easiest to stop and scout from the upstream end of the island.
The next rapid is a left turn (class III) with about a 4 foot total drop across three ledges. Don't try the slot on river left at the top, since it has a perfectly placed piton rock. Also, the center bottom chute is a real banger at lower levels. Not far below this is a rapid with a tiny pine covered island - there is a new strainer on both channels, with an easy portage on river right.
Soon you'll see a good sized stream entering from the left, with a long class II rapid ahead. The next rapid after this is the one visible from the bridge at the take-out. There is a severely undercut rock on river left, with a boulder under the side towards the center of the creek. This forms a constricted tunnel under the rock, with much of the current going into the tunnel. This looks very dangerous - if you went into the tunnel it would most likely be fatal. People do paddle this rapid. At lower levels it doesn't look too bad - just be aware that the big flat rock on the right top is also undercut & scout it from the takeout bridge. Or portage on river left, and paddle across the wave train at the run out to takeout at the base of the bridge.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHlxhRckN6Q&feature=share&list=UUxmRyFi8h0negDfndB0BtfA
There are more rapids below the bridge, but I haven't seen them. If you paddle to the mouth of Bear Creek it's possible to paddle across the Allegheny and take-out on the old rail grade/road on the other side.
I recently became aware of a chemical problem in the Bear Creek Area. Apparently there are 26 seperate chemical dump sites in what is referred to as 'The Bear Creek Chemical Site', with several toxic chemicals leaking into the watershed. Locals do not drink water from this system - it is hazardous. Nothing was mentioned about skin contact, but you might want to keep your mouth closed if you swim. On the flip side, I've seen otters in the creek and they looked healthy. For more info go to http://www.bearcreekpa.com/
Take the route 38 ' Emlenton exit from I-80 (exit 42). Follow route 38 towards Emlenton, down into the Allegheny valley. Don't cross the bridge into Emlenton on route 38, continue straight beside the river on route 268, past the Foxburg and Parker bridges. Just after the Parker bridge the road climbs up out of the valley into "Upper" Parker. Turn to the left on Jackson Street at the big stone church, and follow the road for a mile till it dead ends at the abandoned railroad tracks. The take-out bridge is 1/4 mile further past the pile o' dirt at the dead end. To get to the put-in go back up Jackson Street to route 268 and turn left. Follow route 268 about 3 miles up to Bruin. When you see the Bruin school on the left and route 268 jogs to the right, take the little residential road that goes left, and turn right again immediately. This road goes back and to the right to tiny Bruin Park. If you don't make the immediate right to get to Bruin Park, and continue straight for about 1/2 mile, you'll come to the bridge at the water treatment plant (secondary access).
The North Fork of Bear Creek, the tributary that goes under route 268 between Parker and Bruin is big enough to run, but has lots of strainers on the lower end. It does have some nice rapids, but also some hazards, and takes a lot of water to run.
If you get to Bruin and the water looks too high, Mill Creek (just north of Emlenton on Dotter Road) may be running, but it's much steeper.