Paddling the Shenango River. Feeling Remote, While Still Close to Home.

Outdoor Opportunities By COL(Ret.) Grey D. Berrier II

Now, I’m just being facetious, but I’m starting to think the fifth month on the calendar got its name because it “May” rain just about every day. I was still trying to make up my mind whether I was going to go turkey hunting on Sat., May 11, when I received a text from my wife on May 10 that our son was coming home for Mother’s Day weekend. My decision was instantly made, we would spend Sat. morning on the Shenango River together. Surprisingly, Sat. morning, May 11, there were absolutely clear skies when we left the house just after 8 AM with the thermometer reading a brisk 39°F. We decided to paddle starting up in Mercer County and taking out at the Pulaski boat launch, near our home. As we drove north on PA-551 between Pulaski and West Middlesex, the fog hanging directly over the river stood out prominently against the clear sky, indicating the water temperature was warmer than the cool morning air. We dressed appropriately with long-sleeve polypropylene shirts under our life vests for warmth and nylon pants to keep cold water dripping from our paddles off our legs. We put in at the Ohio Street bridge and were on the - water by 8:50 AM. With the high- water conditions, we knew the 10-mile paddle would go by rather quickly. Now, I never tire of paddling any section of the Shenango River, because you just never know what you might see on any given day. In the past, our observations have run the gamut of PA wildlife, including birds, mammals, and reptiles. While you can count on abundant waterfowl and numerous great blue herons and kingfishers, along with a variety of songbirds and smaller wading birds; the occasional bald eagle or osprey definitely keeps it interesting. Then there’s the assortment of deer, raccoons, squirrels, groundhogs, beaver, and muskrats you may come across whenever you paddle around a bend. So far, my only local sightings of a black bear and an otter have come while paddling the Shenango River. Additionally, you may encounter either a snapping turtle or Northern water snake, which may be sunning itself on shore or lazily moving in the water. The abundant wildlife and intermittent lengthy stretches with no signs of human habitation make the Shenango River feel much more remote, while still very close to home. The width of the river and the speed of the current permitted my son and I to paddle side-by-side most of the way with only minor maneuvering required for strainers (trees in the river) and three short stretches of riffles (they’re not big enough to call rapids): (1) just above the PA-318 bridge at West Middlesex; (2) about 1/3 mile below the same bridge; and (3) further downstream after the river makes a 90° bend by Campground Road. In the first 4.5 miles, we paddled under the bridges at PA-718/Sieg Hill Road, Interstate-80, and PA-318/Main Street. From there, the Shenango River twists and turns through forest and farmland for 5.75 miles to Pulaski. Based on my mileage tracking App, the entire 10.25-mile paddle took us 2 hours and 3 minutes. The unexpected highlights of this trip were the numerous Eastern spiny softshell turtles we saw congregated on land or swimming (with their pointy snouts protruding above the water surface). We’re blessed to have the Shenango River close to home and whatever stretch you elect to paddle, you never know what you may encounter! God Bless, Be Safe, and Great Outdoors! ©WBB 2019

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