Susquehanna from Chickies Rock - Copyright Paige Durborow

Kayaking: A Window into the Susquehanna’s Secrets

When I moved to Harrisburg back in 2004, the first thing I noticed was the river. It was so wide; it dominated the landscape. From that first glance, I wanted to know more about it. But not by reading books or internet articles, I wanted to experience it firsthand. A kayak would become the vessel I use to discover all the fragile majesty of the Susquehanna River.

Discovering Kayaks

My family introduced me earlier on to life outdoors, but we had never really been water people. Aside from a nausea-inducing boat ride or two as a child, I had kept my feet firmly planted on the ground. Yet when I saw people kayaking on the river, I knew that was a hobby meant for me. But how to get started?

At the time I worked for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, so there were plenty of kayak enthusiasts to ask for advice. I borrowed their kayaks, getting a feel for what I did and didn’t like. My friends and I rented kayaks from an outfitter and took them to the Susquehanna. And while I did flip over once when I didn’t heed the outfitter’s warning of “Stay to the left” in the Dauphin Narrows, that didn’t stop me on my quest.

Becoming a River Rat

It took me at least five years to finally save up the money and commit to a kayak – a 10’ Dagger Approach – and I’ve never looked back since. When it’s just me, I put my kayak in the river, paddle upstream as far as my strength allows, and float back down. When I’m with friends, we’ll put in at Duncannon or just south of the I-83 bridge and make a day out of it.

The River Environment

I’ve seen some amazing things on the river and its tributaries; a few sights I’d like to share with you here:

  • Freshwater mussels as big as my hand
  • The lovely blossoms of the marshmallow plant (and yes, that’s where the fluffy white candy used to come from)
  • The architectural beauty of the new Turnpike bridge, when seen from directly underneath

I’ve also had some not so nice experiences seeing:

  • Numerous dead fish floating down the river
  • All those Asian clams, rusty crayfish, Japanese knotweed, and purple loosestrife – invasive animals and plants that impact the river’s native dwellers
  • Tires, tires, and more tires on the river bottom

Yes, the Susquehanna River is beautiful, but it is also fragile. It wasn’t until I got in my kayak and took to the water that I truly realized that fact. Some might want to pretend everything is ok, but thankfully there are many groups and individuals cleaning up the river, one tire at a time. I know the river will continue to show its wonderful secrets to those kayakers willing to take the time to look.

Photo: Susquehanna from Chickies Rock – © Paige Durborow

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