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Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Chesapeake Bay

By Deane Winegar

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Chesapeake Bay > Head of the Chesapeake Bay > The Susquehanna River

The Susquehanna River

[Fig. 16] When we speak of rivers, we speak of how green or wide they are, of the bass or brook trout that swim beneath the surface, or the scenery that makes a canoe trip memorable. But with the Susquehanna River at the head of the Chesapeake Bay, a few numbers will help round out the river’s story.Click here for a new window with a large version of this map.

The Susquehanna River enters Maryland from Pennsylvania, forming the boundary between Harford and Cecil counties. After draining a 13-million-acre watershed—the second largest drainage area in the East—the river enters the upper Chesapeake Bay at Havre de Grace. This 444-mile-long river, which begins near Cooperstown, New York, and flows by Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, dumps an incredible 19 million gallons of fresh water into the bay every minute. The flow makes up more than half the fresh water received by the Chesapeake Bay in an average year.

The statistics have meaningful consequences for those who live in the river’s watershed and below it. Because of the large volume of water the river adds to the bay, the quality of that water is of vital importance to the bay’s health. Everyone in the river’s drainage basin who plows a field, fertilizes a lawn, or takes trash to a landfill impacts the bay’s plankton, oysters, crabs, striped bass, shad, waterfowl, and wetlands.

The huge volume of the Susquehanna’s flow provides power for turbines in hydroelectric plants and the river provides millions of people with clean water with a turn of a faucet. The same river that cools uranium rods in nuclear power plants north of Maryland also cools swimmers and tubers on a sweltering August day.

Those who live on the river’s banks are well acquainted with the dangers of flooding. History records more than 40 major floods since 1736. Port Deposit’s three-story-high structures built on the side of the Susquehanna’s granite cliffs are testament to the river’s power. During high water, the cliff-side residents of this historic Cecil County town can climb outside steps that zigzag up the cliffs to a higher floor.

For many, however, the dangers of living in the floodplain are overcome by the benefits of beautiful scenery and outstanding recreation in the form of boating, canoeing, inner-tubing, and fishing.

Maryland boat landings at Tydings Park, at Jean Roberts Memorial Park, at Frank Hutchins Park in Havre de Grace, off Main Street in Port Deposit, and at Lapidum Landing at Susquehanna State Park give anglers access to the river’s largemouth and smallmouth bass, striped bass, chain pickerel, crappie, perch, and sunfish.

Susquehanna State Park

[Fig. 16 (10)] Early Morning sunlight on the Susquehanna River traces the curve of fishing line as a lone angler in a john boat casts a bucktail for striped bass. Two elderly hikers on a park trail stop to admire the way the same gold light bathes a massive rock outcrop. A father who has taken his 10 year old daughter on her first camping trip scrambles eggs in a pan over a propane stove.

Susquehanna State Park has variety enough to interest the young and the old, the fisherman, canoeist, and hiker. The land is located in southeastern Harford County on the west bank of the Susquehanna River. With 3,600 acres of heavy forest cover, stream and river access, interesting geology, and a historic walking tour complete with a working gristmill, the park is full of things to do. The 74-site campground has no hookups, but does have hot showers and restrooms in each loop. The Deer Creek Picnic Area is near Deer Creek, where swimming, tubing, and freshwater fishing for smallmouth bass, catfish, and rockfish provide warm-weather fun. At the Rock Run Grist Mill, which is a highlight of the park’s historic area, corn-grinding demonstrations take place on summer weekends.

Even night fishing is possible from Lapidum Landing, a boat launch on the Susquehanna that is open 24 hours a day. Hikers, horseback riders, bikers, and pets on leashes are allowed on the park’s 12 miles of hiking trails. Visitors sometimes get glimpses of white-tailed deer, rabbits, or maybe even a red fox or coyote. On occasion, the sight of a bald eagle soaring above the trees, wings spread a full 6.5 feet, provides the memory of a lifetime. In a quiet moment, a hiker or a fisherman might be struck with the realization that the Susquehannock Indians once prowled the same dense forests, were inspired by the same impressive boulders and outcroppings, and fished the same Deer Creek in the park that now bears their name.

Park headquarters for Susquehanna State Park is located at 855-acre Rocks State Park in Harford County about 30 miles north of Baltimore on MD 24.

Historic Walking Tour

[Fig. 16(11)] A visit to Susquehanna State Park would be incomplete without taking the time for this fascinating look into Harford County’s days of gristmills and manor homes. A brochure details interesting history along the way. The 45-minute easy walk begins at Rock Run Grist Mill, a restored four-story structure built in the late 1700s to harness the power of Rock Run before it empties into the Susquehanna River. Note the 12-ton water wheel that turns as water fills the buckets. Such a mill was crucial to community life. Rather than taking cash for grinding the farmer’s grain, the miller would take a portion or "pottle" of the grist to use to barter among the townspeople for his own necessities.

The walk also includes a spring house, mill race and mill pond, carriage house, 13-room restored manor home (Archer House, built in 1804) with wine cellar and indoor smoke house, and the restored Jersey Toll House, which housed the toll collector for a 1-mile-long bridge that once spanned the Susquehanna River.

Views of stonework and ditches that are the remains of the once-significant Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal are near the end of the walking tour. The canal extended from Havre de Grace 45 miles westward to Wrightsville. Locks built of granite were constructed at intervals to raise the water level and boats from 20 feet above sea level at Havre de Grace to 1,000 feet at Wrightsville. Remnants of three locks are on park property.

Trails of Susquehanna State Park

[Fig. 16(12)] Twelve miles of blazed trails varying from easy to difficult access the park’s river frontage, forests, fields, and ridges. The light-blue-blazed Mason-Dixon Trail, an Appalachian Trail spur, uses park trails along the Susquehanna River to connect the AT to Havre de Grace. Hikers should stay on blazed trails to protect the park’s environmentally sensitive areas. Pets are not allowed in the Deer Creek Picnic Area and must be on a leash elsewhere. Trails close at sunset.

Susquehanna Ridge Trail. [Fig. 16(13)] Outstanding views of the Susquehanna River valley await those who make the 3-mile trek along the river ridge between Deer Creek Picnic Area and Lapidum Road, just west of the boat landing.

Deer Creek Trail. [Fig. 16(13)] Take this 2-mile loop from the picnic area for its inspiring views and to observe huge oaks and tulip poplars.

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