STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS: Paddle wheeler

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Editor’s Note: This is a column on area watersheds by Blyden Potts and guest columnists to spread awareness of the area’s tributaries and the efforts of area volunteers to keep them clean.

For the second year, the Conodoguinet Creek Watershed Association (CCWA) is doing stream cleanups west of Carlisle. The first occurred Saturday, teamed up with the Middle Spring Watershed Association (MSWA). We did a 1-mile stretch from near Peiffers Bridge on Mountain Road to the 641 bridge near BB’s Grocery Outlet in Newburg.

Clouds screened the sun, keeping temperatures comfortable. There was no rain. Water levels were the lowest of the year, 1.3 feet on the USGS gauge at Hogestown. Kurt Henry took credit for heading the weather committee.

The water was very clear, making it easy to spot trash – and crayfish. There were thousands of crayfish. In any one place, you might see over 100 at a glance, swarming through the water and scooting over the rocky streambed. There were multiple species, but many of them were the invasive Rusty Crayfish.

MSWA cleanups are typically a handful of volunteers on a small stream. The water is seldom above knee high; the stream may even be dry. Often, there is as much cleaning of the banks as there is of the stream itself. In this situation, there is no opportunity or need for a boat, or even a canoe.

CCWA cleanups have more volunteers. They are always in and focused on the water. The Conodoguinet can still be waist deep, or deeper, at low water, and there is more trash. So CCWA uses boats.

There was discussion at the start of Saturday’s cleanup about whether all three boats were needed, or whether two might suffice. Later, we were glad we opted for all three.

Each boat is pulled upstream by a volunteer. When the trash load is light and water is high enough to float the boat, this works well, but the very low waters on this cleanup meant there were many shallow areas. As trash piled up on each boat, it became a challenge. We pretty well filled the boats, which necessitated much hauling and pushing of boats over and through shallow areas as we neared our takeout.

Many of the trash items were large. We pulled out over 50 feet of heavy hose, in two sections. It must have washed down from an irrigation operation. We found a small bike, absent the rear wheel, and a waterlogged, decomposing mattress and bedding, which was challenging to remove.

We removed over 20 tires of various sizes. A couple were still on their rims. One was filled with concrete.

We also took out what may be the strangest item I ever helped remove in a stream cleanup. Someone joked it was a “German submarine.” It was a long thin hull, like a pontoon, with an engine fixed on top. A shaft ran from the engine through a wheel of paddles or blades. It was easy to imagine there had once been a second hull on the other side of that wheel, making the craft something like a catamaran paddle wheeler. The image of a personal paddle wheeler cruising the stream fired our imaginations about its pilot and engineer.

Afterward, we were told this was not a powered boat, but a waterwheel, formerly stationed upstream. It rose or fell with the water level, floating on twin hulls. The “engine” did not power the wheel, but converted power from the wheel, spun by the current of the stream, into a small amount of electricity. Presumably, the operation was wrecked in a flood some years past and the main part washed down to where we found it.

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