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We arrived at the put-in just below the Rocky Fork Lake dam on McCoppin Mill Road just before noon. The first thing we notices was that there was very little water flowing over the dam and you could see from the bridge piers that the water level had recently dropped a couple of feet.
The first half mile or so was very pleasant, paddling underneath a forested canopy through long pools interspersed with shallow riffles. Then the creek started to widen a bit and the current more or less disappeared. The next couple of miles mainly featured brown flat water with riverside summer "homes" in varying states of decomposition.
Shortly thereafter, we sighted the first landmark, the OH 753 bridge that was mentioned in our guidebook. It was at this time that I also noted a particularly loud sound of rushing water and an ominous unbroken horizon line on the water just past the bridge.
We quickly scooted over to the shore, whereupon I scrambled up to the top of the bridge highway embankment to have a look-see. It seems that our guidebook had neglected to mention an old mill dam with a 10 ft plus drop at this location.
The portage looked a bit daunting, considering we would have to drag our boats up a 50 ft high steep highway embankment and down a steep rocky path to get below the dam. However, given that the alternatives were to either admit defeat and paddle back upstream to car A at the starting point or suck it up and continue on to car B at the take out, we chose to soldier on.
After completing the portage, we took a break below the dam to enjoy the lunch that we had packed for ourselves. My wife also found a cloud of tiger swallowtail butterflies eager to pose for her camera. Then we embarked on the second leg of our journey.
The first mile or so featured clear water, quick current, tight twisting turns and interesting rock formations. There was also a great deal of scraping and bumping of our kayaks on rocks due to the low water level. Then the creek returned to the slow muddy flow we had seen upstream of dam #1. After what seemed like hours of paddling we finally reached dam #2 (the one that we knew about) at Barret Mills. The portage here was much easier than the first one, since the ground was fairly level.
The third section of the river was by far the most interesting. This part flows through a wildlife sanctuary and features forested shorelines with large rocks with clearer water and quicker current, and of course, more bumping and scraping.
As it turns out there was one more obstacle to overcome before arriving at the scenic area for which this creek is known. Due to the low flow, there was only one narrow channel on river left that was flowing. It was bounded by a rock cliff on the left and a huge boulder on the right. There was a fresh (leaves still green) strainer strategically laying across the channel completely blocking it. So we had to portage over, under, and through the log jam in what would have been the river right channel to get around.
The scenery in the last portion was very cool. Steep rock cliffs along the creek sides and there is even a point where the creek has bored a hole through a house sized rock that you get to paddle through. How cool is that?
We finally arrived at our takeout at about 6 pm, about 2 hours later than planned...tired, but all in one piece.
Skip the upper portion of the creek. Put just below the Barrett Mills dam. There is a nice gravel parking area, a fairly short level walk to put the boats in, and all of the most interesting paddling and scenery will still be ahead of you. Take out at the route 50 bridge. Don't continue on out into Paint Creek unless you have the whitewater paddling skills to handle the Chutes on Paint Creek as the next takeout I am aware of is beyond that point. Bring your camera and extra batteries, you are going to want some pictures.
Check USGS gauge on day of paddling prior to leaving to ensure adequate water flow (water flow changes rapidly). American Whitewater page on this creek recommends 250 to 600 CFS flow rate for recreational paddlers, which seems pretty accurate to me. I also recommend calling Rocky Fork State Park to find out if any water flow changes are planned for the dam that controls the flow during the time frame you are planning to paddle.
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