Schuylkill river, low head dams

Hi everyone, Earlier this year there was a thread about low head dams and how even the smallest ones can drown you. So the suggestions were to portage ALL low head dams.

My question is for those of you familiar with the upper Schuylkill river and these dams. Below Auburn there are 2 railroad bridges that have drops, on the map provided by the Schuylkill River Greenway Assoc. it calls them low head dams. Also on the Little Schuylkill in Port Clinton is another low head dam. It tells you they are runnable. It suggests the best place to run them. Ed Gertler’s PA book (which everyone always reccomends)also says they can easily and safely be run. I have met many people who say they have run them.

So if there is anybody here that is familiar with the three locations I am talking about, what do you say? I have lived through running all three (at low to normal water levels). Am I being stupid or not?

I know of the area, but I never did it.

I know people who have done it and a guy who got got a dislocated shoulder,lungs full of water and an ambulance ride all in one afternoon at the falls closest to Port clinton.

I do alot of paddleing alone, so I just avoid falls.


– Last Updated: Aug-10-05 8:31 PM EST –

I run them all the time. I wouldn't call these low head dams, more like drops. We call the RR bridge drop "the shoots".

The first RR bridge is only about a 1' drop, all the logs and trees caught on the bridge piers are way more of a concern than the drop itself. It does produce a nice easy surf wave.

The second is about 2-3', this is a fun run, pick the shoot right of center, or go up on the bridge and scout which one looks best. Even if you dump it spits you right out. Nice big swim hole to recover. We have run this many times with no issues, and have watched and help many swimmers with no issues. The sojourn runs this, so it's got to be safe.

The one on the Little is actually an old dam. I have also run it many times, it is only about a 1' also.

Low head dams have a shape to them that creates the lethal hydrolic.


There is a BIG difference between drop

– Last Updated: Aug-11-05 3:03 AM EST –

and low head dam. Low head dams are normally rounded, a quarter of a circle in cross section. And normally have a deep pool below them (how deep is required to hold and drown you? Answer: Not very deep at all!). The shape creates a backwards (up river) cycling current and holds you and your gear in it.

Here is a "low head dam" that I would even find hard calling a drop, let alone dam.

A drop does not create this backwards rolling current.

Do not take anyone's word alone for what is ahead, not even the official printed map. Listen, keep a sharp eye for horizon lines on the river, stop, wald down and look. Judge for yourself. The person that put that label on the map may never have even seen a low head or a drop, may not know the difference, and I'll bet in most all cases has not seen the event they are labeling. Luckily then do normally over label the hazard.

Always pull over well above and scout before you run any rough stuff!

STAY AWAY FROM LOW HEAD DAMS!!! Drops are fine. Drops are FUN! Go for fun drops!

Hope this helps.



Gives me the shivers just looking at one of those things…

Thanks everyone
I did get dumped after the second drop, mainly because I didn’t have a skirt then and got LOTS of water in my boat and before I knew it I was over. Next time I go there I will use my skirt.

I figured these three were all relatively ok, but that thread about low head dams and the map calling these dams (I’ll have to check again, I’m all but certain it calls the one drop a low head dam)got me a little worried.

Thanks again for the input!!

Yeah, none of these (on the Schuylkill, Little Schuylkill) looked like a low head dam as you describe it or like the pictures I’ve seen. Thanks again.