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Beltzville by kayak; water trip provides views you can’t get from a hiking trail

The chaos of Canada geese facing off over territory broke through the quiet of the Pohopoco Creek.

While our group of human visitors expected a serene day kayaking along the creek which feeds one of the state’s largest man-made lakes, its inhabitants had plenty of surprises in store.

Beltzville Lake is over 900 acres. It can be explored by boats large and small. While most of the lake itself is open to powerboats which kick up a big wake, its tributaries are perfect for recreational kayaks which can be bought at the local discount store.

“There’s an almost primal pleasure we get from floating on water and letting water carry us around. And you have big, expansive views you don’t get from a hiking trail,” said Brittney Coleman, our guide for the trip and an environmental educator at Kettle Creek Environmental Education Center in Monroe County.

Our group met on a cloudless May day in hopes of seeing wildlife, but mostly just to enjoy a day on the water. Temperatures felt more like midsummer than late spring.

Park naturalist Rob Bergstresser gave us some things to look for before we launched our kayaks. There are three bald eagle nests in close proximity to the lake. Along another tributary, the Wild Creek, river otters have been sighted.

Traveling by unpowered boat allows humans to be sneakier and get closer to animals than they would on foot or by a motorized vehicle.

The paddlers in our group would be pleased to see some wildlife, but most were content with enjoying a day on the water.

Coleman used to guide raft trips down the Lehigh River. She’s brought some aspects of that to her current job, leading kayak trips on waterways around Monroe County and surrounding areas.

She’s been paddling on Beltzville and the Pohopoco since her teenage years.

“I love planning the little details for people so they can have a fun time and not worry,” she said.

At our launch point, the Pohopoco resembles a slow-moving creek. Heading southwest toward Preacher’s Camp boat launch, the channel widens, and the current becomes almost nonexistent.

Beltzville is one of the state’s most popular state parks, but in the area of the Pohopoco, there’s no one other than the group of paddlers.

Just a few weeks earlier, the trees would just be starting to show their buds. But on this day, the spring flowering bushes like azaleas and honeysuckle are in full bloom, and the leafy branches have started to sag over the water.

Not far from the boat launch, we see some geese. Brittany points out a small heron. Herons seem like they would be more comfortable near a Florida swamp, but they like any kind of waterway, even in Pennsylvania. As we get close, the heron takes off.

The occasional downed tree sticks up out of the creek as we pass. On some of them sit what appear to be dark, shiny rocks. Paddling closer, they turn out to be turtles sunbathing. There are dozens scattered on trees throughout the creek. Some immediately bail when they notice an approaching kayak. Others are more brave, or enjoy the sun too much to follow their mates into the water.

A little further downstream, the honking of geese can be heard. Two pairs are shouting at each other, and flapping their wings. Geese can be territorial, they fight over mates and to protect their nesting areas. The nesting season is not quite over, so it’s possible they were protecting some nearby eggs.

After leaving the geese behind, the group stops for lunch at a grassy shore. It’s where the proposed PennEast pipeline will cross the Pohopoco. During lunch, Brittany shows us how the nearby hemlock trees are infected with a blight. The woolly adelgid looks like a fungus or fake snow, but it’s actually a tiny insect that sucks the sap of the hemlock. The insects are minuscule - about 1-2 mm in length, but over a period of years they can be fatal to hemlock trees.

On the shore, the group shares some memorable kayaking stories. Some grew up paddling on lakes. Others discovered it in adulthood and were hooked. They’re all friendly and offer to share their lunches when they find out I don’t have one.

Most paddlers have seen things on the river that they wouldn’t have seen elsewhere. Some of the most exciting encounters are with bald eagles. While they are no longer an endangered species, bald eagles are still among the most treasured things that one can see on a kayak trip.

“The bald eagle is the coolest animal to see. You don’t see them too much around here,” said Tom Gannon.

Fueled up, it’s time to continue the journey from creek to lake. One member of the group tips their kayak as they get back in the boat, getting soaked and dropping a bag containing their phone in the water. But with the phone protected by the bag, and the warm sun overhead, it’s not a big concern.

After we depart, we come upon another pair of Canada geese. They have a half-dozen goslings, covered in yellow feathers that look like fur. The parents swim at each end of the line, quickly ushering them away from our group.

As we round a bend in the creek, we can see where it opens into the Beltzville Lake.

Here, Beltzville’s popularity is more apparent. Men fish from their powerboats. A couple passes at slow speed on a jet ski. Looking north, we see another group of kayakers return from the Wild Creek, Beltzville’s other tributary. It’s possible that they saw the otters the park naturalist described. If they didn’t, they still got the pleasure of seeing the lake from a perspective that most people don’t.

“To look at somewhere new, explore a new spot and just be mesmerized with the scenery around you, that’s what I want people to experience on these trips. Seeing wildlife is a cool bonus,” Coleman said.

Kettle Creek has several more paddling trips scheduled for this summer on waterways in and around Monroe County. Call 570-629-3061 for more information or to register.

McMichaels Creek, Stroudsburg, Saturday, June 19, 9:30 a.m.

Little Mud Pond, Dingmans Ferry, Thursday July 8, 9 a.m.

Brady’s Lake under the Full Moon, Pocono Lake, Friday, July 23, 8 p.m.

Delaware River, Bushkill, Thursday, Aug. 26, 9 a.m.

Tobyhanna Lake, Tobyhanna, Friday, Sept. 17, 1 p.m.

Cranberry Creek through the Bog, Tannersville, Friday, Oct. 1.

(McMichaels and Cranberry Creek trips will be dependent on sufficient water levels)

A turtle catches sun along the Pohopoco Creek near Beltzville Lake.
Turtles are sunbathing along the Pohopoco Creek near Beltzville Lake.
A group of paddlers explored the Pohopoco Creek under the guidance of Brittany Coleman, a wildlife educator at Kettle Creek Environmental Education Center in Monroe County. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS
Paddlers also learned about animals which didn't have feathers or fur. Coleman pointed out woolly adelgid and talked about their potentially fatal impact on hemlock trees.
Goslings forage near the Preacher's Camp boat launch at Beltzville Lake.
Rob Bergstresser, park naturalist for Beltzville State Park, describes some of the wildlife potentially visible to paddlers on the Pohopoco Creek and Beltzville Lake.