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This trip is a nice float down a beautiful section of the Susquehanna. Easily accessible put-in and take-out points, a unique view of the historic Rockville bridge, and the Sheet Island Archipelago with abundant wildlife make this sojourn a memorable one.
This river trip begins with flat calm waters for the first mile. You will want to take this opportunity to paddle out towards the center of the river. A few rocks ahead and the water picks up a little speed as it weaves through them, but the rocks are spaced out enough that they are easily avoidable. After these obstacles, you approach the longest stone masonry arch railroad viaduct in the world, The Rockville Railroad Bridge (RM 76). Although it was completed over a hundred years ago it is still being used by Amtrak and Norfolk Southern Railways. The bridge has 48 arches that span a total of 3820 feet and is truly an example of 'how they don't make them like they used to'. It is important to pass under the bridge far river left because there is a large ledge coming up. Any route other than river left can put you and your boat in a potentially dangerous situation. Do not attempt to navigate the rocky ledge anywhere other than river left unless you are an experienced boater. Once you have made it through this portion of the river you can rest easy as there are no more difficult areas to navigate.
Here, the river takes a bend to the right and it becomes flat and calm again as the city skyline of Harrisburg emerges on river left. You will approach several small islands before passing under another large bridge (I-81). McCormick Island on the left (RM 75) will be the largest island of the Sheets Island Archipelago. This is the halfway point of your trip and the southern end of McCormick makes a great spot to stop for lunch. Feel free to explore the 100 acres of woodland here just like the first settlers in this area did. Archeologists have found stone pottery and primitive tools beneath the 1000's of years of fluvial deposits. Please watch out for poison ivy and be sure not to trample any bird nests as you hike the trails. This island group is home to many types of migrating aquatic birds such as egrets, herons, cormorants, grebes, geese and ducks. Wade Island (located directly river right of McCormick) is off limits to visitors due to the rookeries there and you will be fined for getting close to it. However, all but a few of the other islands here are public and can be explored. Be sure to look for signage that indicate if the island is privately owned before embarking. Countless routes can take you past the islands of this grouping so find your own path and enjoy the beauty and isolation that this place offers. There are primitive camping spots and fishing holes to discover everywhere. A few small mouth bass were caught in the shade of the maple trees and I startled an eagle that was resting in a small poplar tree. Two experiences that I will not soon forget.
The last large island is Sheets inland on river right (RM 73). The river bends back to the left slightly here and you will want to start to make your way river right towards the shore. The West Fairview boat launch will be coming up at the mouth of the Conodoguinet Creek on river right. Be sure not to miss this take out as the Dock Street Dam (see Hazards) is only 2 miles downstream (RM 70). Once you have pulled your boat onto the hill look back across the river for one last view of Harrisburg and the Capital building.
Remember: safe use of rivers and any designated trails, at any time, is your responsibility! Water trail maps are for informational and interpretive purposes only and are not meant for navigational purposes, nor do they take into account level of skills or ability required to navigate rivers. The National Park Service, Chesapeake Conservancy and/or the individual trail associations assume no responsibility or liability for any injury or loss resulting directly or indirectly from the use of water trails, maps or other printed or web-based materials. Learn more about water safety.