Recreation on the Susquehanna

This year I’ve had a lot of questions come my way about kayaking and enjoying our waterways, particularly after last month’s Lancaster Water Week story. So, I thought I would share one of my favorite river views of Lancaster County. Nearby is a trusted resource – Shank’s Mare Outfitters – for exploring and enjoying the history, culture and beauty of the Lower Susquehanna River.


Long before roads and bridges led to this area, it was home to the native Susquehannocks. Not much is known about this pre-colonial tribe, but it is clear that they utilized the Susquehanna River for hunting, fishing and trade. That’s what led Captain John Smith and his crew to take a short trip up the Susquehanna River on his second journey around the Chesapeake Bay. In 1608 Smith came to modern-day Port Deposit, Maryland, where he made contact with the natives. However, the rocky waters made the river impassable beyond that point.

Many years later, in 1840, construction was completed on the Susquehanna Tidewater Canal on the west banks of the Susquehanna River. This provided a safer interstate shipping route between Wrightsville and Havre De Grace until the 1890s. In December 1931, the Safe Harbor Dam was completed, creating Lake Clarke, which takes in the Conejohela Valley that stretches from the dam northward to Wrightsville.


With the rise of the dams, the river transitioned to recreation. Indeed, the river has seen increased attention after it was included in the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail in 2012. And, with the opening of the Enola and Northwest Lancaster County trails on the Lancaster side, locals seem to be gaining an all-new appreciation for the river.

One day, a hiking trip brought me to the Lock 2 Recreation Area and Boat Launch on Long Level Road, south of Wrightsville. While the canal is long gone, the recreation area is built on the footprint of the original Lock 2.

The kids love the playground, and I enjoy the walkway along the shore’s edge. The lake is over a mile wide at this point. The view of Turkey Point in Lancaster County, as seen above, is beautiful from this vantage point, particularly at sunrise and sunset.

Businesses that support recreation have opened up and down the river. One is Shank’s Mare Outfitters, which was well ahead of the river-recreation trend, having opened in 1978. Shank’s Mare, which makes its home in an old general store (circa 1880s), is stocked with an assortment of kayaking, paddleboarding, hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country-skiing gear. On some summer evenings, live music is offered on the porch. Next door, a restored river bungalow houses the Lock 2 Cafe. This all comes together to create a very warm and unique environment down by the river.

But, Shank’s Mare is about more than buying a kayak, paddleboard, etc. Through lessons and clinics offered by its Outdoor Education Center, you can learn how to paddle a kayak and fish from one. Tired of your usual yoga class? How does yoga on a paddleboard sound? This fall, their Dining and Learning Series will employ the theme “Women & Family Life on the Susquehanna.” Hiking and kayaking trips and tours are also offered. And, be sure to put August 5 on your calendars; river culture will be celebrated during the 8th annual Art & Outdoor Fest.

Shank’s Mare Outfitters is located at 2092 Long Level Rd., Wrightsville. Open daily; hours vary. Call 717-252-1616 or visit shanksmare.com.

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