The Great Outdoors: Clarion River Wildlife a Treat for Boaters

Is there any better place to spend a hot, summer afternoon than on the water?

I think not. In this area, we are blessed to have several places where water recreation can be enjoyed.

Just think, the nationally designated Wild & Scenic River Clarion River begins in Elk County and flows along the Forest & Jefferson County borders before entering Cook Forest, then becomes the Piney Dam near Clarion before it flows into the Allegheny River near Foxburg.

In Jefferson County, there are the Little Toby, North Fork, and Sandy Lick creeks and in Forest County, there is Tionesta Creek, Tionesta Lake, and Allegheny River.

Another great thing about the region is just how many canoe liveries there are for those wishing to rent a canoe, kayak, tube and more to enjoy the river experience.

Saturday, I returned to the Clarion River for the first time in a few weeks. Despite weather forecasts to the contrary, the day proved to be just about ideal for a kayak trip. Some occasional strong wind gusts did make for a little more of a workout, but I wasn’t complaining.

I put the boat in the water just off Route 949 in Elk County. After a little web research, I decided on a trip of about 15 miles.

Over the years, I have canoed and kayaked a few different sections of the Clarion between Cook Forest State Park and Ridgway, but not this one. I chose this section because it offered more river that paralleled fewer roads.

I thought it might pay more dividends in wildlife sightings and in a way, it did.

It didn’t take long before I saw an immature bald eagle. He didn’t care much for me, flying off and landing in trees a few times before returning upriver and away from me.

Shortly after the launch, I passed Portland Mills, a tiny village that had its boom days a century ago with the logging business.

Today, there are some homes there, but mostly camps. It’s quiet, with the exception of one man running his weed whacker.

There were the usual merganser sightings and one female even had four ducklings with her.

The river wasn’t as busy as it was on Memorial Day weekend, but I still saw many people enjoying the trip and fishing.

That’s what makes it a special place, being away from work, getting out and enjoying the company of friends, maybe seeing a black bear or a white-tailed deer or catching some trout or bass.

After a while, I decided to take a lunch break. But there was nothing random about the location I chose. It wasn’t a spot people would normally choose, but for me, I wanted to check on something I had discovered years ago while hiking and fishing.

I don’t know how many people even know it’s there, probably not many, but near the top of a good-sized white pine, I had found an eagle’s nest. When I found it, there was nothing around, so I couldn’t even be sure it was active.

But for the effort eagles put into building a nest, it seems likely it would be used.

Once I beached the boat, I took a good, hard look and thought I could see it. When I zoomed in with the camera, sure enough, there it was. And not only was the nest still intact, but there was also an eagle perched near the edge of it!!

As I watched, I couldn’t see anything else, but the eagle shifted occasionally. It was far enough away that I couldn’t tell if it was a mature bird or not, but in all probability, it was.

I probably could have gotten closer to it, but there are laws about how close you can approach a nest, and I didn’t want to do anything to disturb an eagle while it tended to its young.

At that point, the trip was a success, no matter what else I saw. But that eagle’s nest wasn’t the only thing I saw that was very cool.

After I polished off my sandwich and a bottle of water, I got back on the river. In a few seconds, I spooked a deer that had come to the water’s edge for a drink.

A few miles later, I came around a bend and thought I could see something on a big, flat rock that stuck out in the river.

I couldn’t tell what it or they were at first, but as I floated closer, I had a feeling I was seeing a group of turtles sunning themselves.

I slowed my approach and got the camera out. I wished I would have just beached it, but I got the camera running as I approached. Sure enough, there were four female, smooth, soft-shelled turtles enjoying the afternoon sun.

The two nearest the water’s edge took a few steps before slipping into the river. The third followed, but the fourth was a little slower in moving. She made her way to the edge of the rock as it sloped into the water and actually stuck her head in the water for a few moments before sliding in.

I’ve seen turtles on more than one occasion while fishing and boating, but seeing a quartet of this type sunning on a rock was a first for me!


“The Great Outdoors,” sponsored by the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors, is a weekly blog by’s Scott Shindledecker. Plan you next outdoor adventure at or call (814) 849-5197 for more information.

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