Sewickley Creek, the Orange River of my Childhood, Gets Some Much-Needed Love

Growing up in Yukon, Pennsylvania was sort of like growing up in Chernobyl. But for me it was as good as Montana. There were plenty of places adults didn’t venture to. And those were the places my friends and I sought out. Abandoned mine buildings that looked like the workers had gone to lunch one day and forgot to go back, overgrown junkyards and garbage dumps full of old lawnmowers and washers, rolling black hills of slate that sprouted neon green grass in the summer. If you dug into that dirt to build a bike jump you’d soon hit a layer of plastic that was put there to keep whatever was buried underneath from getting out. That black sand and dirt was part of my childhood DNA and still is. In fact, I carry it around with me today, embedded in my knees and elbows like shrapnel from a war fought long ago.
There was the old school that we commandeered one summer and turned into a skate park. That was the summer we all got colds and coughs in the middle of July from moving so much asbestos. And then there was the sulfur creek, the main artery that snaked along the edge of town. To me, it was an intrinsic feature of any rural American childhood. It wasn’t pretty, but it was alive and moving . . . going somewhere.
Again, no adults seemed to notice it. But to my eight-year-old self, it was the definition of mystery and adventure. My first run of the river was done with my friend John Cochran in my grandfather’s cement trough that we stole one day from behind his shed. We made it a few miles before it filled with water and sank. Those few miles fueled many more adventures along the river that ruined many pairs of socks and shoes and left us smelling like an old grease gun.
That was over twenty years ago. Now, the river isn’t as orange as it once was and in the summer you can catch couples leaning over the bridge with their fishing lines dropping into the water below. Others are taking notice as well.
The Sewickley Creek Watershed Association is in the process of making a canoe and kayak launch near the ballfield, much like the one they put in at Lowber. When Tom Keller, the executive director, told me the news of the project this week, I felt the orange river of my youth start to flow through me again. The project should be completed by the end of May and I can’t wait to be one of the first to put in. In fact, I’m thinking of maybe getting the old gang together for a reunion of sorts. No cement troughs this time. Heck, maybe we could do an epic overnighter all the way from Yukon to the Yough, just like I’d always dreamed of doing as a child. The orange river—the sulfur creek—still conjures up feelings of mystery in my mind and adventure in my heart.
So, if any of the old gang is out there—you know who you are—give me a call. Let’s go back and run the creek like we always wanted to. I have a feeling that after twenty years the trip will be just as we imagined it.

In addition to the Yukon Launch, the Association is also working on a canoe launch in New Stanton.

Shane Dushack is owner of AdventureTRAC, a mobile outfitter in Sutersville. AdventureTRAC offers guided kayak outings throughout the region. To find your next adventure visit adventuretrac.org.

17 thoughts on “Sewickley Creek, the Orange River of my Childhood, Gets Some Much-Needed Love”

  1. Thanks Shane love your article written very well. Even though i am across the bridge you made me feel like i was there with you. Very well done. Can’t wait for all the improvements.

  2. Great story. This Creek also holds many similar memories for me. I spent lots of time up by the tressle bridge deep in the woods between the Black hills and the truck stop. I now live further up the creek, behind WCCC, and we have kayaked from my house and pulled out at Madison truck stop, if we were just doing what I refer to as the “upper” sewickley, or we continued and pulled out at the bend just before the 136 bridge, the “middle” sewickley. I’ve not yet floated from there all the way to the yough, but hopefully this summer. The most beautiful sights I’ve seen are the incredible flock of heron that live in the huge sycamore trees around the tressle bridge. They are gorgeous but you have to float VERY quietly to see them. A goal of mine is to float all 3 sections and GPS tag all the junk, tires etc to create a map of garbage for the clean up crews to know where the best places to target their efforts. Hopefully this summer. Great article again !

  3. Great article! Great to see the creek back to a more normal color. I’m from Mckeesport and with a hunting buddy, some 25 years ago…at the spoil pile there, just along the road to Yough, across from the filter ponds…while hunting small game…We jumped THEE BIGGEST BUCK that He and I still haven’t matched to this day. He ran across the stream to safety! Lol. Later that year, in buck season, I took a friend down to try and get a crack at him…but I ended up in the creek up to my waste…freezing cold…and back to the truck! Lol Hunters, zero…BUCK, many, I’m sure?! He was huge!

    I always wanted to float that stream in bow season. An awesome way to call up deer…have done it in other places with success. But I will say…I, too, think of Sewickley Creek with that thought of adventure. May your float be a righteous one…for, I believe, the Lord has touched this heart of mine…and may He touch all those who read this, as well.

    The Gospel of John, is where Jesus introduces Himself to us. 🙂

    1. Hey John.
      Can’t wait! Looking forward to seeing lots of people using the launch this summer. It’s nice to see Yukon getting something like this.

  4. What wonderful article. Very well written Shane. The sewickley creek also holds many, many fond memories for me.

  5. Very well written Shane. Living directly across from the ball field along the “creek” for 47 years, you brought back great memories of my families adventures there. We have canoed on it and even ice skated in the 70’s when it used to freeze over. It’s nice to look out my window and not see orange water! Best of luck on your maiden launch..

  6. I always loved “Sewickley Creek”, as a resident of Rillton, Pa., so I’m glad to see it’s getting some great attention.

  7. Great story that brought back lots of memories. I’m from Hutchy and the slate dumps, sulphur “crick” and train tracks were our playground.

  8. I feel grateful to play a part in the clean up and trout stocking that’s taking place. The Big Sewick is well on its way.
    Scott C.

  9. Similar memories of Little Sewickley that ran behind my house below the Herminie slate dumps growing up.
    Sad that the “Little Sewickley Anglers” went by the way side.
    And it really hurt to see all the dead suckers, chubs and minnows floating the day after Hempfeild opened their sewage plant in Darragh.
    Then time passed and the “crick” came back to life the best it could.
    But now I fear something else is amiss. I can hear the spring “peepers” along Andrews Run at night, but down along Little Sewickley is silent this year.
    I hope, that with time, Mother Nature will continue to heal the “crick” of my youth….

  10. I remember the creek very well, but we referred to it as the sulfur creek because of all the sulfur water that leached out of the old Magee Mine. You might not remember but there used to be an arched bridge or as we referred to it as the Rainbow Bridge that connected Yukon and Whyles. When my dad or grandfather would take me (when I was a little kid) with them some place and they drove over the bridge it would tickle my stomach just like a roller coaster. The creek was a deep orange and if you looked hard you could see the orange silt at the bottom that gave it that color. Nothing could live in it at that time, especially fish. Glad to see they are doing something with it these days. I hope more can be done for the health and safety of the surrounding communities as Western Pennsylvania has a higher incidence of cancer and other diseases than the national average. I’m in Phoenix, Arizona at this time and reside in Pittsburgh. But glad to hear of something positive happening
    In my old home town of Yukon.😀

  11. Great article Shane. You nailed it! Gave me goosebumps thinking back to those days. I thought the rest of the world lived the same at that age. Wasn’t till I got in my teens I realized it was different and special. Still proudly say I grew up in Yukon for the reasons you write about.

  12. Many fond memories playing in the “sulfer crick” as a child growing up where it ran along our property at the Rte 136 bridge. Always wore the same orange clothes I ruined on my first adventure riding the rapids, as we as kids called the swift flow over some smooth large rocks on the upper side of the bridge. Those days are when life was simple and kids knew how to make their own fun. Glad to hear there will be new memories made on that “crick”.

  13. Oh, yes! Many a night camping and partying st the rock and many of days jumping off of tressle into that orange water (which I swear cured the poison I had caught berry picking on the monkey dumps)! The old train station was once referred to as the kings castle, home of the bad-a$$ Yukon breakdancing crew composed of Randy, Rich, Todd and a couple others! Riding dirt bikes with the Brawdy boys and Bert, as well as taking our bicycles and inner tubes over those slate dumps, sneaking in to the old school…all rights of passage for Yukon kids, I guess! Yes, I too still have embedded slate … It’s a badge of honor! Crazy times…. Awesome memories! Thanks, Shane!

  14. My grandmother lived on the road from Waltz Mill to Madison. We often played in the creek that ran from there to Yukon. This of course was more like 70 years ago.

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