On the Water with Dan Valleskey: May 16, 2013 Fall Creek, Indianapolis
Put In: 79th Street Bridge west of Courageous Drive, US RL**
Take Out: Fall Creek Parkway North Drive, Woolens Gardens Trail Head west of Shadeland Avenue
Fall Creek is a 57.5 mile long tributary of the White River in Central Indiana beginning near Honey Creek, Indiana. Its watershed drains 318 square miles of rural, suburban and urban land including the northeast section of Indianapolis. In central Indiana it has three main sections. The Upper Fall Creek headwaters originate near Pendleton and it runs to the Geist damn. (*See Dan’s comments regarding damn dams below.) The creek then disappears beneath Geist Reservoir. The middle section starts below the dam(n) at Geist, and runs to the dam(n) west of Keystone Avenue. Lower Fall Creek runs from Keystone Avenue to the White River, the confluence is just north of 10th Street in downtown Indy.
The Upper section is best run at times of higher water. Parts of the Upper run behind the prison at Pendleton. The best take out is near Olio Road. Other paddlers with more knowledge on this section of Fall Creek are invited to add their experiences here.
The Middle section is my favorite for paddling. The access is on the north side of 79th Street just west of Courageous Drive at the 79th Street bridge, US RL (Up Stream, River Left) is a great starting point. One time, just to say you have been there; take the opportunity to paddle upstream to the dam that forms Geist Reservoir. It is less then a mile upstream. There is most always enough water to paddle here, thanks to Citizens Energy (the water company) releasing Indy's water needs from Geist. If you are concerned, check the USGS (United States Geological Survey) gauge at Millersville http://waterdata.usgs.gov/usa/nwis/uv?03352500. Fall Creek can be paddled even at 70 CFS (cubic feet per second).
There can be log jams at any time; the small size of Fall Creek means a tree can easily fall across, blocking your way. Be prepared to portage. This section of the creek through Fort Harrison State Park is not maintained much. Caution should be taken at the remains of a damn above 71st Street; at some river levels it is fun to surf the middle chute. The right side path can be a challenge, the left is generally blocked. In this section, it is against park rules to get out of your boat and hike.
There is a heron rookery in the State Park north of 71st, and you will be surprised at the many pump houses associated with the well fields here. Indy’s drinking water comes in part from these wells that pump the ground water up to the surface. http://www.indyh2o.org/
Killer Falls adds some excitement for most everyone. It comes about a half mile after crossing under Boy Scout Road. The traffic noise of Shadeland and Interstate 465 crossing over the creek alert you to the ledge. The falls are located between the two bridges. Right after going under the first bridge, work left, the best path usually starts left and works toward the right. This also foretells the end of the prettiest, quietest section of Fall Creek.
Here at a distance of about five miles from the put in at 79th Street Indy Parks has built a paddler access at the first Fall Creek Greenway Trail Head on Fall Creek Parkway North Drive, west of Shadeland and south of Fall Creek Road at Woolens Gardens. It is still a fine paddle below the first Fall Creek Greenway trail head, but you will usually be in sight of the road and the houses. As you paddle down toward Emerson Avenue the urbanization accelerates.
Another constructed canoe access and mandatory take out for down stream travel is located at the Keystone Avenue Trail Head of the Fall Creek Greenway trail, just east of Keystone Avenue, off of Binford Boulevard on Fall Creek Parkway North Drive. I strongly suggest taking out just before Keystone; the water company damns located immediately west of Keystone prevent easy passage there.
There is a treat in store for paddlers who wish to venture below Keystone. Indianapolis's only aqueduct is located in that section. An aqueduct is a man-made structure carrying one body of water over the other without mixing. In other words- a bridge of water! In Indianapolis, the water company canal is carried over Fall Creek upstream from 16th Street.
In Lower Fall Creek, south of Keystone, be aware that the water is highly polluted from the urban sanitary sewers that dump effluent into the creek after even very small rain showers. The city is working to fix this century–old problem with underground holding bladders and even a deep tunnel, but it will still take many years for this project and the cleaning of Fall Creek to be effective.
Enjoy the cleaner, quiet solitude of Fall Creek south of 79th Street to discover one of the few natural water treasures located in Indianapolis.
*Dan’s Damn Dams: Dams are a hindrance to canoe travel. They are viewed unfavorably by paddlers and most of Mother Nature’s group. It is as much an ecological issue, as a barrier/ safety thing. Some damns get paddled occasionally, I have done it myself, but if you do not know what the hell you are doing, a dam(n) will kill you. And they always kill the river behind them. Other contributors will also submit reviews with the word "damn" when they mean dam.
Paddlers need to know two things for access- before or after the bridge, on the left or right side of the river. One convention that is not widely used, but I feel strongly should be used with paddlers, is the US RR or DS RL thing. Or US RL- DS RR. Upstream/ Downstream, River Right, River Left (right/left defined while facing downstream). This also tells paddlers which way they will be heading.