I recently paddled Wheeling Creek for the first time. I’ve paddled other rivers like the Youghiogheny, the South Branch and the Cheat. I’ve meant to do Wheeling Creek — it was just a matter of logistics. All our kayaks were stored at Piedmont Lake, and I didn’t know how to get them back to Wheeling. Finally, I bought a kayak rack.
Paddling Lower Wheeling Creek
My husband and I parked a car at the take-out at Kroger and drove our kayaks to the put-in beside the Italian-American Club in Elm Grove, behind Patterson Ballfield. There’s a gravel lot and easy river access there, and you can walk your boats down to the beach, though you’ll find it rather mucky (wear water shoes and prepare for odorous mud). In addition to a PFD (personal floatation device), drinking water and sunscreen, consider what you’ll need when you arrive at the take-out, like car keys and maybe a lock for your kayak if you’ll be leaving it there during shuttling. A waterproof case for your phone is helpful for photos and calling for assistance if necessary. Fortunately, the creek follows roads and neighborhoods for the entirety of the trip, so help is never far away.
Water levels were low: it had been over a week without rain. The desirable level is generally two to four feet — you can check Wheeling Creek Hydrograph for a status report at any time. But, for the sake of my writing deadline, we donned river shoes and went into the trip knowing we’d have to drag the boats in a few places. (The hard, plastic boats you buy at Walmart and Cabela’s are built to handle this type of abuse; whitewater kayaks are not.) Low water often arrives with the summer heat, and if you’re itching to paddle, just accept that you’ll have a few bumps and maybe a wet walk or two. We had to walk our boats just once, behind Elm Grove Dairy Queen, for about 50 feet.
If you’re looking for rapids, Wheeling Creek in the summer isn’t the place to find them. It’s a great place to fish, float along lazily or paddle hard for an upper body workout. We spent the four miles paddling steadily, and it took us about two hours. Obviously, times vary with water levels, and on the day after a rain, you may zip along in an hour.
Safety on the river is of the utmost importance. Keep in mind that you need to be responsible for yourself, for your kids, and consider the rescue personnel who’ll be called out into a dangerous situation if necessary. By making sound decisions, you keep a lot of people out of harm’s way. The most basic safety precautions include telling family or friends where you’ll be and when you expect to return, bringing a life jacket, using alcohol responsibly and understanding the dangers of a river. A sudden storm can produce high water; it’s best to get off the creek if this happens. Also, be aware of objects in the water like piles of rubbish and downed trees. Kayakers call these “strainers” because the water passes through them but pins your boat and body. Strainers can be deadly. If you see an obstacle in front of you, pull off and inspect the obstacle on foot. Portage around if necessary.
A serious note: Paddle sports deaths are at an unprecedented level, largely due to a phenomenon called the “Kmart Kayaker.” In the past, kayaks weren’t so readily available. Now, you can buy them at Walmart or Dick’s or Kmart.
According to Jim Emmons of the Water Sports Foundation, “You can go into Costco, get groceries, and walk out with a 12-pack and a kayak. But nobody is telling you about how you need a lifejacket, or that the water temperature might be 50 degrees.” (source: Adventure Sports Network) If you’re brand new to the sport, recognize that fact. Never eschew a life jacket. Consider paddling conditions (weather and water). And check out this video on what to do if you flip your boat.
When it comes to planning your paddle, the City of Wheeling’s Interactive Water Trail Map offers helpful information on launch sites, fishing holes, landmarks, and eateries. Jesse Mestrovic, director of parks and strategic planning for the City of Wheeling, is an avid outdoorsman and the man responsible for providing such recreational information. He’s worked at West Virginia state parks, Seneca Lake and for the city of Moundsville. Not only is he a regular