Profile of the Swatara Creek

"Swatara" - an Indian word meaning "Where we feed on eels."

"THE WATERSHED. defined as all the land between ridges that drains the water into a creek, river or bay."

The Swatara Watershed covers 570 square miles in 46 municipalities in Berks, Dauphin, Lebanon, and Schuylkill Counties in south central Pennsylvania, flows into the Susquehanna River at Middletown/Royalton, and eventually the Chesapeake Bay. The Swatara originates in Foster Township, Schuylkill County, and flows southwesterly for approximately 69 miles. At its headwaters, the Swatara's elevation is approximately 1,510 feet, then drops to 279 feet above sea level at the Susquehanna River.

In order of drainage size, major tributaries are the Little Swatara (99.2 acres), Quittapahilla (77.3 acres), Lower Little Swatara (35.6 acres), Manada (32.2 acres), Beaver (27.2 acres), and Upper Little Swatara (24.3 acres) Creeks.

Swatara Creek has served as a provider of food, water, transportation, energy, and recreation for generations of inhabitants. The surrounding watershed supplied farmland, limestone, iron, coal, timber, and a host of other raw materials that aided in the establishment and subsequent development of the region, and country.

At 57% or 206,658 acres, agriculture is the largest land cover followed by forest, 32.45% or 118,624 acres; then urban/built-up 8.04% or 29,395 acres; barren 2.73% or 9,967 acres, water .17% or 609.5 acres; and finally, wetlands .07% or 244.62 acres.

Approximately 290,869 persons reside in the watershed. Estimates reveal the population within the watershed increased by 4.3 percent between 1990 and 1998.

In addition to the Swatara Creek Watershed Association , a new awareness of the Creek and tributaries has seen the emergency of multiple watershed organizations: Northern Swatara Watershed Association, Quittapahilla Watershed Association, and the Little Swatara Watershed Association.

There are several recreational walking and bicycling trailways, some converted from abandoned rail lines.

A Water Trail reflects the history of the area:
-- The only lava deposits in the State
-- Remnants of the Union Canal operated 1828-1884. The Canal once connected the Susquehanna at Middletown with the Schuylkill River at Reading, following the Swatara and Tulpehocken Creeks. The old towpath is still visible in many areas. Suggested by Wm. Penn, the Canal was surveyed in 1762. Coal and iron ore were transported.
-- Blue Rock, a magnificent limestone outcrop.
--Harper's Tavern {(717)865-2584}was an 1804 stagecoach stop on old Route 22 between Allentown and Harrisburg. The old 'General Store' is the building next to Harper's Tavern and is currently a doctor's office.
-- Conrad's Mill, formerly Shuey's Mill. June 7, 1745, the site was birthplace of Lindley Murray, a famous grammarian, and author of the English grammar. Robert Murry, Lindley's father, owned the mill from 1745-1746. For a time, the site was known as Shuey's Mill.
--Fort Indiantown Gap Military Reservation, authorized in 1929. The first land was bought in 1931 and first used by the National Guard in 1932. Total acreage is now more than 16,000 acres. A national cemetery is also housed at the Gap.
-- Swatara Creek Inn {(717)865-3259}is a three-story Victorian mansion built in 1860 for Jacob Ulrich. From 1917-1941 Milton Hershey, who used if for a boys', home owned the mansion. Today, the structure is a bed and breakfast inn.
-- Union Canal Canoe Rentals, owned by Bill and Ruth Wise. (717)838-9580.
-- Bindnagle's Church is where John Palm, the founder of Palmyra is buried. German settlers established Bindnagle's on January 27, 1753. The current church dates back to January 1, 1803. Call Heidi Neiswender, (717)838-6176 church historian, to arrange a tour.
? Milton Hershey School's Camp Catherine, Spartan Meadows, Camp Swattee, and Camp Milton.
-- Boat House Road park, a public access maintained by Derry Township but owned by Milton Hershey Schools.
-- The Horseshoe Trail, running from a junction in the Appalachian Trail on top of Stony Mountain in State Game Lands 211 to Valley Forge is130.1 miles long.
-- Hershey Park and Hershey Gardens, well know tourist attractions. Smell the chocolate, enjoy rides in the amusement park, watch a show, or stroll through the flower gardens.
-- Union Deposit, where Indians lived until the late 1700's. Later, farmers brought their grain and other produce from the PA Dutch areas here for shipment to the market via the Union Canal. Beneath the Union Canal House Restaurant {(717)566-0054 and between the Restaurant and Fort Swatara, an underground railroad once ran. Also in Union Deposit, a great anthracite furnace once turned out tons of iron until it blew up. And, a band rehearsal hall formerly served as quarters for Union Canal workers.
-- Hershey Highmeadow Campground is between the Swatara Creek and Route 39 near Hummelstown. The camp is owned by HERCO. Call (717)566-0902 for more information.
-- Indian Echo Caverns, a large underground display of geology created by dripping water and the region's limestone deposits where the Susquehannock Indians once lived and hunted--visited by settlers as early as 1783. Call (717)566-8131 for more information.
-- M&H (Middletown & Hummelstown) Railroad, an historic steam engine pulled train provides a ride parallel to Swatara Creek. Great fun. For more information, call (717)944-4435, 136 Brown St., Middletown.
-- PA Fish and Boat Commission Public Access, Middletown.

Conservation Districts:




Swatara and Memorial Lake State Parks (717)865-6470


23 townships have agricultural security areas covering 921 farms and 81,304 acres. 34 farms are preserved totaling 4,364.5 acres

Trout Hatcheries are located in Pine Grove, Schuylkill County and on Bachman Run, Lebanon County. Mill and Little Swatara in Berks County, Manada in Dauphin County, Trout Run and Quittapahilla in Lebanon County, and Upper and Lower Little Swataras in Schuylkill County are stocked with trout.

State Game lands #246, 211, 229, 160, 80 and Weiser State Forrest are in the Swatara Creek Watershed.

There are 109 municipal parks.

The Appalachian trail, that runs from Maine to Georgia, traverses the Swatara Watershed.

There are 16 public campgrounds and 16 public golf courses.

Two fossil beds are located in the Swatara Watershed.

DCNR lists 52 species of special concern: 24 plant, 10 invertebrate, 5 bird, 5 insect, 3 mammal, 3 geologic, and 2 reptile. Black bear, foxes, raccoons, squirrel, chipmunks, mice, and white-tailed deer are common.