Paddle one of Northeast Kentucky’s most undeveloped scenic creeks
By Carrie “Mudfoot” Stambaugh
For years I’ve heard stories about the natural beauty of Kinniconick Creek, as well as a fish story or two about the monster Muskie said to patrol its waters. Among those storytellers is Sam Piatt, my friend and one of the area’s most influential and beloved outdoor writers.
The Kinni, as it’s referred to locally, gathers itself into a stream southwest of Petersville in Lewis County, before curving its way 99 miles across the county to its confluence with the Ohio River in Garrison. In recent years, there has been talk and progress – in the form of federal grant funds– to increase public access to and awareness of this pristine waterway, which is surrounded by fertile rolling farmland and dense forests.
The best time to paddle and to fish the Kinniconick I’ve heard Sam say, more than once, is in the spring “when the bluebells bloom.” So after spotting the native delicate blue and purple blooms along the banks of Tygart’s Creek, I emailed Sam and asked him to direct me to the best place to paddle on the Kinniconick Creek.
I finally wanted to see for myself how it compared to the to the other eastern Kentucky waterways I’ve been paddling for years, and if it met my standards I planned to include it in my paddling guide. I also did some Facebook prowling and found Nate Stone, a fellow paddler and a member of a newly steering committee in Lewis County dedicated to making the creek more paddle friendly.
Both Stone and Piatt offered lots of tips to access, paddle and how to fish the incredibly winding and often quite shallow creek. They both warned the creek could be fickle for paddling in that sections often run dry between rains. So when after a week of steady rain a sunny day arrived my husband and I quickly loaded up the canoe and both our golden retrievers to make our pilgrimage to the Kinni.
Following Sam’s directions, we drive out to the AA Highway to begin scouting the creek. Our first glimpse of it came at near the intersection of Ky. 9 and County Road 1306, where the creek flows under the AA.
It was clear and gurgling as it swiftly flowed over its gravel bed. That was a good sign. There is no active USGS gauge along the creek, so it is always a look and see proposition, if the water is high and muddy, paddling can be a no-go.
At Vanceburg we turned onto Ky. 59 south at Vanceburg, and after 10 miles arrived at a small Lewis County Park, located at 6241 Fairlane Drive. In addition to a shelter with picnic tables the park offers a fantastic place to put in on the creek. There is a small path about .10 miles long from the parking area that leads to where Leatherwood Creek empties into the Kinni.
After checking out the put in, we continued along Ky. 59 to find a place to take out.We found the perfect location at the intersection of Lower Kinney Road (Co. Road 1104) and Ky. 59. Here there is a large gravel lot next to the Globe Funeral Chapel and just steps away the creek crosses under Ky. 59. After ditching a car at our take out, we returned to the put in.
Over the next three hours we paddled 7.5-miles of the creek and learned what the fuss is all about. This stretch of the Kinni was delightfully remote and quite. Deep pools shaded by large Hemlocks were separated by series of shallow shoals and ripples.
The Kinni is indeed an extremely winding creek, in several places it almost turns back onto itself. Despite the presence of homes and farms along the creek, we never saw another human or heard a piece of farm machinery or automotive traffic until we approached our takeout at the highway. Also noticeably absent along the creek was trash – quite impressive for a waterway that regularly floods.
That said we did experience numerous downed trees that completely blocked the creek. The water was swift on the day we visited, making these “strainers” quite dangerous. All could be portaged safely although with two dogs this was somewhat more challenging than it would be otherwise. There were also indeed excellent places for fishing, we did spot Bass and Muskie below us in the water several times, but again with two dogs in the boat it wasn’t realistic for us to put a line in the water that day.
For lunch, we pulled on to a shady gravel bank that sloped into a deep pool. In warm weather this would be an excellent swimming hole for both humans and dogs – as evidenced by a large rope swing on the opposite side of the creek but on the day we visited, the water was still quite chilly, so we stayed on shore and tossed sticks to our very happy canines.
We too were satisfied with the way the day turned out. On our next visit, however, we’ll leave the dogs at home…