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Tohickon Creek is a 29.5-mile-long (47.5 km) tributary of the Delaware River. Located entirely in Bucks County, in southeastern Pennsylvania, it rises in Springfield Township and has its confluence with the Delaware at Point Pleasant. It is dammed to form Lake Nockamixon.
Prior to European settlement, the area through which the creek runs was inhabited by the Lenape tribe. The area was called Tachan Hoking (pronounced Toc-ahn Hok Ing) or “Piece of Wood Area Place.” It could also mean Achtuhhu Ing (pronounced "Awk-too-who Ing") or "Deers Place." Early white settlers in the area noted the fast, constant current of the creek, and by the late eighteenth century a number of water-powered mills had sprung up along the lower portion of the Tohickon valley. Notable among these was the grist mill of Ralph Stover, in Plumstead Township. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, long after the mill had been shut down, the Stover heirs gave the area around the mill to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. After the Federal Works Progress Administration converted the area for recreational use, a Ralph Stover State Park was opened to the public in 1935.
The creation of Ralph Stover State Park was the beginning of the Tohickon Creek's shift from an industrial area to a recreational area. The next move in this direction came in 1958, when the United States Army Corps of Engineers dammed the creek just south of Quakertown, forming Tohickon Lake, another state park. It was later renamed Lake Nockamixon, another Lenape name meaning "place of soft soil."
More and more land along the creek was eventually turned into parkland. The next addition to the park was the High Rocks unit of Ralph Stover State Park, donated to the Commonwealth by the late James Michener, a famous local author. It features vertical rock cliffs above the creek. Today another park, Tohickon Valley County Park, borders High Rocks on three sides and their trail systems interlace. Together they protect the steep valley that Tohickon Creek cuts through the hills south of the old grist mill.
Tohickon Creek is the longest waterway located entirely in Bucks County. Its tortuous course begins in the far north of the county, then generally winds east to the Delaware River. For the purpose of this article, its course can be divided into three main segments: the western half, Lake Nockamixon, and the eastern half.
- Western course
Tohickon Creek begins its journey to the Delaware as a small, nondescript stream in Springfield Township. From its source, it heads generally south, straight into Richland Township then Quakertown, the largest settlement along its entire course. It then takes a sharp turn east and for a while forms the boundary between Haycock and East Rockhill Townships. It takes one more turn south before heading into Lake Nockamixon.
Along this part of its route, the creek starts off small. Unlike the rest of its course, the ground is relatively flat and rock-free, giving it a slow current and somewhat muddy appearance. Because of the flatness of the area, Tohickon Creek's watershed along its western section is significantly larger than downstream. By the time the creek flows into Lake Nockamixon, it has already met about half of its tributaries.
- Lake Nockamixon
Almost exactly halfway through its route, the creek forms and runs through Lake Nockamixon. This is the only section of the course of significant distance where it flows northeast. It is about 5 miles (8 km) from where the stream becomes the lake and the dam where it becomes Tohickon Creek again. Along this distance it forms the boundary between Haycock and Bedminster Townships.
As the stream widens into the vast Lake Nockamixon, the current becomes almost undetectable. However, the deep water is by no means stagnant, and tends to stay clean and blue. For the first time along its course, the creek also supports a wide variety of fish, including walleye, pickerel, carp, and various kinds of bass and catfish.
This entire part of the route is contained in Nockamixon State Park. As far as recreation goes, boating and fishing are allowed in the lake water, and visitors may stay at park managed campgrounds along the southern shore of the lake or a nearby youth hostel.
- Eastern course
Upon leaving Lake Nockamixon, Tohickon Creek becomes very different from the slow, tiny creek farther west. After leaving the lake it heads southeast, forming the boundary between Bedminster and Tinicum townships. It then begins heading in a generally eastern direction, though it constantly twists and curves for the rest of its route. Here it becomes the boundary between Tinicum and Plumstead townships, and flows through Ralph Stover State Park. At its very end it flows straight through the middle of the village of Point Pleasant and under the Delaware Division of the Pennsylvania Canal, then finally joins the Delaware River to be carried the rest of the way to the sea.
The ground along this part is very rocky and the creek quickly loses elevation, creating a clear, fast current. It is also along this part of its course that the creek dramatically cuts a valley into the steep hills along its sides. At the area popularly known as High Rocks, vertical walls of stone up to 200 ft (61 m) high rise above the northern edge of the creek. However, as the creek enters Point Pleasant, the ground evens out a bit and the creek becomes relatively more tranquil before entering the river.
Along this lower route of the creek, the rapids of the creek often produce whitewater when high-water conditions exist. At the very end of the creek, the village of Point Pleasant has developed into somewhat of a tourist destination, and visitors can see a number of scenic old bridges that cross the creek before it runs into the Delaware.
Since the 1930s, Tohickon Creek has established itself as one of the best recreational waterways in southeastern Pennsylvania. Along its course, it flows through three state parks: Nockamixon, Ralph Stover, and Delaware Canal. The eastern two thirds of its course are the most heavily used, and it presents many varied opportunities for any visitor.
Lake Nockamixon is the most visited spot along the creek's course. Boating is the most popular activity, and its main marina holds dozens of sail boats, and rents out smaller boats to visitors, too. Fishing is also a popular activity, and a fishing pier has been set up of the shore of the lake. Visitors can also hike or bike ride around the area, hunt in certain areas, and even camp if planning to stay for more than one day. When high-water conditions exist, normally in early March and late November, the dam at Lake Nockamixon releases surges of water for one day every few minutes. This turns Tohickon Creek into a whitewater course, and boaters can manage their ways the entire route from the lake to the Delaware River.
At the High Rocks unit of Ralph Stover State Park, visitors can rock climb up 200-foot (60 m) cliffs or look at the view from atop. A pathway, Ridge Trail, travels along the top of the wide valley from High Rocks and goes south into Tohickon Valley County Park towards Point Pleasant. At its very end, the creek passes beneath Delaware Canal State Park, where prior to the floods of 2004–2005 visitors could walk north all the way to Easton or south all the way to Bristol. The debris caught in the bridge in the adjacent picture is from this same flood that destroyed entire parts of the canal. Reconstruction of the park is currently underway.
- U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed April 1, 2011
- Ralph Stover State Park to Point Pleasant (PA Route 32), Tohickon Creek Pennsylvania, US. American Whitewater (2004-11-09). Retrieved on 2011-06-13.
- Delaware Canal State Park
- Nockamixon State Park
- Ralph Stover State Park
- U.S. Geological Survey: PA stream gaging stations
- Photo gallery