Sunday, August 17, 2014

Flatwater Paddling On The Boreas River

Marty Plante on the Boreas RiverLike the Roman god Janus, the Boreas River has two faces. The lower part, from Lester Dam to its confluence with the Hudson, has some of the most exciting and difficult whitewater in the Adirondacks. During the spring runoff, when water levels are high, it provides a wild ride through Class 3 and 4 rapids while it makes its way to the Hudson.

But that’s not my destination for today. Instead, I’m headed for the Boreas’s other face: Lester Flow, the tranquil quietwater section that flows downstream of Cheney Pond.

Getting to the pond is an adventure in itself – I drive a few hundred yards down a rutted gravel road that is a challenge, but my minivan negotiates the hazards without incident and I arrive at the parking area near the water’s edge. I launch my canoe and paddle across the half-mile pond to its eastern shore, bringing me to a lean-to that is easily seen during stick season, but nearly invisible in mid-summer when it’s enveloped by thick foliage. Immediately to the left is the pond’s outlet, where Cheney’s waters flow into the Boreas River. The outlet begins as a wide channel, but after passing the first of two small beaver dams, it becomes a trickle that’s three feet wide and a few inches deep, forcing me to walk alongside the canoe for the short distance to the river. From this point on, the water is rarely deeper than my waist, so comfort wins out over safety and I remove my life vest.

Ruins of Lester Dam on the Boreas RiverFor two miles downstream of the Cheney Pond outlet, the Boreas is mostly slack water with just a few minor riffles, allowing me to paddle downstream, then return upstream with a minimum of walking. Lester Flow is little used and little known, so I always have the place to myself, even on blue sky summer weekends. Today, I share the river only with ebony jewelwings, the iridescent green damselflies that are ubiquitous to Adirondack waterways. Unlike my hiking trip from the previous day, there are no encounters with mosquitos or other flying nasties.

The tea-colored water is lined with the usual bouquet of pink and red Adirondack wildflowers – Joe Pye weed, cardinal flowers, swamp milkweed, steeplebush – as it meanders through a flood plain dotted with tamaracks and alders. The serpentine course produces numerous sand bars to use for a picnic lunch or a quick swim. Two miles downstream, I come to the eroded wood pilings of Lester Dam, sticking above the surface like a giant row of jagged teeth. The dam is my turnaround point. It’s possible to line a canoe down the short rapids (or paddle through at higher levels for those with some whitewater experience) to access a bit more quietwater below the dam, but the schlep back upstream makes it more trouble than it’s worth.

Access Road to Cheney PondI paddle back up the river, enjoying the great views of the Gothics while thinking about where my next canoe trip will take me.

If you go:  From Northway exit 29, go west on Blue Ridge Rd for 13 miles, crossing the Boreas, and take the gravel road on the left (look for the Lester Dam – Cheney Pond trailhead sign). The Boreas generally has sufficient water even during the dry summer months, but will be more enjoyable in late spring or after some rainfall. Be sure to wear shorts and flip flops so that you can walk your boat up the few riffles on the way back.

Photos, from above: Marty Plante on the Boreas; the ruins of Lester Dam; and the Cheney Pond access road.

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Marty Plante was born and raised in New York City, but now lives in a log cabin in the Adirondacks. He has hiked and paddled on four continents, but feels most at home in the North Country. Marty can be found in the Adirondack woods playing with his skis, hiking boots, snowshoes and disturbingly large collection of canoes.

10 Responses

  1. Michael Ludovici says:

    What canoe were you padding for this article?
    Do you have a photo of it?
    Thanks, Mike

    • Marty Plante says:

      Hi Michael. The canoe I used was a fiberglass Mad River Slipper. It’s a great solo flatwater boat, but Mad River stopped producing them in 1995, although you can probably find a used one online. For photos, go to Google Images and search for Mad River Slipper. In the mid ’80s, it was called the Lady Slipper and was marketed for women, but a name change was made at some point.

  2. dr dirt says:

    thank you for sharing this paddle .., we also have a minivan, which often limits our access to these gems ,., we are looking forward to exploring this face of the Boreas.

    • Marty Plante says:

      I’ve negotiated the access road many times in my minivan and have never had a problem, but take it slow and don’t be in a hurry.

  3. Lily says:

    I adore this paddle and have enjoyed it many times – always had the place to myself. One can also paddle a way upriver after the carry from Cheney Pond.

  4. Dan N says:

    Please remember that, despite any personal objections that may be had on the part of the navigator, is required to wear a life jacket, so long as the following criteria are met:

    Wear Requirements for Personal Flotation Devices

    The following persons must wear a Type I, II, III or V PFD of proper size and serviceable condition:

    Children under the age of twelve unless they are in a fully enclosed cabin. The PFD must be the appropriate size for the child.
    Anyone operating or riding on a personal watercraft (Jet Ski, Wave Runner, or similar craft)
    Anyone being towed behind another vessel such as waterskiers, tubers, para-sailing, etc. You are exempt if you are on a disabled vessel and being towed.
    Anyone riding in a pleasure vessel less than twenty-one feet, including rowboats, canoes, and kayaks, between November first and May first.

    – See more at:

  5. bob kibbey says:

    Hi Marty;
    I’ve fished the Boreas from the Sportsmans club rd.
    to where it meets the Hudson, and from that road up stream
    till there is slower, wider water and caught trout.
    Where you canoe on the Boreas, is there trout?


    • Marty Plante says:

      Hi Bob,

      I’m not a fisherman, so I can’t really give you a good answer. I have sent some small fish in the river, but I don’t know what they are. There are often fisherman on Cheney Lake,though, so I assume that there’s something to catch.

  6. jack says:

    If you explore the side of the dam you can also find old anchor bolts used to hold the logs back.

    It is a great place to paddle.

  7. Carl Bornhorst says:

    There was also a hotel and saw mill at Lester Flow.they were owned by a local fellow named Powal Smith.Another fact is the hamlet/settlement of Boreas River had a office .It was located by the Boreas river at Blue Ridge Rd. This post office is listed still under U.S. post offices. I believe its the 1891 Stoddard map which shows the hotel,saw mill,post office,and the road from Minerva all the way to Boreas pond, with the road paralleling the river. Blue Ridge Rd. was originally named Cartage Rd.

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