Friday, May 27, 2016

NFCT Paddling Festival Coming to Saranac Lake

John ConnellyThe second annual Paddlers Freshet Fest will take place June 10–11 in Saranac Lake. Organized by the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, the festival celebrates the kickoff of the summer paddling season and provides a setting for thru-paddlers—those who have paddled the entire 740-mile trail—to gather.

Already this season, one thru-paddler has completed the trail. John Connelly of Maine finished the long-distance journey on Tuesday. He started on April 16. But he’s not done yet. Connelly is following waterways from Fort Kent, Maine to the Atlantic Ocean, where he will paddle the Maine Island Trail. He hopes to paddle 1,500 miles over 75 days. His trip is dedicated to inspiring other people to get outdoors.

Another thru-paddler, Max Truax, is deep into the route attempting to become the first person to ever complete the trail twice. He also thru-paddled the trail last spring. He actually plans to finish by June 9, so he can drive to Saranac Lake in time for the paddling festival. Several other groups have also left Old Forge in recent days.

One of the core themes of the Freshet Fest — which is named for the spring freshet that runs into the rivers from the mountain snowmelt — is to celebrate long distance paddling. Playing off that theme, the event will start Friday night with a free slideshow presentation at Mount Pisgah about the 2015 thru-paddle by northern Adirondack residents Jim Sausville, Mike Peabody, Nick Gowans, and Chris Burnham. Sausville and Burnham will also be running a Thru-Paddlers Bootcamp clinic Saturday afternoon for aspiring long-distance paddlers.

Saturday morning there will be low-cost paddling clinics at Lake Colby, followed by themed afternoon guided trips on nearby waters of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. The day will conclude with a gathering at the Mount Pisgah ski lodge, where there will be a paddlers’ panel discussion, dinner, and slideshow presentation, “Paddling North American Waters” by Jack Drury and Doug Fitzgerald.

Drury founded the Wilderness Recreation Leadership Program at North Country Community College in Saranac Lake and is past president of the Wilderness Education Association. He currently directs the Adirondack Community-based Trails and Lodging System and is co-owner of Broadwing Adventures with Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald has paddled in many parts of North America from the Rio Grande to the arctic. He lives with his family in the Adirondacks and is retired from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The paddlers panel consists of Yukon 1,000 paddler Paul Repak; NFCT thru-paddler Cathy Mumford (first woman to solo-paddle the trail), section-paddler Russ Ford, executive director Karrie Thomas, and canoeist Will Madison. Madison is the great-great-great grandson of local Adirondack legend Nessmuk.

Founded in 2000 and officially opened in 2006, the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail consists of a series of connected rivers, lakes, and portages that stretch from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. The trail follows traditional travel routes used by Native Americans, early settlers and guides. In New York, the NFCT follows the 90-Miler route from Old Forge to Saranac Lake, before heading down the Saranac River to Lake Champlain.

MaxTruaxThe trail is the longest inland paddling trail in the nation and passes through New York, Vermont, Québec, and New Hampshire on the way to Fort Kent, Maine. NFCT’s mission is to protect and steward the 740-mile water trail and foster community vitality to promote inspiring outdoor experiences in the Northern Forest Region.

Partners in the Paddlers Freshet Fest include Adirondack Lakes & Trails Outfitters, St. Regis Canoe Outfitters, Broadwing Adventures, Placid Boatworks, Raquette River Outfitters, Mike Lynch Photography, The Wild Center, American Canoe Association, and Adirondack Mountain Club.

For a full list of activities and to register visit Pre-registering is required to ensure a spot in the event. Saturday’s activities are fee-based. Early bird rates are available until May 31.

The festival is part of a series of paddling events being held in Saranac Lake during the month of June.

Photos by Mike Lynch. Top, NFCT thru-paddler John Connelly finished the trip on May 24 this year. Bottom, Max Truax is attempting to become the first person to paddle the entire trail twice. 

(Note: Mike Lynch is the New York Community Outreach Coordinator for the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. For NFCT related issues, he can be reached at

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Mike Lynch is a staff writer and photographer for the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly news magazine with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues. Mike’s favorite outdoor activities include paddling, hiking, fishing and backcountry skiing. In 2011, he paddled the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. From 2007 until 2014, Mike worked as an outdoors writer and photographer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake. Mike welcomes story ideas and can be reached at

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