The Adirondack Park has its share of uninspired names for lakes and ponds. Think of all the Mud Ponds, Grass Ponds, Deer Ponds, and Moose Ponds scattered over our topo maps.
Perhaps no toponym is more prosaic than County Line Flow. Yes, it’s accurate, more or less. County Line Flow lies in Hamilton County less than a mile from the Essex County border [map]. But the name hardly does justice to the charm of this small water body and its marshy inlet.
County Line Flow has only recently been open to the public as part of the state’s deal with the Nature Conservancy to preserve the former Finch, Pruyn timberlands. But it hasn’t received the publicity of other waterways once owned by the paper company, such as the Essex Chain Lakes, Boreas Ponds, Blackwell Stillwater, and Opalescent River.
I discovered the flow by accident this past spring: driving from Long Lake to Newcomb, I spotted a small state sign at the start of the access road and made a mental note to check it out. In mid-June, I returned with my girlfriend, Carol, to paddle the flow and Fishing Brook.
The parking area, built last year, lies just a tenth of a mile off Route 28N. After Carol and I arrived, we noticed a poster listing special regulations:
Do not go ashore on County Line Flow.
Stay within 33 feet of Fishing Brook.
No hunting or trapping.
Unlike Essex Chain Lakes and the other waterways mentioned earlier, County Line Flow is not part of the Forest Preserve. Back in 2007, the Nature Conservancy bought all 161,000 acres owned by Finch, Pruyn, but it sold only sixty-five thousand of those acres to the state. The flow and surrounding land are now owned and logged by Upper Hudson Woodlands ATP. The state, however, holds a conservation easement that sets forth forestry standards and allows some public recreation.
Thus you can paddle the flow but are not allowed to step onto the shore except at the put-in. You are, however, allowed to get out of your boat along Fishing Brook upstream of the flow, enabling anglers to cast for wild brook trout. Electric motors are also permitted on both waterways, though they probably are impractical on the shallow stream. Camping is prohibited.
A short gravel path leads from the parking area to the south shore of County Line Flow. As soon as Carol and I put our canoes on the water, we enjoyed a great view of Kempshall Mountain to the northwest. Turning around, we enjoyed an equally good view of Goodnow Mountain, identifiable by its fire tower. Windfall Mountain lies nearby to the south.
Kempshall, which overlooks Long Lake, also once had a fire tower. The structure was removed in 1977 as required by the State Land Master Plan. Adirondack historian Philip Terrie favored taking down the tower at the time, but he now regrets its absence on the thickly wooded summit. He has climbed Kempshall numerous times, both before and after the tower’s removal.
“With the fire tower, the view was splendid—an angle toward the High Peaks you couldn’t get anywhere else. Without it, nothing,” he told the Explorer in an email.
On this day, Carol and I were more interested in the view of Kempshall than the one from it. The 3,346-foot peak became the trip’s totemic mountain. We could see it throughout our paddle up the flow and much of our time on Fishing Brook.
As we canoed along the south shore, Carol pointed out another pleasing sight: a solitary blue flag, or wild iris, blooming among grasses at the water’s edge. She got excited because her middle name is Iris (it’s also her grandmother’s name). In a half-mile we reached the marshy end of the flow where we found more irises along with yellow water lilies. As we paddled around the shallow water, the croaks of bullfrogs matched the rhythm of our paddling strokes.
We were looking for Fishing Brook and thought we could find it by following one of the marshy channels. As it happened, we had to exit the marsh and try again. We located the mouth of the inlet near a large beaver lodge that Carol described as “a luxury hotel.”
Two kayakers were just then coming downstream. They told us they had gone some distance up the brook, turning around at a place where, if they wished to continue, they would have had to pull over two big beaver dams in quick succession.
Carol and I found Fishing Brook to be the highlight of the trip. The brook was rather wide at first, though it narrowed considerably as we went upstream. The scenery varied from marsh to evergreen corridor to alder swamp. As we came around one bend, we found ourselves gawking again at Kempshall Mountain. We heard lots of bird songs. Two that I recognized were the whistling call of the white-throated sparrow and the conk-la-ree of the flashy red-winged blackbird.
Fishing Brook’s one drawback is its proximity to Route 28N. Although it’s not a busy highway, we heard a number of vehicles during our paddle—a reminder that, however wild the waterway appeared, we were not far from civilization. At 0.8 miles up the brook, we encountered another reminder: a logging-road bridge (which is an alternative put-in).
Soon after passing under the bridge, we came to perhaps the best view of the trip, a watery curve dotted with yellow lilies and bordered by swaying grasses with our old friend Kempshall rising in the distance. And blue flag now seemed to be everywhere we looked.
“It’s making my excitement at seeing a single iris seem rather ridiculous,” Carol remarked.
As we continued, the stream started to get a little more narrow and twisty.
“Are we meandering?” Carol asked.
I maintained that we weren’t meandering, just wending. Thus began a discussion of the distinction between the two words, unencumbered by any lexicographical evidence. Before we finished, the stream narrowed further and made a few sharp turns.
“Now we’re meandering,” I announced.
“Oh, so we’ve crossed the Meander Line?” Carol responded.
She was now in the lead. A few minutes later, she disappeared around another bend.
“Heavy meandering up ahead,” she yelled back.
“I’m glad we’re not piloting a battleship,” I answered.
By this time, we had paddled over several low beaver dams without trouble. At 1.1 miles from County Line Flow, we reached a larger dam and opted to stop for a lunch of River Rat cheese, salami, and apples that we had purchased earlier at the Northern Borne grocery in Long Lake. I was happy to be able to buy River Rat cheese in the Adirondacks. The brand was established by my late father, who lived in the Thousand Islands, and since this was Father’s Day, it seemed like an appropriate way to remember him.
After eating, we continued for just another quarter-mile until reaching the two big dams that the kayakers told us about. Though tempted to push on, we also turned back here.
Upon re-entering County Line Flow, we paddled along the north shore. Toward the far end, we spied a camp through the trees. It’s the property of the Kempshall Mountain Club, which leases land in the vicinity. We next came to a concrete spillway, the structure that impounds the flow. Below the spillway, Fishing Brook resumes its riverine shape as it meanders, or wends, its way to Rich Lake.
After going around a small island, we passed a pair of sea gulls, perhaps on an inland vacation, and then returned to the put-in. With the circuit of the mile-long flow and the round trip on Fishing Brook, we had paddled 4.75 miles. That’s enough distance to make you feel like you’ve been somewhere but not so much that you feel tuckered out. It’s a trip more worthy than its name.
Directions: From the junction of NY28N and NY 30 in Long Lake, drive north and east on NY 28N for 7.9 miles to the County Line Flow access road on the left. The parking area is at the end of the short road. If coming from Newcomb, the turn will be on the right about 5.9 miles west of the Newcomb Town Hall. A map, courtesy Adirondack Atlas, is located here.
Photos from above: A kayaker journeys up Fishing Brook, with Kempshall Mountain looming on the horizon (photo by Lisa Godfrey); Carol MacKinnon Fox relaxes in the marsh at County Line Flow (photo by Phil Brown); Blue Flag (photo by Lisa Godfrey); and County Line Flow map (courtesy NancyBernsteinIllustration.com).
A version of this story originally appeared in the Adirondack Explorer, a nonprofit newsmagazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park. Get a full print or digital subscription here.