Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Paddling and Covid-19

I have such gratitude for the Adirondack woods and waters during this Covid-19 pandemic. Paddling my solo canoe is the best. When I’m with friends, we easily keep our social distance as we float on the open waters and maneuver up a stream bed. 

Keeping six-feet away from the crowds at canoe access sites this summer is another matter. Often it’s difficult finding a parking spot with enough room to keep clear of others walking around their cars while lifting canoes and kayaks. My friends and I wear our masks, but not all do. Families are relieved that their kids can run around, which they do in the parking lots and beaches that serve as canoe and kayak put-in and take-outs. I stick with water access points that are maintained for use by cartop water craft, rather than launching sites appropriate for motor boats.

“They’ve discovered our once private lake,” an elderly man said to us last week at the packed parking lot reserved for car-top boats to get access to Rich Lake. I’ve been coming here for 25 years and never seen anything like this,” he said, pointing to the 20 cars. My friend shared that all the lakes and ponds we’ve paddled over the last month or so have been busy, at least when we launched. Once on the lake, paddlers disperse onto the open waters allowing a feeling of solitude. I’m talking about lakes and ponds that do not allow motors. I’m sure it would be a different story as I’ve heard power boating has really taken off. 

My paddling buddies and I saw a family of eight loons swimming near us on a recent trip to Follensby Clear Pond, calling to us with their distinctive songs. We kept counting them, amazed at the number of adult and teenage loons gathered together, noting they were not socially distanced. 

I was reminded of the time I swam with the loons on Lows Lake. 

I love floating on the clear pure mountain waters in my solo canoe, seeking comradery and renewal  from the isolation, devastation and havoc caused by the world-wide health crisis.  I feel gratitude for the effort over the years of those who made possible the preservation of this gift of nature. They understood the benefits of immersing in nature for spiritual renewal and health recovery. I’m sure they never imagined that the Adirondack wilderness would serve as an escape for so many seeking respite from dealing for months with the current pandemic.   

On another paddling trip,  my friends and I drove on the Floodwood Road to explore a little-known pond in the St. Regis Canoe area. On the way home I stopped at the outpost of the St. Regis Canoe Outfitters and asked the manager, “How’s business?” The manager replied, “Dave (Cilley, the owner) told me we’re up 50% from last year.” “See these canoes here,” he continued. “Last weekend we rented our complete fleet – from all over, and from the City – they are so happy they can do this.” 

I saw cars parked along the road in front of the outpost shop with license plates from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Vermont, in addition to a few from New York.

“According to your website I see you are still offering guided trips,” I said. “Oh no,” the manager replied. “We have enough to do washing down and disinfecting our rental equipment. See the kiddie pool, we soak all the small stuff there.”  To emphasize their concern for spreading the virus, he said that they all wear masks – the staff and the customers. 

Two days later I stopped by their main shop in Saranac Lake and spoke with Dave. “A large problem is getting merchandise. We can’t get kayaks. They’re impossible to buy,” he said.

This lack of paddling equipment was emphasized by Jason Smith, owner of Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters in Saranac Lake. “This is the first canoe shipment we’ve had this year,” Jason said as he pointed to five Swift canoes on the rack, still in their travel covers. He was attaching carrier fittings on a customer’s car for one of the recently delivered canoes. “Where are you going to paddle?” I asked the customer. “Everywhere,” she replied. “I’ve been waiting for months for my new boat.”  

Hornbeck Boats prides itself in allowing patrons to try out their canoes on their pond in Olmstedville, in the Central Adirondacks. Now, however, only a limited number of slots are available per day, requiring masks and following CDC guidelines. Test paddles at Placid Boatworks in Lake Placid is also only by appointment, as is true at Mountainman in Old Forge. If customers know what they want without trying them out, they can purchase boats that are in stock, although pickings may be slim.

With large paddling events cancelled people are taking to small group on our lakes and ponds. No more are there events where a large number of participants gather together. For example, the Adirondack Watershed Alliance, in cooperation with the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, cancelled the three-day 90-Miler Adirondack Canoe Classic, scheduled for September 2020. They did not want to bring hundreds of participants to the small Adirondack towns of Old Forge, Blue Mountain Lake, and Saranac Lake (and the settlements in-between) with the potential of spreading the virus.

In the summer of 2020, the primary way to keep the virus from spreading from person-to-person is to wear a face covering and to keep a distance of 6 feet, which can be done on Adirondack lakes and ponds.  Even though  the waterways are open, staying close to home is recommended as many campgrounds and public restrooms are not open. Restaurants have limited capacity, with some serving take-out only. Paddling within your comfort range is recommended. If help is required, rescuers may be unnecessarily exposed to the virus.


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Award winning author Lorraine Duvall's newest book contains stories about where she has lived in the Adirondacks for the last 24 years, titled "Where The Styles Brook Waters Flow: The Place I Call Home." She writes of her paddling adventures in the book "In Praise of Quiet Waters: Finding Solitude and Adventure in the Wild Adirondacks." Some experiences from her memoir, "And I Know Too Much to Pretend," led her to research a woman's commune north of Warrensburg, resulting in the 2019 book, "Finding A Woman's Place: The story of a 1970s feminist collective in the Adirondacks." Duvall lives in Keene and is on the board of Protect the Adirondacks.

5 Responses

  1. Melissa Heshmat says:

    In the 80s we took the fam all over the ADK high peaks. 90s was the Presidential Range in NH. Then after THE ICE STORM in late 90s, we bought property here and started to prepare for eventually slowing down for retirement, gradually homesteading our rocky piece of heaven. Now that we’re in our 70s we want to explore the waters, but you say they are crowded with people?? Oh NO!! Rats.

  2. Susan Gaffney says:

    Good article. Well, I will be one of those many visitors in a few weeks, and I very much look forward to canoeing with you and other friends. From my point of view, it’s really going to be necessary for me this year.

  3. drdirt says:

    Can’t believe July is already gone. We’ve paddled mostly close to home, but have a week coming up at an ADK campsite. We’ll be kayaking at several sites and will hope no crowds of people linger at launch sites. Certainly wouldn’t mind a crowd of loons causing a detour, or watching a group of deer munching on the shoreline. Your article makes us want to get back on the water all the more! Thanks.

  4. Mary says:

    I have been coming here for years. There are no secret spots.. someone knows about it. This is not a wilderness …

    Maybe there are some secret spots on private land. But on public land someone has been there!

    Best just to get a good guide book and there are many good ones for canoeing.

    Easier yet for new person, don’t depend on social media for help. You can get some good tips from those people with hornbecks on their roof racks!

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