Posts Tagged ‘Paddling’

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

An Onion River Lesson: DEC Needs Our Help

Onion River by Phil BrownPeople who oppose the state’s acquisition of land in the Adirondacks often complain that the state can’t manage the forest it already owns. So, the thinking goes, why buy more?

That argument always struck me as risible. Forests can manage quite well without our help. They did so for eons before homo sapiens existed.

I assume, then, the critics mean that the state has done a less-than-superb job creating and maintaining recreational facilities on the public Forest Preserve—trails, parking lots, signs, and the like. In this, they have a point. It was driven home to me last weekend when I paddled the little-known Onion River.
» Continue Reading.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Adirondack Groups Win Round Over Canoe Route

Two Adirondack conservation groups, the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) and Protect the Adirondacks! (PROTECT), have won an important round in a lawsuit to force the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) to classify a state-owned wilderness canoe route in the heart of the Adirondacks. According to the local conservationists their lawsuit challenges the failure of the state to classify the waters of Lows Lake and other water bodies at all and is not challenging a particular classification determination.

State Supreme Court Justice Michael C. Lynch denied the state’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit against APA and the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). According to a press release issued Friday, “the groups brought the lawsuit because of APA’s failure to classify the waters of Lows Lake and nearby water bodies. The groups assert that state law requires the state to classify state-owned water bodies that are part of the Forest Preserve.” » Continue Reading.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Adirondack River Access: Who’s Elitist?

This weekend I paddled the West Branch of the St. Regis for the first time. Until a few years ago, nearly all of the West Branch inside the Adirondack Park was closed to the public.

As a result of a conservation-easement deal with Lyme Timber, fishermen and paddlers now have access to about eight miles of the West Branch northeast of Carry Falls Reservoir.

However, the public is allowed in only from May 1 through September 30, so Thursday is the last day you’ll be able to enjoy the river this year. But don’t fret too much: the river will still be there next spring.

Given the looming deadline, I was motivated to paddle the river this past Saturday. Much of the eight miles contains rapids, but there is a 3.5-mile stretch that will delight flat-water paddlers. Here is a description of the trip.

The opening of the West Branch is just one example of the public benefits of conservation easements. Under easement deals, the landowners agree not to develop their land. In return, the state picks up a portion of the property taxes. Most deals allow public recreation, though the degree of access differs.

In the case of the West Branch, the public has the right to fish and canoe. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has opened four parking areas along the timber company’s Main Haul Road, with carry trails leading to the river. Camping is permitted only at designated campsites.

We all should be grateful that at least part of this beautiful river is now open to the public.

But I do have a complaint.

From the put-in, you paddle upstream through marshland for 1.6 miles. Rounding a bend, you can see the buildings of the Weller Mountain Fish and Game Preserve, a hunting club whose main lodge sits at the confluence of the river and Long Pond Outlet. At this point, you must exit the river and portage 0.3 miles through a spruce forest and put back in upstream of the lodge. You can canoe another mile and a half upriver before reaching rapids.

The river near the hunting club is perfectly navigable flat water. It’s just that the members don’t want the public paddling past their piece of paradise, which is leased from the landowner (Woodwise Land Company bought the property from Lyme Timber this summer).

OK, I understand the club desires privacy, but my portage around flat water struck me as unnecessary. Would the members (if any were there) have had their day ruined by a lone canoeist quietly paddling past their camp? They would have had to endure the sight of me for at most a few minutes.

I sometimes hear people complain that paddlers are “elitists”—because paddlers advocate banning motorboats from some waterways. But paddlers are not elitists. And certainly not in this case. If anybody is elitist, it’s the members of the hunting club who object to the public paddling by their lodge.

Some readers might wonder how the landower can keep the public off this short stretch of the West Branch. If the river is navigable, isn’t it open to the public under the common law? Unlike other rivers I’ve written about, such as the Beaver and Shingle Shanty Brook, the public must cross private land to reach the water. Thus, the landowner has the right to set conditions for access to and use of the river.

But the law doesn’t always square with common sense, not to mention common courtesy. It just seems mean to force the public to portage past the hunting club. And the portage may discourage, if not prevent, the elderly, disabled, and less-than-fit from continuing their trip and enjoying the river upstream from the lodge.

DEC should negotiate a better deal for the public. After all, we do pay taxes on this land. Ideally, this condition would be scotched. At the very least, it ought to be modified to allow the public to paddle past the club during those times of year or days of the week when the club is little used. Requiring people to portage past the club when no one is there is the height of absurdity.

I do respect the club’s wish for privacy, but that needs to be balanced with the public’s recreational claim on this stretch of river. Let canoeists paddle past the lodge, but forbid them to fish, picnic, or otherwise linger in the vicinity. And instruct paddlers to keep quiet while traveling by. This strikes me as the basis of a reasonable compromise.

George Fowler, Weller Mountain’s secretary/treasurer, told me that he will raise the public-access issue at a meeting of the club. I hope some good comes out of it.

In the end, though, if the only way we can enjoy the West Branch is by putting up with the portage, so be it. Those who can do it will be amply rewarded.

Photo by Phil Brown: West Branch of the St. Regis River.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

N.J. Woman First to Solo Paddle 740-mile Water Trail

A 50-year-old New Jersey woman on Monday became the first female to complete a solo end-to-end paddle of the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) from New York to Maine.

Cathy Mumford of Colts Neck, N.J., set off from Old Forge, N.Y. on June 19, paddling, wheeling and dragging her nine and a half-foot-long Perception Sparky kayak to the northern terminus of the trail at Riverside Park on the St. John River in Fort Kent, Maine. The NFCT opened to the public in 2006 and Mumford is only the third solo kayaker to complete a through paddle of the recreational waterway.

Mumford’s adventure included paddling across the eastern half of Lake Champlain on her 50th birthday, taking a wrong turn on the Missisquoi River in Vermont, and having to repair her broken kayak wheels. Family members and friends paddled beside Mumford on two sections of the trail, and followed her progress in real time on her SPOT Satellite Personal Tracker Web page.

The graphic designer and mother of two started kayaking a few years ago while living in Tennessee. She went on weekend trips with groups, then began taking overnight trips alone. Last year she moved back to her New Jersey hometown and set the goal to be the first woman to solo paddle the NFCT.

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail follows historic American Indian paddling routes on the major watersheds of northern New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and a portion of southern Quebec, Canada. It is the longest inland water trail in the northeast.

Nearly 30 people have finished an end-to-end paddle of the trail in a canoe or kayak. The majority of trail users spend a day or weekend exploring one of the 13 sections of the waterway. Learn more about the Northern Forest Canoe Trail online at www.northernforestcanoetrail.org or call 802-496-2285.

About the Northern Forest Canoe Trail: The Northern Forest Canoe Trail is a 740-mile inland paddling trail tracing historic travel routes across New York, Vermont, Quebec, New Hampshire, and Maine. NFCT, Inc. is internationally regarded as the preeminent water trail organization in North America, and connects people to the Trail’s natural environment, human heritage, and contemporary communities by stewarding, promoting, and providing access to canoe and kayak experiences along this route.

Photo: Cathy Mumford, First Woman to Solo NFCT, photo by Scott Mumford.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

12 Tips for Adirondack Boating Safety

In light of recent tragic boating accidents on Lake George, the Lake George Association has compiled a list of 12 key tips for boating safety. In recent years, local lakes like Lake George have seen a dramatic increase in the use of small craft – canoes, kayaks, small sailboats and personal watercraft. When boating on any large body of water with multi-use traffic, boaters are advised to follow these tips to protect their safety, and the safety of others. Marinas and boating equipment stores are encouraged to post and photocopy these tips for their patrons.

The top four causes of boating accidents in New York State are: submerged objects, wakes, weather, and operator inattention. Follow these tips to avoid an accident.

GET A PROPER EDUCATION.
Before operating a motorboat, everyone should take a boating safety course. These 8-hour courses are offered regularly throughout the boating season by the Lake George Power Squadron, the Eastern NY Marine Trades Association, and the Lake George Park Commission and are packed with professional instruction on how to keep everyone safe while boating.

KNOW THE LOCATION OF SUBMERGED OBJECTS.

Watch for and understand navigational markers. Carry a chart or map of the water body you are on.

PAY ATTENTION TO WAKES.
Know how to navigate them, and be responsible for those you create.

BE WEATHER WISE.

Always check the weather first. Due to the high mountains surrounding local lakes, boaters cannot always see storms coming. Before setting out, check the radar. Don’t go out in fog, thunderstorms, or anytime when the waves are rolling and the wind is whipping, as visibility is at a minimum during those times.

VISION IS KEY.

Motorboat operators should look over the top of the windshield (not through it). Know what is in front of you, on your sides, and behind you at all times. Keep the bow of the boat low – you should always be able to see clearly ahead. Assign a designated lookout to keep an eye out for other boaters, objects, especially small craft and swimmers.

NO DRUGS OR ALCOHOL.

Never use drugs or alcohol before or during boat operation. Alcohol’s effects are greatly exaggerated by exposure to sun, glare, wind, noise, and vibration. Boating Under the Influence is dangerous and illegal.

BUY A COMFORTABLE LIGHTWEIGHT PFD AND WEAR IT.

Too often PFDs are left behind or not worn because they are uncomfortable, especially by paddlers. Lightweight, comfortable, high-waisted and affordable life jackets are available; designed especially for kayakers, they allow full freedom of movement.

MOTORBOATS: THINK CENTER. PADDLERS: THINK EDGES.

Motorboats can enjoy considerably more elbow-room when they travel in the center of local lakes. Paddlers should cruise close to shore whenever possible.

BRIGHT COLORS FOR PADDLERS.

Place a kayak safety flag (similar to a bike flag) on your vessel. Purchase a hat and PFD with contrasting day-glow colors. Use reflective tape on your paddles.

KEEP A HANDHELD HORN HANDY.

Paddlers and small sailboats can carry an electronic handheld signaling device or a horn with compressed air.

COMMUNICATE.

Always let someone on shore know where you are going and when you’ll be back. Keep an old, discarded cell phone on board your boat that can still be used to call 911.

KNOW AND FOLLOW THE ‘RULES OF THE ROAD.’

Motorized craft must give right of way to non-motorized craft, and boats being passed have the right of way. Know local speed limits. For example, the speed limit on Lake George is 45 mph from 6 am – 9 pm, 25 mph from 9 pm – 6 am, and 5 mph in no wake zones and within 100 feet of docks, moorings, anchored vessels and shore (500 feet for PWCs).


Monday, July 19, 2010

Commentary: Finch Deal Would Help Newcomb

A few days ago I went paddling with two other guys in Newcomb. We started at Rich Lake and canoed through Belden Lake and Harris Lake to the Hudson River and then down the Hudson for a mile, turning around at the first rapid.

We took out at Cloudsplitter Outfitters, conveniently located at the Route 28N bridge over the Hudson. Click here for a detailed description of the route.

It’s a fun seven-mile excursion, but paddlers will have more to do in Newcomb if and when the state buys a tract of former Finch, Pruyn & Co. lands from the Adirondack Nature Conservancy. The purchase would lead to more tourism for Newcomb. » Continue Reading.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Forever Wild Outside The Adirondack Park

I recently did a paddling trip in the northern Adirondacks that had been on my bucket list for a few years. I launched my canoe in Hatch Brook and traveled downstream to the Salmon River and down the Salmon to Chasm Falls.

It’s a delightful trip, largely wild, with interesting scenery, lots of birdlife, and a great swimming hole. Click here for a detailed description, directions, and more photos.

One unusual thing about this excursion is that it begins inside the Adirondack Park and ends outside of it. Of course, there is no sign on the river–either man-made or natural–to let you know when you leave the Park. The trip reminds us that wildness does not end at the Blue Line.

As a matter of fact, two state commissions on the Adirondacks (in 1971 and 1990) recommended extending the Park’s boundary northward to include the tract that I paddled through. But that didn’t happen. Consequently, when I crossed the Blue Line I simultaneously crossed the boundary between the Debar Mountain Wild Forest (part of the Adirondack Forest Preserve) and the Titusville State Forest (not part of the Forest Preserve).

Most people familiar with Adirondack history know that Article 14 of the state constitution prohibits cutting trees in the Forest Preserve. Logging, however, is allowed on State Forest lands.

Fewer people realize that some of the Forest Preserve lies outside the Park.

Article 14 declares that “the lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.” And an 1885 law defined the Forest Preserve as “all the lands now owned or which may hereafter be acquired by the State of New York, within the counties of Clinton, excepting the towns of Altona and Dannemora, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Herkimer, Lewis, Saratoga, St. Lawrence, Warren, Washington, Greene, Ulster and Sullivan.” (The lands in the last three counties are in the Catskill Forest Preserve.)

Reading Article 14 and the 1885 law together, you might reasonably conclude that nearly all the state lands in eleven northern counties belong to the Adirondack Forest Preserve.

But you’d be wrong, according to Norman Van Valkenburgh, the author of The Forest Preserve of New York State in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains.

Van Valkenburgh tells me that a constitutional amendment in 1931 permitted the state to acquire lands outside the Park in the Forest Preserve counties for reforestation. These lands can be managed for timber and wildlife habitat.

Yet the lands outside the Blue Line that the state owned prior to the amendment are part of the Forest Preserve. The Temporary Study Commission on the Future of the Adirondacks estimated in 1971 that there were 12,867 acres of Adirondack Forest Preserve outside the Park (not including lake and river beds).

Like the Preserve inside the Park, these lands must be kept forever wild and cannot be logged. Van Valkenburgh said this requirement leads to a legal anomaly when a piece of orphan Forest Preserve lies within a State Forest tract. Even if all of the surrounding land is logged, the Forest Preserve parcel must remain untouched.

If the Adirondack Park boundary were expanded, would the State Forest lands automatically become part of the Forest Preserve?

“That’s a good question,” Van Valkenburgh said. “I don’t know, but I think not.”

Van Valkenburgh noted that the State Forest lands were purchased with a specific purpose in mind and so may be exempt from Article 14’s forever-wild mandate.

This interpretation seems to jibe with the view of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. In its 1990 report, the commission recommended not only extending the Blue Line, but also amending the constitution to prohibit “the continued management of existing reforestation areas” added to the Park.

The commission wanted to extend the Blue Line to the north to encompass all of the towns of Bellmont, Brandon, Dickinson, Peru, and Saranac; part of the town of Malone; and Crab Island in Lake Champlain. It argued that doing so would protect extensive forestlands and farmlands on the Park’s border.

Do you think extending the Park’s boundary is a good idea?

Photo of Salmon River by Phil Brown.

Phil Brown is the editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Phil Brown: Paddling to Beat the Heat

Monday was hot, but I barely noticed. I spent most of the day paddling on Hatch Brook and the Salmon River in the northern Adirondacks.

When it’s too hot to climb a mountain, I often get out my canoe and take advantage of outdoor air conditioning: cool breezes blowing over the water. If the breezes falter, I can always jump in the water.

It looks like we’re in for a string of hot days this week. And no doubt we’ll have other scorchers in the weeks ahead. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of links to paddling stories from the Adirondack Explorer to help you beat the heat.

In the latest issue of the Explorer, Brian Mann writes about kayaking to the little-visited Schuyler Island on Lake Champlain.

In the May/April issue, I wrote about canoeing on the Deer River Flow, a scenic piece of flatwater north of Meacham Lake.

In an earlier issue, Publisher Tom Woodman described a trip down the Jessup River and Indian Lake.

Tom also has written about canoeing the West Branch of the Sacandaga, one of the best river trips in the southern Adirondacks.

Last year, Dick Beamish, the magazine’s founder, paddled up Lower Saranac Lake and down the Saranac River, nearly circumnavigating Dewey Mountain in the process.

If you’re into whitewater, check out Mal Provost’s suggestions for novice and intermediate river runs.

And if you’re still looking for other ideas, check out my Adirondack recreation blog, where I describe fourteen paddling trips–with more to come. Scroll down to find a list of all the trips in the right-hand column.

Just to give you a taste, here’s what I wrote about the Grass River Flow.

Phil Brown is editor of the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine.

Photo of grass along the Salmon River by Phil Brown.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Wilderness on the Raquette River:Should Motorboats Be Banned?

Ah, the ideal Adirondack day: sunny, mild, few people, no bugs. These circumstances aligned the other day when I paddled from Axton Landing to Raquette Falls.

The six-mile trip up the Raquette River is one of the more popular flatwater paddles in the Adirondacks. (Click here for a description and photos.) Meandering upriver, you see lovely silver maples overhanging grassy banks, kingfishers darting across the water, common mergansers with their young in train, inlets that lead to hidden marshes. » Continue Reading.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Northern Forest Canoe Trail Event Has 740-Mile Goal

The Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) is celebrating its 10th Anniversary in 2010, and is hosting an international paddling challenge as part of its anniversary festivities.

On Saturday, July 24, kayakers and canoeists paddling on any waterway of the 740-mile trail can contribute to “740 Miles in One Day,” with the goal to paddle the total mileage of the trail between sunrise and 5:00 p.m. on that day. Pre-registration for the free event is open at the event website.

“This event is a great excuse for families or a group of friends to get out on a lake, river or pond along the Trail and be a part of our fun anniversary celebration weekend,” said NFCT Executive Director Kate Williams.

Jen Lamphere running the Saranac by Mike PrescottMiles will be counted per person, not per boat, so you don’t have to be a serious paddler to have a big impact. A canoe with three people making a 5-mile trip will translate to 15 miles toward the goal. Participating paddlers will report their mileage to the designated email address 740@northernforestcanoetrail.org or by calling or texting 802-279-8302. Photos and videos of paddler’s experiences can be uploaded on the event website.

Visit northernforestcanoetrail.org/ to see the 13 mapped sections of the water trail in New York, Vermont, southern Québec, New Hampshire and Maine. Choose a portion of the trail close to home or take a road trip to a far off destination. People paddling from Vermont into Canada or from Canada into Vermont should have a passport to show at border patrol stations.

The “740 Miles in One Day” event is part of NFCT’s 10th Anniversary Paddler’s Rendezvous taking place July 24-25 in Rangeley, Maine. There will be a hosted paddle station set up on Haley Pond in Rangeley from noon to 4:00 p.m. on the 24th to give anniversary celebrants an easy way to contribute to the 740-mile goal.

The total miles paddled will be announced during a Saturday evening anniversary party and dinner at Saddleback Maine resort.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Phil Brown: Paddling Another Posted River

Over the past year, the Adirondack Explorer has published several stories on paddlers’ rights, including an account of a canoe trip on Shingle Shanty Brook through posted lands. As you can see from this earlier post on Adirondack Almanack, not everyone applauds our work.

We hope the stories will spur the state to clarify the legal status of Adirondack rivers. For the July/August issue of the Explorer, I paddled the Beaver River from Lake Lila to Stillwater, another stretch of river that passes through posted land. Click here to read the story.

The Beaver is shallower than Shingle Shanty, with many shoals and rapids. As a result, I had to get out of my canoe on several occasions to carry around obstacles or free the boat from rocks. I imagine the river would be even more boney in midsummer.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not “navigable-in-fact,” a legal phrase that describes waterways open to the public under the common-law right of navigation. The experts I spoke with said courts recognize that paddling sometimes requires portaging or lining a boat and that a river may not be navigable year-round. And the time I spent portaging or lining accounted for just a small fraction of the journey.

I’ll mention two other points in favor of the argument that the Beaver is navigable-in-fact.

First, this stretch of the Beaver connects two popular canoe-camping destinations in the public Forest Preserve. Thus, it is part of a canoe route from Lake Lila to Stillwater. Moreover, you could extend the route on both ends to create a multiday canoe expedition. You could start in Old Forge or Saranac Lake and paddle to Lila, thence to Stillwater, and then continue down the Beaver below Stillwater. If you’re looking at a hundred-mile trip, a few sections of shoals and rapids are not that daunting.

Second, the Beaver was used to float logs in the nineteenth century—which is evidence of the river’s navigability. Coincidentally, a week before my trip I received a letter from George Locker, a New York City attorney who canoed the Beaver a few years ago. In his historical researches, Locker found that William Seward Webb—the ancestor of the current landowners—asserted in 1893 that the Beaver was “a natural highway” for transporting logs.

“If the original Webb told a New York court in 1893 that the Beaver River was his commercial highway beginning at Lake Lila, then it is a settled matter that the Beaver River is navigable-in-fact and accessible to the public, no matter what any subsequent owner (Webb or not) may claim,” Locker wrote us.

Nevertheless, the landowner I spoke with contends the public is not allowed on the river.

Apart from the rapids and shoals, the legal ambiguity is probably enough to deter most paddlers from traveling down the Beaver.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is talking with the owners of Shingle Shanty Brook. Let’s hope this will result in public access. Perhaps the department could talk to the Beaver’s landowners next.

Photo by Susan Bibeau: Phil Brown on the Beaver River shortly before crossing into private property.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Safe Paddling Alternatives on Lake George

Two recent paddling fatalities on Lake George show that the Adirondacks’ most crowded lake may not be the safest place to take a canoe or kayak.

On May 31, Stephen Canaday drowned only a few yards from shore when hie canoe was capsized by the wake of a passing boat. On June 9, Peter Snyder of Troy was run over by another power boat while in his kayak on the lake. His neck was broken, but the cause of death was ruled drowning. Neither men wore life preservers.

Even on low traffic days Lake George is not necessarily a friendly place for paddlers — strong winds often blow through the channel between the mountains, causing tough headwinds and choppy waters.

Still, one can see the appeal. Lake George is truly a highlight of the park, with its clear waters surrounded by high peaks, and its dozens of islands just begging to be camped on. So if you must paddle here, do it wisely.

The first plan to avoid traffic is to avoid the summer. Spring and fall are terrific times to come, especially in October when the foliage is at its peak. I’ve on the lake several times after September, and we always had it to ourselves. Islands in the Narrows that are chockablock with campers in the summer are nearly deserted in the fall.

Another plan is to avoid high traffic areas — and that means any spot south of Bolton Landing. Both deaths this year occurred in this busy zone.

The Narrows, located between Tongue Mountain to the west and Shelving Rock and Black Mountain to the east, is another high-traffic area. But with all the islands there it’s possible to choose a narrow path between land masses that will avoid the main channels.

Other ideas would be to launch in places other than Bolton Landing or further south. Northwest Bay, which is accessible via a parking lot near Tongue Mountain on Route 9N (a few miles north of Bolton Landing), offers a terrific paddle. First you glide through a narrow channel filled with wildlife. Eventually, you exit onto the bay, but because this is a nautical cul-de-sac, it gets very little boat traffic compared to the rest of the lake. You can paddle all the way out to the point of the Tongue peninsula and see very few boats.

The remote, quiet Huletts Landing on the lake’s east shore also provides a nice way to visit some of the lesser-known islands north of the Narrows. It’s also right near Black Mountain, one of the best peaks to hike on the lake (accessible from the road or the water).

Finally, the far north has some nice spots that are a little quieter. If you put a boat in at Roger’s Rock State Park, you can enjoy a view of the lake’s biggest cliff (and maybe even see some rock climbers on its slabby face). Or launch from the Baldwin Road dock in Ticonderoga to explore the rarely-visited northern tip of the lake.

Whatever you do, remember to be aware of your surroundings at all times. Power boaters don’t see canoes and kayaks as easily as paddlers see them. And remember to wear those life preservers.

* * *

Photos by Lori Van Buren of Albany.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Federal Regulators Stall on Providing Access to Ausable Chasm

After winning an important legal battle and a decade of waiting, paddlers expecting to finally be allowed access to one of the most intense whitewater opportunities in the Adirondacks are still waiting. This time for regulators to send a simple letter.

After the lengthy battle that pitted paddlers against the state’s energy monopoly, federal energy regulators, and private landowners, a year ago the Almanack reported that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)issued an order requiring New York State Electric & Gas Corporation (NYSEG) to permit access to the Ausable Chasm across its Rainbow Falls hydroelectric facility. The hydro dam is just upstream of the point where the Ausable River flows into Ausable Chasm, from there expert paddlers (many sections are Class IV, one route is Class V) could make their way the nearly three miles downstream through Ausable Chasm to the bridge at Route 9. Both banks of the river downstream to the take-out at Route 9 are private property, including portions owned by the popular tourist attraction.

The original order was appealed to FERC by NYSEG (and others), but upheld in September of last year. The standing order required NYSEG to develop a whitewater access plan from the Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend through the end of October and required NYSEG to consult with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historical Preservation (OPRHP), American Whitewater, and the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) in the development of the plan.

With the help of its required partners NYSEG developed the plan [pdf] and submitted it to FERC in late November, but memorial Day has come and gone and the 4-foot-wide, 7-foot-high, galvanized steel pedestrian gate that was to provide access to the river has remained closed. NYSEG refuses to open the gate until it receives a letter accepting the plan and formally requiring them to grant public access.

American Whitewater (AW) has asked FERC to approve the whitewater access plan for the Rainbow Falls Project (Project # 2835), but received no response. AW is now asking paddlers send FERC a comment requesting access to the right away.

What Paddlers Are Missing

According to NYSEG’s plan, the gate will be open from sunrise to sunset from the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend through October 31; gate will be locked during the rest of the year.

Those who wanting to scout the river from above will need to use the Ausable Chasm Company’s private trails (their fees apply). Flow information is available via the USGS Ausable River stream gauge.

What follows is a description of the key feature provided by the NYSEG plan, and a response by the Almanack‘s own Don Morris about the safety of the route.

Key Features

All river descriptions and classifications are user-generated estimates based on limited
experiences at limited flows (173-576 cfs). All features have the potential to change.

Horseshoe Falls (III/IV): Visible from the Route 9 bridge, Horseshoe Falls consists of U-shaped,8-foot-high vertical ledge/waterfall followed by large eddies.

Unnamed Rapid (III): Immediately below Horseshoe Falls is a short rapid containing a several waves ending in a pool.

Diagonal Slide (III/IV): A long low angle slide with a diagonal wave stretching across it serves as the lead in to Devil’ s Oven.

Devil’s Oven (IV left line, IVN right line): The left channel, accessible at moderate and high flows, is a twisting series of small drops and waves. The river-right channel is a more challenging vertical drop of 6-8 feet with a steep entrance.

Unnamed Rapid (IV): A series of breaking waves terminating in a cliff wall at the base of the rapid. Paddlers have paddled left to follow the river, or eddied out to the right of the cliff wall and then ferried across the current to continue downstream.

Mike’s Hole (IV): Mike’s Hole consists of a series of waves and holes leading to a narrow constriction containing a final hydraulic. The rock wall on the river right side of the final hydraulic may be undercut. Submerged remnants of an old steel bridge are located in and at the base of the rapid and may pose a hazard to boaters. Portaging or scouting this rapid at river level is extremely difficult or impossible.

Table Rock (II): This rapid is characterized as a small wave train.

Concrete Wall (II): Concrete walls constrict the river and several pieces of an old steel bridge are submerged.

Whirlpool (II): Includes rapids and a large eddy where the river makes a sharp 90-degree righthand bend.

Below Ausable Chasm (I): Between Whirlpool and the Route 9 Bridge, the river is wide and
shallow and provides limited whitewater challenge.

Safety Concerns

Last year, Don Morris responded to concerns that the route was too dangerous. Here is what he wrote:

To me, safety is a relative term and absolute statements about safety are not appropriate. Safety is related to the skill of the paddler, the paddler’s judgment, water levels, and river features. I ran the Chasm at about 600 cfs as part of a feasibility study. It was a Class 4 run at this level and no one had any problems with the run as far as I know. At 600 cfs the river is safe for competent Class 4 boaters. In my opinion, people with only Class 3 skills should not be on this section at this level, though could probably paddle it safely at lower flows. At some point the Chasm becomes too high. I’ve heard people guess that 500-800 cfs is a good range and at least one paddler (who is better than I am) has guessed that 1,000 cfs is all he would ever want to tackle. Many Class 4-5 paddlers have done harder runs than this and have been in remote gorges where it would be even more difficult to get someone out. At 600 cfs, the biggest hazard in the Chasm is man-made: a large I-beam above Mike’s Hole. At higher water I suspect Mike’s Hole would be a bigger hazard. Bottom line–I think this is a safe run for competent paddlers at moderate flows. Strong intermediates could probably do fine at minimal flows and more extreme paddlers could paddle it safely at higher flows, but it’s up to them to decide what they can handle based on their skill and judgment.

Take a look at this video of a paddler running this section in 2006.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lows Lake to The Upper Oswegatchie River

It’s been exactly two years since I paddled the Lows Lake-Oswegatchie River traverse with my friend Dan Higgins. So by now the bug bites have healed.

That is, of course, the danger of doing the Adirondack’s greatest canoe trip in the middle of black fly season. But with a bit of perseverance, some luck as to the weather (lower temperatures and wind keep the flies down), bug dope and a head net, and the trip this time of year can be not only tolerable but even grand. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Northern Forest Canoe Trail Celebrates 10 Years

The 740-mile paddling route known as the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) celebrates its tenth year this summer. Winding its way from Maine through New Hampshire, Quebec, Vermont, and into New York ending at Old Forge, the NFCT was just an idea in the late 1990s when two executives retiring from Mad River Canoe founded the nonprofit to establish the trail.

Kay Henry and Rob Center have spent their retirement bringing to life the long distance paddle route which opened June 3, 2006. The trail is marked with NFCT’s yellow diamond with blue lettering trail markers and includes 56 lakes and ponds, 22 rivers and streams, and 62 carries (totaling 55 miles). Portages, campsites, and access areas are marked on some sections of the trail. The NFCT includes more than 150 public access points, and more than 470 individual campsites on public and private land. » Continue Reading.



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