Friday, September 26, 2008

The Lake Champlain Stretch of the NFCT

Sometimes, being the low guy on the Totem Pole at my job works out for the best. I had to wait until all the guys higher on the pole finished using their vacation time before any time opened for me. The third week in September became available and though it sounded a little late in the season to head to the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT), I would have to make the most of it. I guess my 'Indian Summer Dance' worked, because it enabled me to paddle the great Lake Champlain under the most idyllic conditions I could have hoped for! Beautiful weather, no crowds, and almost no bugs!

This past Monday, I drove through New Hampshire and Vermont as the skies cleared from Sunday night's rain. Upon reaching Grand Isle or South Hero Island, my car, boat and I crossed over to Plattsburgh, NY on the Lake Champlain ferry. Reaching the New York side, I then drove 4 miles to Cumberland Bay State Park where only a handful of the campsites were occupied. My tent was pitched not far from the water and from it I could see Plattsburgh and the Saranac River on the bay's south shore.

After a chilly night under the stars, I awoke and began preparations for my planned journey. At 8:15 I launched my loaded kayak into the bay and paddled the 2 miles over to where the Saranac River enters the lake. As I entered the river, I found myself looking up at a monument to the man himself, Monsieur Samuel de Champlain. This monument was erected in 1912 following the Tercentenary of Champlain's 1609 "discovery" of this large inland sea. He was actually being escorted by Algonkin Indians who already knew about the lake and called it Bitawbagok. The monument consists of a 22 foot high pedestal of Massachusetts Pink Granite. Near the base, on each side, the prow of a birchbark canoe laden with corn and animal pelts emerges. Above this, an Indian wearing a bearskin and equipped with a bow and shield looks out across the lake. At the top of the pedestal stands a 12 foot high bronze statue of Champlain in his full regalia of cape, arquebuse (early musket), sword, and morion. He also is looking out across the lake. The statue was sculpted by Carl Augustus Heber. I imagine this will be a fairly busy spot next year when the Quadricentennial is celebrated. See pictures # 30 & # 31 at the following address

I paddled a short way up the Saranac but it soon became very shallow and rocky. So, after looking up at another monument with an eagle seemingly in flight at the top, I turned around and headed out into the lake to follow the course of the NFCT to Missisquoi Bay, some 29 miles to the north-northeast.

After paddling around the tip of Cumberland Head, I came upon the very well choreographed dance of the three ferry boats that were handling the vehicle traffic across the lake. Two of the ferries were always in motion while a third was being loaded or unloaded. Since the size of my vessel is rather smallish, it was prudent that I time my crossing so as not to disrupt their good rhythm.

Once safely across to the Vermont side, I began paddling along the west shore of South Hero Island, past the Sister Islands. On a ridge to the northwest I counted some 40 to 50 wind turbines. Fortunately for me, they were mostly idle as were the lake's waters. Turning my bow to the east, I passed through The Gut that separates South and North Hero Islands. Now, on the east shore of North Hero, I continued my paddling to the northeast. To the east loomed the high peaks of the Green Mountains and to the southwest were the Adirondacks.

At about mid-afternoon, I arrived at North Hero State Park, which was closed for the season. Having obtained permission in advance, I camped here for the night. Just as the Sudbury River has postings about mercury poisoning in fish, here, Lake Champlain has postings about Eurasion milfoil and zebra mussels. The park is located at the northern tip of N. Hero Island and from my campsite, I could look to the north and see the 4,000 foot long bridge that carries Route 78 across the lake.

In the morning, I broke camp and started paddling the 3.5 miles to that bridge. Unlike the previous day's calm conditions, the wind was beginning to stir out of the south. This would help to get me to my destination, but would hinder my progress on my return. Just before reaching the Route 78 Bridge, there is an equally long railroad bridge with a movable section in the middle to accommodate boats larger than mine. Approaching the channel, I saw that the bridge is manned only between June 15 to September 15. If my craft was a sailboat, I would have been out of luck. The highway bridge, on the otherhand, was recently built to rise high enough to allow uninterrupted passage of sailboats. This is ironic but I guess there must not be sufficient demand for passage or the US Coast Guard would not allow this condition to exist. See an aerial photo of the bridges and Missisquoi Bay at the following address

After the bridges, I proceeded into Missisquoi Bay, then to Donaldson Point and to my destination, Metcalfe Island. This is where the West Branch of the Missisquoi River enters into the bay. This whole area is a very shallow, marshy area. It is part of the 6,600 acre Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge which serves as a critical stop over for migratory birds. I paddled around and through the marshgrass until I reached the point where I could see the heron rookery on Shad Island. This is where I had emerged from the lower Missisquoi in October 2006 and marked my turnaround point.

Soon, I was heading south and after a few hours of paddling stopped for lunch at the tip of N. Hero Island. Here, I decided to stay to the west of N. Hero and pass through the Alburg Passage. I turned to take a last look to the north and noted something glittering in the sun on the railroad bridge. With my binoculars, I observed a long freight train just beginning a slow crossing of the aforementioned railroad bridge. The train was pulled by several Canadian National Railroad locomotives and was well over a mile long. It was passing from the rails of the New England Central Railroad (formerly Central Vermont RR) onto Canadian National tracks and would soon enter Canada.

The trip through Alburg Passage took me past some floatplanes at Northern Lights Airport before reaching the Point of the Tongue where I crossed over towards Cloak Island and the southern tip of Isle la Motte. The scarcity of other boats on the lake and the fact I was paddling a sea kayak allowed me to take a heading on Cumberland Head and begin a long open water passage of about 8 miles pretty much as the crow flies. A light but steady breeze out of the west-southwest kept me from overheating. Several times the calls of loons led my eyes to where they were bobbing on the waves. Twice, large groups of Canada geese flew overhead in chevron formation. Like me they were heading to the south.

After several more hours of paddling, I once again crossed the "Dancing Ferryboats", rounded Cumberland Head and paddled the last bit to the beach at Cumberland Bay State Park. Having covered 36 miles since morning, I was pretty well spent physically and glad to have brought along a self-heating meal of chicken parmesan which provided a quick and easy supper.

By morning, all of the muscles that were sore had recovered and I awoke to balmy temperatures and a wind blowing in from the lake. It made for a beautiful morning to walk around downtown Plattsburgh before saying goodbye to New York state until I someday return to connect the dots between Picketts Corners and Plattsburgh. For that 24 mile section of rocky shallows and four difficult portages, I'll bring a plastic boat and as little gear as possible.

Recent Photos from SUASCO Waters

Here are a couple of photos showing the Pine Street Bridge project on the Assabet River.

A serene early morning in Fairhaven Bay

A deck load of trash from the Concord River

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sudbury River - Rt. 62 to Pantry Brook & Back

Early this morning, with the last full day of summer's sun rising rapidly in a cloudless and blue sky, I paddled my kayak upstream on the Sudbury River to the mouth of Pantry Brook and back. On this trip I had belted kingfishers running ahead of me to herald my progress upriver. There was quite a bit a chattering amongst them as they switched-off with each other sort of like the 'Pony Express'. Today, these belted kingfishers were the most prevalent wildlife followed by blue herons, what sounded like wood ducks, Canada geese, a couple of hawks, and a lone cormorant.
At Heath's Bridge, I collected 8 empty containers which made up most of my trash load for the trip. Later, I would add a mylar "Happy Birthday" balloon.
At Fairhaven Bay, with not another soul in sight, I enjoyed a little breakfast before noting an abandoned rowboat adrift on the Bay's west side. I believe it is the same boat I saw some guys paddling with a board a few weeks ago. In fact the board or very crude paddle is still in the boat.
Shortly thereafter, I was passing under Lee's Bridge and continuing to Pantry Brook. Just downstream of the impoundment wall, I noted that the river's water level is dropping fairly fast. Though there is still a good flow from Pantry Brook over the wall, it is nothing like it was last Sunday, when the flow created a fairly loud waterfall.
On the trip downriver, I encountered a couple of seriously 'decked-out for fishing' kayaks heading upriver near Lee's Bridge. At Fairhaven Bay, I saw a guy fishing from a canoe who had the whole bay to himself and further downriver a group of paddlers in competitive canoes and kayaks were heading upriver at a pretty good clip.
I'm hoping this incredibly fine weather can continue for a few more days as tomorrow I'm heading up to paddle the Northern Forest Canoe Trail's Lake Champlain section. Knocking on my noggin as I write this and planning to do my 'Indian Summer' dance later on.
Trash count for day was 9 empty containers bringing YTD total to 1891.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A True SUASCO Patrol, a Taste of All Three Rivers

This afternoon, I had the priviledge of paddling into a painting. Once I entered into the idyllic scene, the river 's beauty just kept unfolding in front of me. So many shades of green against the blue and white colored sky. There were still some red Cardinal flowers in the shady spots and some of the deciduous trees are beginning to show some color change. The air temperature was perfect with just the hint of a breeze. The river's surface was a smooth glass mirror to the sky and trees. It was really that special out on the SUASCO waters this afternoon! The only surprise was that there were so few other folks out on the water. I encountered only about a half dozen other boats.
The North Bridge area was fairly busy and the Minuteman Statue, surrounded by scaffold, was receiving some maintenance attention. Downstream of Flint's Bridge I saw a cormorant and a little past Great Meadows Landing, I encountered one of those small herons, which I believe is a green heron. Oddly enough, I did not see any blue herons today. Perhaps they were attending a meeting concerning the financial crisis and its possible impact on their nest eggs.
I trash patrolled the bottom mile of the Sudbury River, the Concord River from Egg Rock to a point downstream of Ball's Hill and then the lower Assabet River to a little upstream of Willow Island. Dodge Rock showing about a foot above water's surface.
Most of today's trash was recovered from the Concord at the bend in the river downstream of Saw Mill Brook. The Assabet provided a half dozen pieces and the Sudbury kicked in about four. My total for the day was 27 empty containers (24 recyclable) bringing my YTD total to 1882

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sudbury River - Rt. 62 to Farrar Pond Outlet & Back

Early this morning, in a warm and gentle rain, I trash patrolled the Sudbury River up to the Farrar Pond outlet and back. The river is usually quiet at this time on a Sunday morning and the rain just made it even more so. I did not see another boat until my return trip.
As usual, the most trash recovered was in the area of Heath's Bridge (Sudbury Road). Heading upstream from the bridge, I had 32 empty containers. Lots of bait tubs with covers, plastic bags, beer, soda, and water bottles/cans. Also several wads of fishing line. This spot is the place that just keeps on giving trash week after week. By the way, the sandblasting/painting of the bridge has been completed and Concord has lost its only covered (or perhaps I should say shrouded) bridge.
Arriving at Fairhaven Bay, I noted mist rising from the pine trees on the hillsides. As I entered the bay from the north, I saw what appears to be a closed-circuit camera monitoring the dock/walkway below 'Fort Fairhaven'. This will prevent any onslaughts from the river. War Parties take note.
Passing Lee's Bridge I saw that the final landscaping continues and it is really looking nice.
After Lee's Bridge, I approached the outlet from Farrar Pond. I could hear but not see the outlet. It would take quite a floodstage level to actually paddle into the pond.
On the return trip, I encountered a fellow paddler who was paddling an exotic kevlar kayak made in the Czech Republic. It weighed only 25 lbs or so.
Downstream of Heath's Bridge, I saw the only gas powered boat of the day. A bass boat that was making pretty good speed heading upriver.
At my takeout location I encountered a fellow in a canoe with a trolling motor who was also heading upriver, perhaps for some fishing.
Wildlife observed was mostly the blue herons serving as mile markers, some ducks and an osprey at the north end of Fairhaven Bay.
My trash count for the day was 38 empties bringing my YTD total to 1855.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Assabet River - Egg Rock to Concord Jct. & Back

Last week, I paddled the lower section of the Assabet River and encountered old bottles on sandbars. The river was almost too low to paddle. That was before tropical storm Hannah passed through the area last Saturday night. This afternoon, I paddled the same stretch and found the river's water level had risen about 2 feet. Not only was the level up but the current was really chugging along. Dodge Rock was completely submerged and Willow Island was awash. It was like April again!
Came across a mostly submerged canoe that must have gone adrift following the storm.
Most of the trash recovered today was within site of Egg Rock. Beer cans and plastic bottles, that floated up from the bushes along the shore, were the most numerous.
The only wildlife noticed was a belted kingfisher, two blue herons in the same dead tree, and a few ducks.
I turned around at the commuter rail bridge in West Concord and caught a nice ride downriver.
My trash count for the day was 34 empty containers bringing YTD total to 1817.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sudbury River - Rt. 62 to Weir Hill & Return

Early this morning, a little after sunrise, I launched onto the Sudbury River and headed upstream as the last remnants of tropical storm Hanna were racing off towards Canada's Maritime Provinces. Clearing skies were rapidly moving in from the southwest and winds were almost calm. The river's surface was like glass.
Arriving at Heath's Bridge (Sudbury Road), I found that the higher water level resulting from the deluge of rain, gave me access to a new crop of trash. My deck very quickly became decorated with glass/plastic bottles, bait tubs, fishing line, and coffee cups. I left this spot with 38 empty containers.
About half-way between the bridge and Marth's Point, on river right, I saw two small deer standing in the sun on a Conantum home's lawn. A little further along was one of those small herons that have been showung up recently. I'm fairly sure they are green herons because of the chestnut color of their necks
At Fairhaven Bay, I had a little breakfast on the water and enjoyed having the whole bay to myself.
Leaving the bay and continuing upriver, I encountered two of the small green herons flying in circles overhead and emitting their single note call. In flight they look fairly graceful until they slow down. At that point they look all wobbly until they regain speed. These herons were seen both downstream and upstream of Lee's Bridge.
As I approached the mouth of Pantry Brook, I saw an unusual site. Two herons standing fairly close to each other. At first I though they were both great blue herons, but soon saw that one was a great egret. White as the driven snow, with a yellow bill and black legs. Perhaps the egret came along with the tropical storm? No sooner had I put the binoculars away then an osprey flew by from the direction of Weir Hill.
After turning around at Weir Hill, I headed downstream and entered Pantry Brook to check out the rather loud sound from water pouring over the dam. Perched in the dead tree to the right of the sheet-piling constructed dam, was an osprey and he allowed me to take several photos of him with my waterproof drugstore camera. Hopefully the pictures will reflect his magesty and not have him appear as small as a sparrow. A belted kingfisher buzzed him, but he didn't look too concerned.
While I was stopped at Pantry Brook, a band of clouds moved across the sky and the wind shifted to the northwest. The air moving in on the breeze was nice and fresh. A welcome change from yesterday's very heavy air.
Heading downriver, I encountered a musquash, swallows, some kind of sandpipers, blue-winged teals, a smallish hawk that may have been a marsh hawk (white band above tail), a larger hawk (not a red-tailed), and a turkey vulture. A veritable smorgasborg of wildlife!
At my takeout location, once again under sunny skies, my trash count for the day was 40 empty containers bringing my YTD total to 1783.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Assabet River - Egg Rock to Concord Jct. & Back

This afternoon's weather was just too nice not to get out on the water. So, I did just that and trash patrolled the lower Assabet River from Egg Rock to Concord Junction and back. The Assabet's water level has dropped to the point where getting upriver is a challenge in places. The top of Dodge Rock is almost shoulder height (of seated paddler) compared to being submerged in late June. In many places the river is only 6" to 12 " deep. Several sandbars have surfaced and some are littered with old glass bottles, which means bottle picking season has begun. I rummaged through one glass bottle heap and found a small 2 oz bottle of FOSS Liquid Fruit Flavor, "Standard Quality & Full Strength" that dates to the 1890s. Also found a 8-sided bottle of Heinz.
After getting upstream of the commuter rail bridge, I swung my bow around and headed downriver, enjoying the easy glide. Encountered a doe and fawn about a 1/4 mile upstream of Willow Island at about 5:30 pm. Also saw the usual characters: great blue herons, Canada geese, Muscovite ducks, and blue-winged teals. It was one of those afternoons where I just didn't want to get off the river.
My trash count for the day was 10 glass bottles, 4 aluminum cans, 4 plastic bottles, 2 Dunkin Dounuts drink containers, and 1 cigarette package. YTD Total = 1743

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Assabet River - Powdermill to Damondale & Back

This afternoon, I decided to explore a section of the Assabet that I haven't paddled before. Oddly enough, it is the section of the river closest to where I live. I have been thinking about giving this section a try ever since I saw the Acton Canoe Launch come into existence about a year ago or so. I tip my hat to whoever the folks were who created this launch site. It is a first rate launch and parking site. Immediately prior to my launching, I witnessed a family carry in a 'Have-a-Heart' type animal trap and release a small woodchuck back into the wild.
Shortly thereafter, my kayak and I slid into the Assabet's steady and shallow current just below the Route 62 bridge downstream of the Powdermill Dam. Heading downstream requires some maneuvering to avoid fallen trees and rocks while at the same time staying in deep enough water to remain afloat. After about a half mile, there are less obstacles and the river straightens out some. In the last half mile to Damondale, the river deepens and you can see where the old mill pond was before the river takes a hard turn to the right, passing through the breached Damondale Dam. Several blue herons were encountered.
Rather than going through the narrow passage, I turned around here and began paddling back upriver. I made it almost all the way back by paddling but did have to exit the boat and pull it across a shallow bar between the two Rt. 62 bridges. This bar was just past the steep hillside on the river left heading upstream.
My trash haul was modest. Two Mountain Dew plastic bottles, a glass bottle of Colt 45, and a wad of fishing line. My YTD total stands at 1722.
Hope to return to this stretch again, after the next rain event.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Sudbury River - Rt. 62 to Weir Hill & Return

This morning at sunrise, I trash patrolled the Sudbury River to Weir Hill and back. The early morning's cool air temperatures interacting with the water's warm surface created a local fog condition that rose to about 4 feet above the river's surface. The effect as one paddles through it is surreal. Just before the Route 2 bridge, I recovered my first piece of trash, a plastic CVS bag. Past the bridge, I landed briefly at the base of Clamshell Bank to scoop up an empty Budweiser can. Just before Heath's Bridge (Sudbury Rd), a usual hot spot for trash, I landed once again to pick up 16 more pieces of trash, mostly fishing related stuff. After passing under the bridge, my trash count rose to 21 where it remained for most of the trip.
Wildlife seen was fairly typical, Canada geese, great blue herons, a belted kingfisher, and several ducks.
The only other boats I saw were other kayaks, a canoe with two fishermen, and a dinghy equipped with an electric trolling motor that 3 fishermen had beached in Fairhaven Bay. I paddled just a little ways past Weir Hill, then stopped to enjoy the quiet beauty of the early morning before heading downriver.
On my return trip, heading into a fresh breeze out of the north I stopped downstream of Martha's Point to watch an osprey passing high overhead. Then, about halfway between Heath's Bridge and Clamshell Bank, I came upon a doe and her fawn standing in the sunlight at the water's edge. This fawn did not have the white spots but was still fairly small in size. They were both curious as I approached but soon they decided to fade away into the brown topped grasses.
At my takeout location, my trash count for the day was 24, bringing my YTD total to 1719.