‘Study river’ for 30 years
By Phil Brown
It’s difficult to say which is the better trip. Both offer charming wild scenery in close proximity to civilization.
Back in the mid-1970s, the Adirondack Park Agency proposed adding the Osgood to the state’s Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers System. It recommended classifying the upper Osgood as Wild and the lower Osgood as Scenic. The Jones Pond outlet was to be designated Recreational.
The state legislature, however, never acted on the APA’s recommendations. As a result, the Osgood has remained a “study river” for the past three decades. It shares this distinction with seven other Adirondack rivers. As often happens, politics got in the way of preservation.
Rivers classified as Wild, Scenic or Recreational receive additional safeguards from development. So do study rivers, but that is supposed to be a temporary designation. It seemed ludicrous to me that the Osgood and the other seven should remain study rivers in perpetuity. I decided to complete my exploration of the Osgood partly to bring attention to this untenable situation, partly to get out of the office on a sunny day in early June.
I wanted to see for myself if the Osgood was worth protecting, though I knew the answer would be yes. Long ago, Paul Jamieson, the dean of Adirondack canoeists, remarked in Adirondack Canoe Waters: North Flow: “The Osgood is an all-season charmer among cruising rivers, even if the state legislature has blindly refused for several years to elevate it from a ‘study’ river to an officially classified one.”
Brian and I put in about seven miles upriver from Meacham Lake, near the end of a woods road north of Mountain Pond. From the end of the road, we portaged a short distance through a beautiful stand of old pines, the forest floor green with bunchberry leaves and moss.
The Osgood is quite narrow and shallow here, with overhanging alders. We had been on the water only a few minutes when we had to stop to pull over a large log. As I stepped onto the bank, I spied a deer track in the soft mud. It was the first of many wildlife tracks we would see during our journey.
A few minutes later we had to exit the canoe again, this time to pull over a beaver dam. We saw plenty of other dams, but with one exception, we were able to avoid or paddle over them all. In fact, I was surprised by the scarcity of obstacles we encountered, whether dams or windfalls.
Like many Adirondack streams, the Osgood twists back and forth so often that you find yourself wondering whether you can possibly be going in the right direction. More than once we had to check the current to make sure we hadn’t got turned around or entered a dead-end channel.
All that meandering through the alders and meadows forces you to adapt to the river’s sense of time. You slow down, you listen to the breeze in the grass, you follow the undulations of a kingfisher in flight, you sit still when a big yellow dragonfly alights on your knee.
It’s not all natural charm. After 40 minutes or so, we heard automobiles speeding on Route 30. The river sticks close to the road for nearly a mile. This is the start of a long stretch of the Osgood bordered by private land on both sides. We passed by several small camps and under several footbridges (including one that had fallen apart, its planks dangling from an old cable).
After the river swung away from the road again, we pulled alongside a steep esker—a knifelike ridge deposited by a glacier some 10,000 years ago. It’s now covered by red pines. We scrambled up the slope to have a look at lovely McColloms Pond, hidden away on the other side.
McColloms is one of four ponds just east of the Osgood that you can visit on this trip. The next is Baker Pond, which we reached by paddling up the outlet. It’s a shallow waterbody, surrounded by “forever wild” Forest Preserve. We also tried going up the outlet of Mud Pond, located just north of Baker, but the water was too low. The last pond is tiny Lake Margaret, located less than a mile from the river’s mouth. It’s landlocked, so you’ll have to leave your boat to see this one.
As we approached Meacham Lake, the landscape changed. Although we had been meandering through alder swamps much of the day, we had never been far from higher ground, terra firma for forests of balsam and pine. Now we were in a much larger, more open swampland. The sky seemed bigger. Looking north, we could see the green hills of the Debar Mountain Wild Forest. In a short while, the sharp peak of Debar itself came into view. At 3,300 feet, it is the highest mountain in the neighborhood.
In summer, Meacham Lake is often busy with motorboat traffic. There is a state campground and boat launch on the north shore. On this day, however, we were the only people on this big lake. We turned west and paddled hard against a headwind for a half-mile to the lake’s outlet, the East Branch of the St. Regis River.
We paddled down the outlet more than a half-mile to a parking lot near Route 30 where we had left our shuttle vehicle. What a lovely stream and what a lovely way to end our four-hour journey.
Brian wanted to know what difference it would make if the state added the Osgood to the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers System. I can think of three reasons for doing so:
The first is motorboats. Since they are banned from Wild rivers, the upper Osgood and its boreal wetlands would be protected from noise and pollution. On Scenic rivers, motorboats “will not normally be permitted,” according to regulations. Thus, the state would have strong grounds for prohibiting motorboats and jet skis from going up the Osgood from Meacham Lake.
The second is development. The upper Osgood flows through the “forever wild” Forest Preserve, which can’t be developed, but much of the lower Osgood flows through private land, which can. If it were developed, the Scenic rules would at least keep the immediate river corridor wild.
Finally, classifying the Osgood would give it the respect it deserves.