Canoeists explore latest addition to Forest Preserve
By Phil Brown
Clark Lubbs is a nature photographer who moved to the Adirondacks so he could be near wilderness. The twist is that he came here from Colorado.
“If you want to see real wilderness, you have to move east,” he says, contradicting conventional wisdom. Unlike federal lands out west, he adds, the Adirondack Forest Preserve is not open to cattle ranching and mining or crisscrossed by fire roads.
As it happens, we’re talking to Lubbs in preparation for an outing where we’ll get to see the latest addition to the forever-wild Preserve. In April, the state purchased, for $1.4 million, 754 acres that includes seven miles of waterfront on the North and Middle branches of the Moose River.
Most of the waterfront lies along a popular canoe route on the North Branch outside Old Forge, which is why we’re at Mountainman Outdoor Supply Co., talking to Lubbs.
I’m planning to paddle the North Branch with my sister, Cindy, and her daughter, Tonia. Lubbs, who works at Mountainman, recommends that we take a Wenonah canoe and Pungo kayak. Cindy and Tonia will paddle the canoe, leaving me free to take photos from the kayak.
Lubbs drives us to the put-in on North Street, a dirt road on the outskirts of the hamlet. From here we’ll head downstream for more than five miles to return to Mountainman, which is located at the confluence of the North and Middle branches. The leisurely trip usually takes three to four hours.
The new state land will be on our left the whole way. Much of this waterfront is alder swamp unsuitable for development, but there are stretches of forested shoreline that might have been split into housing lots. The seller, in fact, was an entity called Adirondack Homes LLC.
“One of the reasons we were interested in the property was to protect it from subdivision and development,” Stephen Litwhiler, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, told me in a telephone interview.
In addition to protecting river frontage, the state acquisition will give the public access to forest trails for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Litwhiler said DEC hopes to develop a recreational plan for the property in about a year.
Under the deal, negotiated with help from the Adirondack Nature Conservancy, Adirondack Homes will hold onto 223 acres located away from the river corridors.
The North Moose is a wonderful river for observing birdlife. As soon as we put in, we hear music emanating from the alders and from the forest beyond the swamp. I can pick out a few familiar strains – such as the whistle of the white-throated sparrow – but I’m at a loss to identify most of the birds. After the trip, I get in touch with Gary Lee, a retired forest ranger who birds in this area.
“Right at the put-in there are several good birds,” he e-mails me. “Yellow, chestnut-sided and parula warblers, alder flycatcher, gray catbird, common snipe, American bittern.” Several other species can be seen farther downriver, including common merganser, spotted sandpiper, yellow-bellied sapsucker, hairy woodpecker, chimney swift, and black-throated green, black-throated blue and Blackburnian warblers.
Upstream from the put-in, the river winds through boreal habitat where several northern species can be found, such as gray jay, boreal chickadee, black-backed woodpecker, Nashville warbler, and olive-sided and yellow-bellied flycatchers. (If you don’t want to paddle upstream, you can put in on Rondaxe Road to the east for a 12-mile trip back to Old Forge.)
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a birder to delight in birdsong. We drift with the lazy current, taking in the sights and sounds. Cindy and Tonia are novice paddlers and somewhat reluctant models.
“Make sure we look pretty,” Cindy tells me as I snap a picture.
“Even as you crash into the bushes?” I ask, as she plows into an overhanging alder.
Like many Adirondack rivers, the North Branch has innumerable twists and turns, oxbows and cul-de-sacs. When I come around one bend, I find Cindy and Tonia waiting at a fork in the river.
“We don’t know which way to go,” Cindy shouts.
“Follow the current,” I reply.
“I don’t see a current.”
It’s true that the current is sometimes hard to detect. A bit later, we take a wrong turn and do a complete circle.
After an hour of paddling, we get out on a sandy spit to stretch our legs and look around. Not far away is a prominent ridge – I assume Bald Mountain (a popular short climb) and its neighbor, Onondaga Mountain. When we resume our journey, Cindy takes the kayak and I get in the stern of the Wenonah.
Although it’s on the outskirts of Old Forge, the North Branch is a world away from the tourist town’s restaurants, motels and shops. Occasionally, we see reminders of civilization, such as the railroad tracks on the right and posted signs on trees (which, it’s nice to reflect, will soon be replaced by Forest Preserve signs).
About two-thirds of the way to Old Forge, we reach signs warning of rapids ahead. We pull over to a quarter-mile carry trail on the left and follow the muddy path to a wide wooden bridge over the river. On the other side, we spy through the trees one of the fairways of the Thendara Golf Club. Tonia finds four golf balls and several painted trilliums in the woods.
Back in our boats, we soon see more of the golf course on the right, an indication that we are drawing close to town. Sure enough, in a few more minutes, we spot stacks of colorful kayaks – red, blue, yellow and green – in Mountainman’s yard. Just before turning up a channel to the dock, we pass the confluence with the Middle Branch. Thanks to the state acquisition, the Middle’s northern bank as far as we can see will remain forever wild.
It’s easy to understand why this paddle is so popular, especially with families. The river is close to town, and the trip can be done in an afternoon. Nevertheless, you get a taste of wildness on the North Moose. And now most of the route will stay natural and as pretty as a picture – or one of Clark Lubbs’s photographs. That means no cattle.
Two outfitters in Old Forge rent boats and offer shuttle service for trips on the North Branch of the Moose.
Mountainman Outdoor Supply is located on NY 28 near the confluence of the North and Middle Branches of the Moose. 315-369-6672.
Tickner’s Canoe Rentals is located on Riverside Drive on the Middle Branch, a short distance from the confluence. 315-369-6286. www.ticknerscanoe.com
Take-out options: Both outfitters have docks for their customers. Other paddlers should continue downriver under the NY 28 bridge and take out at the next bridge, on Green Bridge Road. To drive to the take-out, turn south on Beech Street just east of the train station in Thendara. After the road bends left, take the first right.
Put-in directions: From NY 28 in Old Forge, just west of the Enchanted Forest, turn north on North Street and drive a few miles to the North Branch. For a longer trip, drive east out of Old Forge on NY 28 to Rondaxe Road. Turn left and go 1.8 miles to the river.