Osgood as it gets
By Phil Brown
You’re never far from the madding crowd as you paddle down the Jones Pond outlet to Osgood Pond. It just feels that way.
The outlet is the first leg of an enchanting canoe trip that has a little bit of everything: meandering streams, big ponds, small ponds, even a few old canals. It makes for a curious blend of wildness and civilization. You’ll be tailing a pair of mergansers on an untamed river one moment and passing a presidential retreat the next.
Here’s something else to whet your curiosity: In a 1988 report for the Adirondack Council, ecologist George Davis lists 38 sites in the state-owned Forest Preserve that he regards as “outstanding examples” of natural communities—and you can see two of them on this trip.
I did the 11-mile paddle in late April last year with Brian Mann, a reporter for North Country Public Radio. You can shorten the excursion by six miles or so by skipping the Osgood River, but you’ll be cutting out what I regard as the highlight of the trip. In any case, you’ll need two cars—one at the put-in at Jones Pond north of Gabriels, one at the takeout at Church Pond in Paul Smiths.
We slipped into the water at a small camping area on the northern shore of Jones Pond. Since the opposite shore is bordered by Forest Preserve, the pond looks quite wild from this spot, but as you move out on the water, you’ll notice a few houses on the eastern shore. If you turn around, in fact, you’ll see a bright-yellow house on a hillside that sticks out like a sore thumb. My advice is not to turn around.
In a few minutes, we started down the outlet. It twists and turns on the edge of a deep marsh crisscrossed by channels. This is home to herons, bitterns, ducks, red-winged blackbirds and numerous other birds. In his report, Davis notes that this marsh of cattails and bulrushes “provides the greatest wetland fauna diversity known in the Adirondack Park.”
This part of the outlet stays close to the road, so you may hear a car go by. Presently, you’ll pass under the road and find yourself entering a narrower stream that winds through an evergreen forest. You may have to navigate around a fallen tree, paddle over a few beaver dams and, if the water is low, climb out and haul your canoe after you. It was on this stretch that we saw our first pair of common mergansers. They were swimming maybe 30 yards ahead of us. As we got near, they took flight and disappeared. After we rounded a bend in the river, there they were again, swimming up ahead—and the whole scene unfolded once more.
We reached Osgood Pond in about 45 minutes. The water was slightly choppy on this breezy day. If you’re going to the Osgood River, bear right toward a point with a small building. From a distance, the structure looks like a gazebo, but as you get closer it reveals itself as a Japanese teahouse with glass walls. It belongs to White Pine Camp, where President Calvin Coolidge summered in 1926.
Beyond the point, the lake narrows as it funnels into the Osgood. Just before entering the river, we saw a loon dive and resurface. The river is wide enough at first to afford a view of 3,300-foot Debar Mountain, one of the major peaks of the northern Adirondacks. For about two miles, the shoreline on the left is a spongy mat of moss, sedges, shrubs, black spruce and insect-eating pitcher plants—a boreal ecosystem that Davis says “reminds the canoeist of the Canadian muskeg.” This is the second of the exemplary communities, and it, too, is rich in birdlife.
You can meander about three miles downriver, where passage is blocked by a small, manmade dam of boulders and downed trees. Paul Jamieson, author of Adirondack Canoe Waters: North Flow, reports that hardy souls occasionally continue beyond the dam, bushwhacking through the woods, until reaching the lower Osgood after another three miles. Thence they paddle to Meacham Lake. Bill Frenette of Tupper Lake, who made the trip several years ago, confirms that the Osgood vanishes temporarily in between the two navigable sections. “The river came to a beaver flow and disappeared into a sinkhole, much like a drain in a bathtub,” he tells us. “I had to hunt around to see where the river resumes.”
If you’re like most people, you’ll turn back at the dam. Make sure on the return to bear right at the confluence of Blind Brook. Paddlers have been known to continue straight here and go up the brook. Upon re-entering Osgood Pond and passing the teahouse, head southwest toward a point and a neighboring island. You may notice several camps scattered along the southern shore, but unlike the house overlooking Jones Pond, they blend well into their natural surroundings. After rounding the point, angle slightly left to enter a quiet bay. Then swing right to find the entrance to a narrow canal at the west end of the bay.
Jamieson notes that the canal was dug by hand around 1900 so summer residents of Osgood Pond could paddle or row to St. John’s Church for Sunday services or to Paul Smith’s Hotel for dinner. Passing beneath the canal’s evergreen arches is a charming experience. The canal leads to Little Osgood Pond, which takes only minutes to cross. A shorter canal leads to Church Pond and the takeout.
DIRECTIONS: Church Pond is located just off NY 86 about 0.2 mile east of NY 30 in Paul Smiths. Park off to the side of the dirt road near the dock. From Church Pond, drive less than a mile further east on NY 86 to County 31 (Brighton Town Hall is on the corner). Turn left and go 2.5 miles to the Jones Pond put-in on the right.