Paddling (And Spelling) An Adirondack River

Carol MacKinnon Fox paddles the Grass River last year. Photo by Phil Brown.

With the arrival of spring, the Adirondack Explorer is shifting its recreational focus from skiing and snowshoeing to paddling and hiking.

The May/June issue, which we are finishing this week, includes my account of a canoe trip on the Grass River that Carol MacKinnon Fox and I did last year.

Or were we on the Grasse River?

Both spellings are in common use. National Geographic’s “Trails Illustrated” map for the region uses the Grass spelling. The Adirondack Park Agency, however, spells it Grasse in the State Land Master Plan.

The U.S. Board on Geographic Names decreed in 1905 that the official spelling is Grass, and so that’s the one we adopted at the Explorer.

 The “decision card” can be viewed on the board’s website. It notes the variant spelling Grasse as well as La Grasse and De Grasse. The last is a reference to Comte de Grasse, a French admiral who aided the Americans during the Revolution. There is a hamlet called Degrasse in the northwestern Adirondacks, near where we took our canoe trip.

The decision card gives the origin of the name Grass as “from the name given by the early French, La Grasse River meaning ‘the fertile river.’”

However you spell its name, the Grass River is a delight to paddle. Carol and I put in on the Middle Branch, paddled about a mile to the Main Branch, went upstream as far as we could before reaching rapids, and then turned around and headed downstream. We took out just above Lampson Falls. Altogether, we paddled about eight and a half miles. You can read about all the details in the next issue.

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About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

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