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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Revisiting the Beaver River

Adirondack Explorer Editor Phil Brown paddles the Beaver River. Photo by Susan Bibeau.

Explorer Editor Phil Brown on the Beaver River. Photo by Susan Bibeau.

Our latest story about Shingle Shanty Brook has attracted some attention in the blogosphere and elsewhere. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has determined that the disputed stretch through private land is open to the public under the common law right of navigation.

Click here to read the online version. The print version in our November/October issue will have a few more details.

There’s a chance the dispute will wind up in court. If DEC prevails, it could be a big win for paddlers. Presumably, a ruling in DEC’s favor would affirm that waterways suitable for recreational paddling are subject to the common law.

A quiet part of the Beaver. Photo by Phil Brown.

A quiet part of the Beaver. Photo by Phil Brown.

So what waterways besides Shingle Shanty might be affected by such a ruling? One candidate is the Beaver River. I paddled that river this spring and wrote about the trip for the Explorer. Click here to read the story.

The Beaver passes through a large private estate en route from Lake Lila to Stillwater Reservoir. A major question is whether this stretch has enough water to be considered navigable.

“The river is full of rocks,” one of the landowners told me. “It’s navigable only for a short time during the spring. The rest of the time it’s very treacherous.”

When I did it in May, I carried only twice, once around a collapsed bridge and once around some rapids. I also got hung up on rocks several times and had to step out of my canoe.

While researching the story, I talked to two others who have paddled the Beaver in spring, and they said they had to get out of their boats only once or not at all.

Today I talked with Brian Delaney, the owner of High Peaks Cyclery in Lake Placid, who paddled the river last week with his wife, Karen.

“It was a wilderness experience, absolutely unbelievable,” Delaney said. “We didn’t see anyone.”

The water was higher than usual. Delaney said they carried only once, around a log jam. “We just skirted the shoreline,” he said. “Our feet were still in the water.”

He also said they scraped bottom a few times. Even so, he thinks the river could be paddled in lower water. “You could stay on the water and pull your boat over the rocks, but that’s normal paddling for the Adirondacks,” he said.

In short, the experience of several paddlers suggests that the Beaver is navigable. However, questions remain: How much of the year is it navigable? How often do paddlers have to portage? These would need to be answered if the landowners went to court to contest the right of the public to travel on the Beaver—regardless of the outcome of the Shingle Shanty case.

Phil Brown

Contributor Phil Brown was editor of the Adirondack Explorer from 1999-2018. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important.

2 Responses

  1. BRFVolpe says:

    Will canoeing the Beaver from Lake Lila to Stillwater follow the DEC’s same reasoning? If log drives used to come down this stretch of the Beaver, certainly a canoe could prove it’s “navigable in fact”.

  2. Phil Brown says:

    Based on the experience of paddlers, a good argument can be made that the Beaver is navigable in fact. But it would depend on evidence presented in court, if it came to that. DEC has taken no position on this river.

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