By Phil Brown
The Sable Highlands has much to offer mountain bikers who like to pile on the miles on dirt-and-gravel roads. Hikers will find a few marked trails and endless opportunities for bushwhacking. And for paddlers, there’s Grass Pond.
I paddled Grass Pond and its neighbor, Fishhole Pond, on a sunny day in late May. On neither pond did I encounter people. I did see a red-winged blackbird nesting in a dead tree, a spotted sandpiper bobbing its tail on a rock, a deer drinking from the wooded shore and a school of fish wriggling upstream.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has built a wheelchair-accessible ramp leading to Grass Pond from a parking area on Franklin County Route 26, which goes through the resort community of Loon Lake. There also are a parking area and put-in at Fishhole Pond.
The two ponds offer the best flatwater paddling opportunity on the Sable Highlands conservation-easement lands. There are a few other ponds open to the public, but they are remote.
Grass and Fishhole are separated by an old railroad bed that is now a power-line corridor. A culvert connects the two waterways, but it’s too small to paddle through. People simply carry over the utility corridor.
Near the Grass put-in, beavers have built a dam that extends the width of the pond. I canoed a mile-long circuit of the pond’s northern sector, enjoying views of Loon Lake Mountain (recognizable by its fire tower) to the southwest and Baldface Mountain to the northwest. I kept close to the marshy shores, weaving among grassy hummocks, listening to white-throated sparrows singing “Old Sam Peabody, Peabody Peabody.”
My immersion in nature was only slightly marred by the proximity of Route 26. The road sees little traffic, and most of the time it was out of sight.
Upon returning to the put-in, I pulled my canoe over the beaver dam and paddled toward Fishhole Pond. This stretch of water was like a wide river, with views of Catamount and Lookout Mountain, two peaks on the easement lands.
About 0.7 miles from the beaver dam, I reached the utility corridor and carried my canoe up and over, using well-worn paths. Fishhole Pond also boasts nice scenery—if you aren’t looking in the direction of the power lines. I paddled more than a mile on Fishhole, again making a circuit. At one point I got out near an old bridge abutment and discovered a school of fish hovering in the current near a culvert beneath the utility corridor. I watched as one by one they disappeared into the culvert, which led to a pool on the other side of the corridor. I’m not sure of the species, but one Saranac Lake resident suggested they were suckers.
As I continued canoeing, I saw several waterfowl, including a pair of Canada geese that took flight as I approached the boggy south end of the pond.
In all, I paddled about four miles on the two ponds. Although I’d hesitate to call them wild ponds, they do offer a quick and easy escape into the natural world. And they certainly are wild enough for the birds, beavers and fish that call them home.
DIRECTIONS: From its junction with NY 3, drive down County 26 for 7.2 miles to a parking area on the right.