A Pair of Ponds to Paddle
by Elizabeth Folwell
How quickly we disremember the monochrome of late winter, all the sullen clouds and gloomy gray ice. In May the world goes blue before it turns green; it is bright skies and sparkling water that pull a paddler into his or her favorite spots.
For me and Rag Doll, my Lost Pond boat made from Kevlar remnants and streaked with battle scars from 18 years of exploring, May means reconnecting with favorite places. I shy away from deep lakes that will be much too cold if I get doused by a wave or if I dump on entry from forgetting the best way to sit down in the canoe from a standing position. It happens—despite good intentions.
It also takes a few strokes to get back into an efficient rhythm with a double-bladed paddle. Mine is carbon fiber, a Werner Kallista, which has cupped, feathered blades and a shaft that accommodates small hands. Because of good design and drip rings water doesn’t dribble into my lap. Another plus: it weighs less than a sandwich. And yes, except on very hot days I always wear a PFD. I like my wasabi-color Lotus Designs, which fits like a corset but is much more comfortable.
South Pond, just a shiny spot through barely leafed-out trees and down a steep bank from Routes 28, 28N and 30 in Long Lake, is a terrific springtime trip. I can slide my canoe down the hillside from the parking area and launch from a sliver of shore bounded by flat rocks. The pond is just 420 acres but it packs in spectacular views of Blue Mountain and a selection of wild islands that range from sunning rocks to miniature woods. There are some cabins and a few docks but the overwhelming sense here is a fine wild place for half a day of poking around. The Salmon River outlet, on the east side, winds through the forest and provides shady pools for testing your fly-casting skills from a low vantage point. Even though I’ve visited South Pond on May weekends and hot July days, I’ve never felt I was sharing the place with more than some turtles and loons.
Another little waterway that’s hard by the highway but deserving paddler props is Lake Durant. What you see from the car speeding along Route 28N/30 belies the cozy nooks, hidden coves, wetlands and pristine shoreline. The 327-acre impoundment of the Rock River just southeast of Blue Mountain Lake connects with Rock Pond (in low water I can limbo under the footbridge that separates Durant from the pond but others may want to carry around the obstacle) and also gathers the water coming from Cascade and Stephens Ponds. In an ultralight boat you can swirl up the Cascade outlet and check the muddy banks for the pawprints of raccoons, otters and mink. I’ve rounded a curve and spooked a doe and fawns, who exploded into the tag alders and startled me nearly out of the canoe with their drama.
Durant has resident loons, an active beaver colony that’s determined to close off a culvert that would normally drain their wetland into the lake, plus monster tiger muskies. One lazy day I was lily dipping, watching hummingbirds head for the pickerelweed plumes, and a norlunge dozing in the weeds swam off, as ominous as an alligator. I swear it was four feet long. (Note: this winter we met ice fishermen on Durant who had caught a 38-inch one, so this is not poetic license but a bona fide nature observation.)
The ice fishermen were near a local landmark, Ring Rock, which sports an iron ring stuck in the rock—the place namers around here were a literal bunch. Lake Durant was once known as the 34 Flow, for Township 34, and that hardware was where a log boom corralled timbers headed downstream to the Hudson River and the mills of Glens Falls. In the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps built the dam that flooded the flow. Lake Durant was named in 1938 in honor of Great Camp creator William West Durant.
There are several places to launch a canoe on Lake Durant: at the end of a dirt road next to the cemetery on Durant Road, from the former state road that takes off from Route 28N/30 across from a parking area and at Lake Durant State Campground, where you’ll have to pay the day-use fee of $8 to launch.