Islanders Join Wooden Canoe Enthusiasts in New York

-- By Bill and Jane Hill

Sycamore Islander, September 2002

Setting out on a morning paddle to
the base of St. Regis Mountain.
Beautiful wooden canoes were spread across the lawn this July at Paul Smiths College, near Saranac Lake, in the Adirondack Park, New York. The Wooden Canoe Heritage Association (WCHA) was holding its Annual Assembly, luring canoe builders and restorers, as well as ordinary canoeists, once again to this lovely spot on Lower St. Regis Lake. This year, three Islanders, we and David Winer, attended; unfortunately, Jane Winer, who is usually with us, could not make it.

Canoes rest ashore while we explore on foot.
From the shore of Lower St. Regis Lake, canoeists can paddle through a series of mostly interconnected lakes (with only a few, short portages), nestled in forests of northern hardwoods, tamarack, and spruce. Our main canoe trek this year was across Lower St. Regis to a dam, where we beached our canoes and explored on foot. Walking through a field, we sampled the local wild blackberries. Then we proceeded through a woods to two more of the many lakes dotting this spectacular region of New York State. The flowers along the way caught our interest, forcing us to pore over Peterson’s wildflower guide to slake our taxonomic drive. After eating our bag-lunches at one of the lakes, to the ethereal sounds of singing Winter Wrens, we ambled back towards the canoes, spotting more flowers in need of identification along the way.

Canoe sailing is very popular at the Assembly.
On the return paddle, we made our most unexpected biological find: large, gelatinous masses attached to submerged logs and branches. Enlisting the expertise of a Maine guide (and college professor) in our group, we learned that these were colonial animals called bryozoans—a phylum we had never knowingly observed before.

Another day, very windy, saw the lake dotted with sailing canoes (including Dave’s). The less adventurous among us—perhaps inspired by the elements—opted instead for the Assembly’s course on canoe and water safety. This workshop is one of many that are offered at each Assembly, covering the waterfront (so to speak) from canoeing skills to canoe-restoring and building, to campcraft, quilting, and other crafts.

A lineup of beautiful restorations.
A local attraction in this part of the park is the Adirondack Visitors’ Interpretive Center, with its many trails, only about a mile from the College. Delighting the nature lovers at this year’s Assembly was the center’s new “Boreal Life Trail,” which features a boardwalk through a northern bog. To stroll there is to enter an entirely different world, especially for those of us from more southern regions. We spotted at least five different species of orchids plus carnivorous plants and northern conifers.

On the final night of the Assembly, five of us slipped away from the campfire/singalong to take a gander at the night sky from the vantage point of the lake. The space station was scheduled to make a pass within our view that night, and, from our rounded-up canoes, we awaited the visiting satellite under the bright stars. Sure enough, right on schedule, a tiny point of light came into view and made a low arc across the sky. Meanwhile, against the lights on the lakeshore, some more earth-bound creatures—a duck with her brood of ducklings—slipped slowly and silently past our canoes.

The WCHA Assembly is an experience that bears repeating, year after year.

A favorite pastime is admiring the wooden canoes.

Bill and Jane Hill were wait-listers for about ten years, and recently became members of the Sycamore Island Club. Jane has contributed articles for the Islander about sycamore trees and poison ivy.