September 2016 - KAYAKING, CANOEING & SUP
Speculator Area Paddling
By Rich Macha
The southern part of the Adirondacks doesn’t seem to get as much publicity as areas further north, but you can still find plenty of wild waterways there to explore by canoe, kayak or paddleboard. The Village of Speculator sits at the northern junction of NY Routes 30 and 8, and offers all the amenities, just in case you have forgotten to bring lunch or need to top off the gas tank.
For many of us outdoorsy types September is our favorite time of year: biting bugs are usually gone, temperatures are comfortable, water is still relatively warm, and there are less motorboats out on the lakes. From the middle of September through early October we also have the colors of fall foliage to enhance the scenic splendor.
Sacandaga Lake Area
Located just west of Speculator, near Lake Pleasant, two-mile-long Sacandaga Lake presents us with a mix of public and private shoreline. Most of the south shore is private; Moffitt Beach Campground, a large NYSDEC camping area with 261 sites, occupies a large part of the northeast shoreline and the western and northern shores consist of undeveloped state land – part of the Jessup River Wild Forest. In season, non-campers pay a day use fee to get to the preferred launch spots at the campground. The lake sees a moderate amount of motorized use in summer but after Labor Day, and especially on weekdays, you will find things are a tad more peaceful.
A paddle around the perimeter of the lake can easily exceed the ten-mile mark, but many paddlers will find the inlets are wilder, and make for more interesting exploration. In mid-August, my buddy Steve and I launched our canoes at a gravel beach between campsites 247 and 248; there is also a boat launch at the campground, but starting there would have added over two windy miles to our trip. We soon passed between a private island and a forested point of land, then continued north into a good headwind.
After paddling about a mile, sandy beaches and piney shores could be seen to the west and east of the mouth of Burnt Place Brook. Entering the brook we paddled through beds of lily pads and pickerelweed – now nearing the end of its season, its purple flowers were starting to die off. However, the golf-ball sized flowers of buttonbush were ever prevalent around us. We had not gone far up the stream when our first-of-the-day beaver dam presented itself, this one was about two feet high. Lifting over or around beaver dams is an art in itself; on this brook we were to get out for five of them and to slide over eight more small ones.
We passed an empty osprey nest atop a dead tree and spooked a few wood ducks along the way; Pillsbury Mountain and its fire tower could often be seen in the distance. Burnt Place Brook meandered for 1.4 miles, getting narrower as we approached Mud Lake. Mud Lake seems to be inappropriately named. Its small size and the proliferation of lily pads on its surface suggest a name more like “Lily Pond.” Much of the pond’s shores are boggy or wet. We did, however, find some solid footing along the pond’s southwest shoreline, where we found a small little-used campsite that was a good spot for a lunch break.
We were able to continue upstream on Burnt Place Brook another 0.4-mile, before it narrowed and got much shallower, so we turned around and headed back downstream. Back at Sacandaga Lake, we took a left and headed east past a primitive campsite with a large sandy beach. We soon found the mouth of Hatchery Brook and, unsurprisingly, a nice two-foot beaver dam to conquer. Continuing upstream, we wound slowly through a wide open vly for another 0.6-mile, before turning around at a second beaver dam. Along the way we saw several great blue herons hunting at the edge of the marshy shores.
Back at Sacandaga Lake, we heard a distant loon call. Early in the morning a couple of loons had flown noisily past our campsite, but overall I would not call the lake a hotbed of loon activity. You can expect families of mallards to waddle through the campground looking for some tasty treats, and black bears have often been seen roaming the area this summer.
The Kunjamuk is a popular stream that is written up in several guidebooks and really does not need any extra publicity. It is most easily accessed at Kunjamuk Bay just a little bit east of “downtown” Speculator, where the Kunjamuk flows into the Sacandaga River. From the bay, the latter can be paddled 1.6 miles upstream to Lake Pleasant, and 1.5 miles downstream to the top of rapids – the scenery is excellent but road noise is to be expected due to the proximity of Route 30.
An upstream paddle on the Kunjamuk heads generally north. You do not travel far before a 2.5-foot beaver dam is encountered. After finding a way past, the road-noise is left behind and you can continue paddling on the river’s curvy path for another 3.5 miles to Elm Lake. Expect at least one more beaver dam – probably more – along the way. There are a few rustic camps on the lake’s east shore. Upstream of Elm Lake the stream gets smaller and beaver dams become more frequent, so most folks turn back at the lake.
The more adventurous paddler can tackle a scenic section of the Kunjamuk further upstream. From the four corners in Speculator, drive the Elm Lake Road for 5.2 miles, which turns to dirt en route, then bear right on the Long Level Road for 0.8 miles to a bridge over the Kunjamuk. From here you can paddle upstream for over three miles to an old fish barrier dam that beavers are now helping to maintain. The river is up to 30 feet wide with some interesting backwaters – expect a dozen beaver dams along this stretch. Above the fish barrier dam there is a shallow 1.3-mile-long flow with many white pines lining the shoreline. On the flow I’ve seen otters, a beaver on top of its lodge, a northern harrier flying overhead, a gaggle of Canada geese, and lots of ducks.
Heading back downstream, mountains rise over a thousand feet above the valley. There are views of the cliffs on Big Pine Mountain and Dug and East mountains rise up to the southwest. I’ve gone a short distance below the Long Level Bridge, but a log-jam and swift shallow water made it difficult to continue downstream.
Wherever you decide to paddle in the Adirondacks, there is no doubt that the scenery will be awesome in late summer and early fall, so make plans to wet a blade or two now!
Rich Macha is owner of Adirondack Paddle ’N’ Pole, a canoe/kayak specialty store in Colonie (onewithwater.com). When Rich is not helping customers or instructing, he is out there in a canoe or kayak testing the gear, and exploring the region’s waters.