September 2018 - PADDLING
First-Time Canoeing - Exploring Archer Vly
By Alan Mapes
Introductions can be important. For a child (in this case a grandchild), a successful introduction to paddling can make all the difference. Recently, my son Jeff and I introduced his four-year-old daughter, Nora, to canoeing. I very much wanted the trip to be a success, hoping that she would want to go again. There were a couple of unsure moments, but the trip came off better than I could have hoped.
We chose a small lake that is just a 25-minute ride northwest from Nora’s home in Saratoga Springs, Archer Vly. Located in the town of Greenfield, the vly is on conservation easement lands that are open for public use. It has a parking area and a hand launch for small boats. The lake is about a half-mile long and perhaps a couple of football fields wide.
I love exploring new waters, but the real reason for this trip was not to be short-changed. As her “Papa” I wanted to give Nora a canoe trip so much fun that she would want more. She has done a few very short kayak outings with me, but nothing as ambitious as the trip to Archer Vly.
Packing was important – we tried to think of all the things needed to make the trip a good one if you are four years old: food, including snacks, sandwiches, and some very juicy peaches; plenty of drinking water; hand-net to catch things; fishing gear; comfortable seat for the center of the canoe (ostensibly for Nora, but later used by Papa); and a short, lightweight canoe paddle for Nora.
Arriving at the parking lot, we had a very opportune meeting with a nice lady and her dog, also from Saratoga Springs, and she invited us to stop by her family’s campsite on the vly. There are four designated campsites, and theirs was one of two that can be reached by foot trail. The other two must be reached by boat.
Our grand exploration started with Dad in the back seat, where the all-important steering of the craft takes place. Papa took the front seat and Nora settled into a cushy center seat on the floor in the middle. We brought a sleeping pad/camp chair and added my canoe kneeling pad underneath to make it very comfy – as I found out when I was displaced from my front seat a little way into the trip.
It was my first time in Jeff’s old canoe, which turned out to be made for speed, not for steadiness. This Old Towne Canadienne model was one of my “rescue” projects. It had been owned by a friend, and one winter a sheet of ice slid off a roof, right onto the overturned canoe. Jeff bought the damaged boat for a song. I patched up the holes in the fiberglass hull and installed new cane seats, essentially bringing it back from the dead. With two big guys and an active four year-old – almost five, she will tell you, the boat was a little tender, but we did OK.
Nora had no trouble figuring out the paddling stroke, but she found it much more fun to reverse paddle, to “make waves” she said. We were not trying to make distance, and were glad to have her make all the waves she wanted. A lunch stop was made early on at an empty campsite. Nora welcomed the chance to run around, and was impressed with a visit to the “thunderbox,” hidden among the ferns – this is the new thing in wildland restrooms.
Getting back on the water, a small but assertive someone claimed the front seat, and our boat proved much more stable with Papa sitting low in the middle, providing ballast. Nora was happy making waves from the front seat, where she sat higher and could see better. The trip progressed with sightings of belted kingfisher, great blue heron, dragon flies, damsel flies and huge rafts of whirligig beetles, zig-zagging on the surface. Closed gentians were the predominant wildflower, growing in great numbers along the shoreline. We paid a visit to a beaver lodge on the far end of the lake and rigged up our fishing rods.
No fish paid any attention to our offerings, but fishing can be satisfying activity even without any catching. Giving up on the fish, we came across the campsite of the Saratoga family. We paddled along for a while with their canoe, which was just starting out with two young kids paddling, Dad and the dog in the middle. The family turned out to have a girl about Nora’s age and a brother a few years older. After landing to checkout their campsite, the four of them (dog included) had a rollicking good time running around the woods. Arrangements were made for a playdate sometime in the near future.
Back on the water, we knew the trip was a hit with Nora. She asked that we paddle around the lake again!
If you go, Archer Vly is part of the 6,147-acre Sacandaga Block Conservation Easement Lands, bought by The Nature Conservancy as part of a huge purchase from Finch, Pryun & Co. These lands are now owned by a forest products company and continue to produce forest products, but public access rights were sold to New York State. Lake Desolation Road Tract, the section we visited, borders the Adirondack Park “blue line” and Lake Desolation State Forest. For details on this and other public access lands and paddling spots, go to the NYSDEC website at dec.ny.gov.
Quoting the website, “Full, non-motorized public recreational rights are available on the Lake Desolation Tract. A hand launch, two trails, and four primitive tent sites have been developed on Archer Vly. The hand launch and parking area are located on Plank Road off Lake Desolation Road. Canoes, kayaks, SUPs, and boats with electric motors may use the launch. The trails are open to hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, cross-country skiers and snowshoers.”
Alan Mapes (email@example.com) is a sea kayak instructor and guide, certified by the American Canoe Association and Paddlesports North America. He lives near Delmar and offers kayak instruction through the Capital District Kayakers.