NEWCOMB, N.Y. - After a big easy sweep across a flat-water pool on the upper Hudson River, Allison Buckley made sure she chose a better channel through the oncoming rapids than the previous canoe that hung up on a submerged rock.
She also checked that her partner in front would paddle steadily on one side for speed while she steered and paddled as needed in the stern. Then her partner got distracted looking for boulders and attempting sideways draw strokes to avoid them.
"Paddle, paddle, paddle!" Buckley shouted. The bow dipped in the first few standing waves, which splashed over it. Buckley repeated her shouts, over the water's rumble, to maintain speed.
"Big rock left!" I shouted back, and again two or three more times in the next 30 yards. We managed to miss them, as well as the big rock on the right that required a turn of about 20 degrees.
Eight small boats exploring stretches of the Hudson opening to canoeists in the central Adirondacks all made it through seven moderate rapids interspersed with long flat-water stretches on a 7.3-mile trip through deep forests of evergreens and hardwoods. In mid-May, the river was between 50 and 55 degrees and tipping would have meant a cold swim and chilly wet ride to the takeout.
Trees crowd the riverbanks, with some tall cedars extending out over the water. We heard beavers splash twice, but turned too late to see them, and saw no other people.
We portaged on herd paths a quarter-mile around Long Rapids and a half-mile around Ord Falls, where guide Dave Olbert said he'd fallen out a few days earlier.
In April, the state bought 9,300 acres of former Finch-Pruyn timberlands from The Nature Conservancy for $6.3 million. That followed the purchase last year of another 18,000 acres of nearby tracts for $12.4 million. The purchases included almost 20 miles of upper Hudson River shoreline. They were the first pieces in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's commitment to acquire 69,000 acres from the conservancy over five years.
The river has been open to the public as a navigable waterway for decades, though it was encased by private land owned by timber companies and covered by hunting club leases and posted against trespassing. The state purchases mean canoeists soon will have reasonable legal portages to their cars, walking through public land to reach parking areas.
The first is planned near the confluence of the Goodnow River, where we took out.
The Department of Environmental Conservation will issue an interim access plan within a few weeks that is expected to enable paddlers to walk 0.8 of a mile from the iron bridge just below the Goodnow River confluence along an old logging road to parking, agency officials said. A gate at the edge of the parcel is now locked, requiring a three- or four-mile carry to a town road until the plan goes through.
A new landing and trail leading to a second parking area are planned near the confluence of the Indian River, about seven miles downstream through more flat water and Class II whitewater. That would be another walk along an old logging road now publicly owned. Parking will be about 0.8 of a mile from the river there, Buckley said.
A novice whitewater paddler, Buckley is also a DEC planner working on the project.
The last option for paddlers on the upper Hudson is to go another 17 miles, through the Class III and sometimes Class IV whitewater, big rapids normally travelled in large, guided rafts, down to the takeout in North River.
Forest ranger Arthur Perryman, who paddled along in a solo boat and tested some rapids before the rest followed, said it's important to go faster or slower than the current to control the canoe.
"Preferably faster," Perryman said. "If you screw up, you don't want to freeze. Because then you're going to get thrashed."
The new state land lies in Newcomb about a dozen miles below where the Hudson first spills out of Lake Henderson into a rocky streambed, about 300 miles before it flows into New York Harbor as a wide, flat waterway carrying barges.
"It has a very wild feel to it," said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, a whitewater veteran who canoed rapids easily with the Nature Conservancy's Mike Carr. "I think anyone can paddle it, but with someone with some experience. Particularly if you were an inexperienced paddler, you'd want to have a guide or experienced paddlers with you."
Ranger Delbert Jeffery, who had travelled the route days earlier, again stopped to scout the rapids before deciding whether to portage around or canoe each one and choose a likely route. Depending on the water level, the whitewater on the 7.3-mile stretch can range from nearly Class III rapids to rocky riverbeds that require walking, he said.
The U.S. Geological Service Gauge on the Hudson at North Creek was under 4 feet that day, and a few canoes occasionally scraped rocks. The public boat launch is on Lake Harris off Route 28N in Newcomb. The planned first takeout is on the logging road that runs into Goodnow Road about six miles south of the hamlet of Newcomb. The DEC plans to post its interim management plan online once it's approved.
The new public land also opens various possibilities for wilderness camping, though there is already an established campsite at the confluence of the Hudson and Cedar rivers.
Department of Environmental Conservation:
USGS Hudson River Gauge at North Creek: