Hackensack River Canoe &
Great Swamp, East Branch Croton River
by Bob Rancan
Saturday, June 25, 2016
WHAT A DISASTER!
For the fourth year in a row we scheduled a June trip in Patterson, NY’s Great Swamp, down the East Branch of the Croton River. The previous three were in early June but I had checked out the median water flow for the gauge at Brewster and it doesn’t change much during the month (85 cubic feet per second (cfs) in the early weeks to 77-82 cfs later). We had more than 20 people sign up for the fourth year in a row and the weather forecast was good…not too hot with some light breezes.
Everything went downhill from there. We got spoiled on the first trip: June 9, 2013 – a flooded swamp with 479 cfs in the river….good levels on June 8, 2014 (96 cfs) and probably over 100 cfs on June 6, 2015. This year, there was 50 cfs, a VERY low level. Add to that problem a conservation success story. In these days of black stories about the disappearance of species, loss of habitat, etc., the return of a historical inhabitant of these wetlands brings a smile to the faces of most people but not necessarily paddlers: beavers are back with a vengeance. We’ve seen evidence in past years but now it seems their engineering projects have taken over the swamp. Maybe it is a reaction to this spring’s lower water levels but there was one dam after another, with seemingly every downed tree serving as an anchor for another structure.
OK, so pull out all the clichés: muck, mire, shoes stuck in the primordial ooze, Bogey and Kate pulling the African Queen and on and on. The best way to sum it up is that we have made our lunch break stop the dry land at the abandoned road bridge just above Rt. 22. We have arrived there between 12:30 and 1 o’clock in past years. It was around 3:30 when I pulled my boat out on Saturday. Luckily, Captain Martin’s aversion to hot steamy weather had led him to turn back near the start so he was available to pick up our drivers and ferry them down to the shuttle cars. Thus ended the trip. So that’s it, a Dismal Swamp experience (apologies to North Carolina/Virginia).
Regardless, there was still a lot to see including Tree swallows, Red-wing blackbirds, several Great Blue Herons, Belted Kingfishers, Turkey Vultures, Eastern bluebirds and maybe, maybe, something that was the size and color of a Brown Thrasher (very fleeting glimpse whilst trying to negotiate another damn beaver dam).
Thanks to everyone for coming and especially to the boat porters and helpers.