PADDLING IN TIMES OF COVID-19

THE WATERWAYS ARE OPEN, BUT...

For many of us, outdoor recreation is a priority. While our lives are on “pause”, we still feel the need to get out on the water and enjoy some paddling to soothe our souls, experience nature, breathe in some fresh air, and get some exercise while we are at it.

There are, however, some changes to how we can and should proceed with our paddling endeavors. We have been instructed to stay close to home, to keep some distance between ourselves and others, to avoid group activities, and to paddle conservatively so as to not require outside assistance in the event of a mishap. In compliance, most clubs, organizations, and businesses have canceled planned events, and meetups are not a good idea at this time.

Fortunately, in Upstate New York, we have many waterbodies throughout the region and one does not have to drive too far to get on the water. For some of us wilderness lovers who prefer to paddle on quiet waters, it may mean that we may have to settle for some road noise and/or other signs of civilization. Nature has few boundaries and we can enjoy its offerings most anywhere, even more so from on the water. Once on the water, it is fairly easy to maintain a physical distance from other paddlers and boaters.

Physical distancing is easily achieved if you paddle alone, but the solo paddler should tell someone where they are going and when they expect to be back home. I have been practicing social distancing for decades and have no problems with going alone but others may not be as comfortable with it as I am. It is best for all participants if the planned trip is below the skill level of all involved – we do not want to require outside help from rescue personnel and rangers who are already stressed.

You may want to avoid popular boat launches, especially ones that cater to other user groups like motorboaters and fishermen, and don't expect restrooms to be open – bring along some toilet paper, sanitizer and a zip bag for trash. Paddling is fine, but car shuttles and social events before and after are problem areas. Whitewater paddlers I know are doing shuttles on bike and on foot (it helps if you jog on a regular basis) and paddling rivers that are a step or two below their skill levels. Organizations, such as Outdoor Alliance and American Whitewater, are advising paddlers to “keep it in your zip code.” It is not a good idea to share snacks and drinks during breaks. Only handle your own gear and consider the consequences of helping someone carry their canoe or kayak to and from the water. The act of signing in at registers should be given some thought – again, if you bring along sanitizer and/or disinfectant wipes, the chances of spreading the virus can be minimized. That being said, any group activity other than ones with folks in your own household should be avoided.

SPRING PADDLING CONSIDERATIONS

Take note that the water in spring is still very cold so a capsize could be critical. If your head goes underwater, a gasp reflex will make you swallow water leading to the possibility of drowning. After just a few minutes of immersion, you will lose the functionality of your hands and the ability to help yourself. You can minimize the danger by wearing an approved and properly fastened PFD (Personal Flotation Device, aka a life jacket), dressing in a dry suit or wet suit, and staying close to shore. Practicing self and assisted rescues, as well as being extremely helpful, can be a mind-opening experience.

Remember that in New York State all paddlers must WEAR a PFD during the colder months, specifically from November 1st through May 1st. At other times of the year, a PFD has to be readily accessible – wise paddlers will just wear one at all times of the year.

ADIRONDACK NEWS

Most events that require any sort of gatherings have been canceled or postponed. The Hudson River Whitewater Derby, which usually takes place on the first weekend of May, has been postponed and a fall date is being considered. Rafting companies have delayed the start of the season to at least early May. Demo days are likely to be postponed.

Lows Lower Dam is being rehabbed this year so, if you are heading for the Bog River and Lows Lake, look for news and updates on access issues on the NYSDEC website (https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7865.html) - an alternate access is on Horseshoe Lake's outlet but there is little parking available. The Lower Dam area is also one of the most crowded access sites in the Adirondacks so it is best to go elsewhere until the coronavirus scare is over with.

Access to the Boreas Ponds has been made easier. Once Gulf Brook Road is opened after mud season – this may not be until June – one will be able to drive 6 miles on the dirt road to a parking area within 1 mile of the ponds, then paddlers will have to carry or wheel their boats to the ponds. Campers will be required to use a bear canister to store food – this regulation may not be enforced until next year though – check the new rules for the High Peaks Wilderness Area at https://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/9164.html. A new accessible lean-to has been erected at the old lodge site.

However, like the Lows Lower Dam area, the Boreas Ponds have seen much visitation in recent times and both would qualify as places to avoid until things get back to normal.

This year, I would expect the ice to be out on most Adirondack lakes and ponds by mid-April. Be aware that the weather can also be all over the place in spring – I will never forget the snow falling down on me on May 13th while I was camping out on Lake Lila!

Hopefully, things will be back to normal by summer. Until then, let's be cautious and unselfish and enjoy the outdoors close to home.

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