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Project: Can I Canoe on the Black River?


With gas prices already obliterating my budget, I've decided to find a summer hobby that will keep me away from the pumps as much as possible.

My husband has had an adorable little yellow Old Town canoe collecting dust (and slowly losing its foam seat to small animals in need of nesting materials) in a barn in our backyard. We have a cottage on the lake in Sackets, and the Black River is a short drive from our house between Watertown and Sackets Harbor. Even with my math disability, this is an easy equation to work out: water everywhere + canoe = cheap family fun! Or is it? That's what I am trying to find out.

A good part of my childhood was spent at my grandmother and grandfather's beautiful children's summer camp in northeastern Oklahoma. Kamp Paddle Trails is a lovely parcel of land situated on the banks of the scenic Illinois River. I spent many days swimming in those waters to escape the 100+ degree summer days. As I got older, my favorite camp pass-time became canoeing.

Even before I was physically large enough to steer a canoe, I must say, I was pretty good at paddling. If canoeing abilities are inherited, I had really great genes. My mom – who had grown up right there on those banks of the Illinois River – was occasionally my canoeing instructor.

When I got old enough, I took to sternmanship (is that a word?). My fellow campers and I were taught the sternman is the “boss” of the canoe. The bowman's job was to be the lookout, and to follow the sternman's instructions, no questions asked. I was a relatively shy and a spectacularly awkward kid, but I was completely confident in a canoe flying toward complicated rapids where I could not only tip us over and get our stuff soaked, I could also get myself and my partner very badly hurt. Maybe it was youth. Maybe it was stupidity. But mostly, I think it was something that felt very natural to me. There were very few times I miscalculated the speed of the water + the distance we had to an object / mine and my canoe-mate's strength + the weight of the canoe. But, we almost never got wet unless we wanted to.

The highlight of my last few summers at KPT (which closed in 1995) were the 3-day canoe trips we took from camp to Tahlequah, OK. We paddled all the live long day, stopped for lunch and swimming (usually floating down lighter river rapids wearing our life vests like diapers – way more fun than it sounds), and gawked at the rural Oklahomans behaving badly as they floated down the river in inflatable rafts with full coolers of beer and ice on their laps. We stopped off, pitched our tarp-and-stake tents, cooked over our campfires and watched satellites lap stars in their race around the night sky.

Good times.

Anyway, here I find myself surrounded by epic bodies of water and I haven't been boating (by the way, I don't consider rowing or jet skiing PROPER boating) since I took an amazing trip down the Black River in 2005, courtesy of Hudson River Rafting.

Guys. I mean, the Black River is AMAZING. The stretch from downtown Watertown to Brownville is unbelievable. You can also watch kayakers in the “play area” right next to Maggie's on the River, a Watertown restaurant. Here is a little information on kayaking the river.

Now, before those of you who are familiar with the Black River flip out and call the coast guard on me, let me just tell you that I am not stupid.

No - really! Click here to visit NNY Life and find out why it's probably not a good idea to take a canoe down the Watertown-area Black River.

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