In 2011 I was searching “Google” and discovered the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, and immediately I was enamored. I spent several days reading about the organization and decided to become a member. Seriously what could be better: a 740 mile waterway strung through the Adirondacks of New York and northern New England with a small portion reaching over our border to the north. It was intriguing and even a bit intimidating: miles of rivers, lakes, streams & ponds, flatwater, whitewater, portages … oh my!
As my interest grew I noticed the NFCT had what they called “Waterway Work Trips” scattered over the trail. There were usually about six every summer and they would use staff, interns and volunteers to work and improve the trail. I was hooked! Sadly over the course of the past several years my schedule and their schedules never seemed to workout. However this year the stars would align under clear skies, and I was able to register and volunteer. From July 6-8, I ventured along with four other volunteers to the 1.25 mile Raquette Falls canoe carry along the Raquette river near Tupper Lake, New York.
July 6th: We would meet our staff and interns at the Axton Landing boat launch at 3 p.m., load our canoes with our camping gear and paddle six miles upstream to Raquette Falls. Here New York State Department of Environmental Conservation interior caretaker Gary Valentine would be waiting to greet us. Our campsite was nestled beneath far reaching pines that towered towards the sky. Once set up Gary met with us to go over some rules and safety precautions. NFCT staff and interns had been on site since the previous Friday. Dinner this evening would be some sort of chicken stew that was absolutely delicious, followed by an attempt at blueberry cobbler in a dutch oven set into the coals of our camp fire. To be honest I think it turned out great.
July 7th: I made the mistake of packing in 100-degree weather in an air conditioned house. I would find myself unprepared for Friday night. During the night the temperature dropped to 41 degrees under clear skies. I would find myself very cold and had a bad nights sleep. I woke about 5 a.m., tossed and turned in my tent for a bit and then headed to Gary’s cabin for coffee. Two other volunteers soon arrived and we chatted for a while before breakfast. I had mentioned my unpreparedness and Gary quickly offered me an additional sleeping bag: problem solved.
After breakfast we would hit the trail to finish up work that had already been started earlier in the week. We would be working on the “Vista” trail. Paddlers usually make two trips over the canoe carry: carrying gear and then returning for their boat. The Vista trail is a narrow muddy trail that parallels the Upper & Lower Raquette Falls. These sets of falls and rapids span just over a mile. Often paddlers will take the Vista trail on their return. We would assist in finishing a stone stair case, wooden steps and several bog bridges. We would brush several spots and define the trail even more. There are many more improvements that will be made over the coming seasons. There will even be a reroute towards the Upper Falls end of the trail. Although it wasn’t as hot and muggy as earlier in the week the mosquitos and deer flies were out in force. We would go through bug spray like Motely Crue used Aqua-Net…
Later that afternoon, after we finished work for the day, it was time to hit the cool waters of the Raquette river before dinner. This evenings meal would be burritos and smores for dessert. Later on, we all would wander to Gary’s cabin and sit on his screen porch. We talked, told stories and listen to Gary’s record collection. By 10 p.m. I was tired and made my way back to my tent and settled in for the night and I slept like a baby.
July 8th: Back to Gary’s for coffee and then breakfast. Afterwards we would be back on the trail doing the final touches on our work. We were back by noon to break camp and have lunch. After lunch I would load my canoe and make the six-mile paddle back to Axton Landing. Once I had my car loaded it was time to make the five-hour journey back home.
This experience was wonderful and exceeded my expectations, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The group of staff, interns and volunteers worked hard and extremely well together making the work flow smoothly. I hope to volunteer next year on another NFCT “Waterway Work Trip”.
View more photos from the trip here.
(This post originally appeared on Joe Geronimo’s personal blog.)