Dip a Paddle in the Finger Lakes

by Sue Freeman

Slide the bow of your canoe or kayak over the grass-lined shore and glide onto the cold, still water. Across the lake is a forest showing tinges of green as leaf buds unfurl with the coming of spring. Stroke, stroke, stroke. Your paddle slices into the water as you head for a point, wondering what lies around the bend. Peace and tranquility embrace your shoulders as you follow the shoreline and explore hidden alcoves. Memories of a long, cold winter fade from consciousness.

Yes, you’re paddling in the Finger Lakes Region. But, not on its namesakes – the large lakes rimmed with cottages and motorboats that will soon race from shore to shore. Instead, you’ve selected one of the 35 small lakes and ponds where you can share time with the birds that are returning north and inhale the scent of spring birth. Maybe you’re on Spruce Pond, Birdseye Hollow Pond, Dryden Lake, Hunt’s Pond, Otter Lake or one of many others. What matters is that this pond is yours – all yours.

Water is plentiful in this region and provides recreational opportunities in a myriad of forms. Streams tumble from hilltops to join the Finger Lakes creating waterfalls in their rush to merge with the lake waters. Or the streams meander through wide valley floors that were scoured long ago by glaciers. It’s these meandering streams that offer a playground for canoeists and kayakers. Pick a launch and take-out location and shuttle a car the short distance between the two. Then spend an entire day paddling the tight turns and sweeping curves of the waterway. Progressing downstream, watch for muskrats, beavers and river otters playing in the water. Round a bend and startle a group of deer standing in the waterway. They’ll swiftly bound out of view. Great blue herons are common streamside residents. They fly ahead of your boat, land until you catch up, then fly ahead again, playing a game of paddler’s tag.

Often, near the Finger Lakes, the streams slow to form marshes. These can be cattail marshes like Hemlock and Honeoye Inlets and West River Marsh at the south end of Canandaigua Lake where songbirds are plentiful. Or they can be areas that look like a flooded forest such as Conesus Inlet where the herons have a rookery.

Paddlers who like to go in circles can circumnavigate an island. Choices include Howland Island in the Seneca River, Hiawatha Island in the Susquehanna River and an unnamed island in Lamoka Lake among others. Or, head north to explore the many streams and bays along Lake Ontario. For an impressive sight, paddle out onto Lake Ontario to view the wind-sculpted cliffs of Chimney Bluffs from lake level.

The Erie Canal exists today as a navigable waterway but so do segments of the previous versions before the canal was rerouted and expanded. Paddle through an aqueduct on the Old Erie Canal in DeWitt or paddle under one on Nine Mile Creek. Near Palmyra, paddle a loop that takes you on 3 distinct versions of the Erie Canal, dating all the way back to Clinton’s Ditch.

With over 370 miles of flat-water streams and rivers and 35 small ponds and lakes you can spend many delightful hours dipping your paddle in the Finger Lakes Region. For details on where to go, order a copy of the guidebook “Take A Paddle – Finger Lakes New York Quiet Water for Canoes and Kayaks,” available at www.footprintpress.com or call 1-800-431-1579.

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