Adirondack Isle

June 9, 2011
Filed under Feature Stories

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Dominic presented the salad with utmost pride. A colorful array of carrots, peppers and cucumbers lay meticulously arranged below tomato wheels. The 13-year-old had prepared five-star salad art with only a filet knife and a scratched-up piece of cutting board that permanently lived in our plastic bin of camping supplies. My spaghetti looked mundane compared to Dom’s salad, but the three adolescent boys and one grade-school girl on our family canoe-camping trip had no trouble downing every morsel of meat sauce and leaf of lettuce, leaving nary a crumb to clean up.

We were camping on an island in Forked Lake. Located near Long Lake in the heart of New York state’s Adirondack Park, Forked Lake, pronounced FOR-ked, is an unknown gem entirely on public land. This 1,248-acre lake stretches five miles long on its east-west axis, with a shorter 3.8-mile arm reaching northward creating the fork. Except for the boat launch, the shoreline appears uninhabited, however New York state maintains 80 campsites hidden among the tall hemlocks and cedars that grow down to the water’s edge. Many of the sites, including three on the lake’s two small islands, are accessible only by boat. We had the smaller island to ourselves for three nights.

The little flotilla arrived at the island in Forked Lake after about an hourlong paddle through a few whitecaps and against a headwind that afternoon, but the hard paddle was well worth it.
Our island was about a mile down the lake. It was not much more than an oval hump of bedrock that over time low-bush blueberries and a small grove of cedar trees managed to take root upon. Our two tents — one for parents and the other for the kids — took up a third of this water-bound speck. A small dock poked from the western shore near the outhouse and marshy frog nursery. A picnic table and fire pit served as the social focal point of our camp. A bare granite point jutted from the north side of the island, a perfect perch from which to wade into the 75-degree water or to throw a lure to willing bass. It was our own private island, an Adirondack nirvana within an expansive wilderness area that offered serenity, rejuvenation and a chance to unplug from television, email, cellphones and the other intrusions of the electronic world.
At more than 6 million acres — larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite and Glacier national parks combined — much of Adirondack Park is remote enough that campers have no choice but to be off the grid, whether they want to or not. We wanted to. The entire family had been looking forward to the trip for more than a year, with much thought given to outfitting our small troop for this Adirondack canoe-camping adventure.

Getting to our island was not without its challenges, though. Forked Lake met our small flotilla of two canoes and two kayaks with whitecaps and a headwind that afternoon. After an hour of hard paddling, we arrived tired, but safe. Much later that night after the storm had passed, the lake was absolutely quiet. There was no wind. No waves splashed against the rocky shoreline. I unzipped the tent fly, taking in the soggy surroundings. All was calm.

Then I heard it. A loon warbled from an unknown spot on the water near our campsite. Another answered it farther to the south. Like bugling elk and howling wolves, yodeling loons are a consummate sound of the wilderness. It was as if we were being welcomed.

We soon settled into a casual rhythm, making meals, fishing and exploring Forked Lake. The short swim between the two islands became an afternoon tradition. Our time on the lake seemed far too short, but it was long enough to instill many fond memories. This outdoor adventure rewarded each of us in a special way.

The first fish caught on the trip.
Our little girl was the first to hook a fish, several in fact. We brought a tackle box filled with many new, flashy lures and sparkling gummy crawlers. She selected a pink metallic number, clipped it on her spinning rod and chucked it 30 feet into the water. Ten minutes later, a two-pound bass wiggled furiously on her line. She grinned with the pleasure of catching the first fish and showing up her three big brothers. Dom came into his own as camp sous chef. The two other boys disappeared for hours at a time in one of the canoes. Supplied with tortilla chips, a bag of blueberries and a water bottle, they found their own fish while enjoying a modicum of independence.

My honey and I had our time alone together on the water, too, paddling to the end of the shorter fork of the lake to cast a line of our own.

Instead of catching fish, we captured a rare opportunity with our camera.

A mother loon with two chicks swam among the lily pads unfazed by our canoe. As we slowly neared the loon, the chicks scrambled playfully onto her back, then plopped back into the lake, never straying more than a foot or so from her side. We stopped paddling altogether, drifting on the glassy water, watching the mother loon teach her young the ways of the wild. This canoe-camping trip to Forked Lake had allowed us a little of the same.

Adirondack Park is a canoe-camping paradise with limitless possibilities for first-timers and long-timers alike. The Northern Forest Canoe Trail, (northernforestcanoetrail.org), traverses the park from Old Forge through Forked Lake to Lake Champlain, passing by numerous island campsites. The Saint Regis Canoe area, the only designated canoe area in the park, encompasses about 60 bodies of water and spreads across 18,400 backcountry acres. And that’s only a fraction of what the park has to offer.

If you’ve never visited the Adirondacks, consider the following island campsites, which are maintained by the state of New York (www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/camping.html). They are inexpensive ($18 to $20 per night) and accessible from state boat launches without portaging:
- Forked Lake
- Alger Island on Fourth Lake
- Indian Lake Islands
- Lake George Islands
- Saranac Lake Islands

Here are some tips to ensure your Adirondack canoe-camping vacation is filled with fond memories:

* Check the weather, particularly the wind. Strong wind means big waves. If a front approaches, better to remain a landlubber a little longer than risk capsizing in the lake.

* Pack everything in dry bags, plastic bins and coolers. Even under sunny skies, water splashes into a canoe or kayak as you paddle.

* Bring warm clothing. The highs on land in July might hit 85 degrees, but the summer daytime temperatures on the lakes are likely cooler. Eve­nings can dip into the 50s. Temperatures in the spring and fall are crisp with a frost at night.

* Bring bug spray. Though the black flies abate by July 4, a myriad of little flying demons can attack most evenings after the sun goes down.

* Leave firewood at home. Only local firewood is permitted in Adirondack Park. You can purchase cheap bundles along most roadsides, often on the honor system (take a bundle, place $5 in the cup) or at the boat launch check-in cabin.

* Have everyone in the family learn basic canoeing skills before leaving home, including front stroke, backstroke and J-stroke; and how to right a boat if it tips over.

* Wear a PFD (personal flotation device, or life jacket) even if the water feels warm. It saves lives in the event of a boating accident.

* Load your canoe with the heaviest stuff down low and in the middle to balance your boat in the water.

* Reserve your island campsite early. Reservations for state campsites in Adirondack Park begin nine months ahead of your arrival date and go fast. Most sites are available beginning mid-May through mid-October. For reservations, contact ReserveAmerica (newyorkstateparks.reserveamerica.com).


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