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Friday, July 31, 2009

Northern Forest Canoe Trail is as easy -- or hard -- as you want

by Daniel Drolet from the Ottawa Citizen, 4 July 2009
For a minute, I have visions of my hat getting hooked because the fly fishermen standing in waist-deep water in the middle of the Connecticut River won't see me coming.
The current is carrying us along at a good clip -- it's not rated as rapids on the map, but it's not still water either -- and so we have to think quickly as we manoeuvre the canoe around them, careful not to get in their way.
We pass close enough to smile a quick hello and then speed on downstream.
The fly fishermen are the only people we encounter during a half-day of paddling along one small portion of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, a 1,200-kilometre canoe and kayaking route that runs through the northeastern U.S. and a tiny bit of Quebec.
A liquid equivalent of the Appalachian Trail -- the hiking route that runs from Georgia to the Gaspé -- the Northern Forest Canoe Trail opened in 2006. It stretches from the town of Old Forge, in New York State's Adirondacks, to Fort Kent, on the Saint John River at the Maine/New Brunswick border, and passes through parts of Vermont, Quebec and New Hampshire along the way.
And --with a few caveats -- access doesn't cost a cent.
The section I did -- we put in at Bloomfield, Vermont, and ended at the Maidstone-Stratford bridge about 18 kilometres downstream -- offered easy access, and no access fee.
Rob Center, co-founder of the trail, says only along certain stretches in northern Maine where the trail passes through private lands do paddlers have to pay access fees.
The trail is not a single waterway, but a series of age-old canoe routes connected by portages.
There's something for everyone, no matter what your paddling skills, says Center.
For example, he says there's good whitewater on the Saranac River near Plattsburgh, New York.
If you're looking for lake paddling, the trail includes a crossing of Lake Champlain. (From Memphremagog to Umbazooksus, there are some great lake names along the trail.)
And you can be in the wilderness or not: The section I did, on the Connecticut River along the Vermont-New Hampshire border, is farmland, so I never felt isolated.
And my section was an easy paddle: There were a few sections of rushing water that required some steering ability, but otherwise it was not strenuous. And there were sandbars and landings where we could stop to stretch our legs.
Center says the Northern Forest Canoe Trail organization is a non-profit group that oversees the trail system. It has put up a uniform signage system and published 13 detailed section maps, which are accessible on their website.
Right now, the trail has more than 150 access points and nearly 500 individual campsites.
Can you paddle a canoe from one end of the trail to the other?
Yes, if you're prepared to pole upstream in certain sections, face class IV rapids in others, and carry your gear over 67 portages. Only a handful of people, says Center, have ever done it.
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If You Go The Northern Forest Canoe Trail website is a great planning tool, with interactive section maps that show camping, accommodation and amenities in each trail section. Website: See http://www.northernforestcanoetrail.org/. The site also links to operators with canoe trail packages if you don't want to organize the whole thing yourself.
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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