July 23, 2019
With 3,000 lakes and ponds and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, there is definitely no shortage of places to paddle in the Adirondacks. The crown jewel of paddling near Saranac Lake might be the Saint Regis Canoe Area, but another opportunity that's just next door offers paddlers a quiet place to put a boat in the water. The Paul Smith’s College VIC is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise: from cross-country skiing to birding to guided naturalists walks to celebrations of science, this facility truly has it all. Perhaps unknown to some visitors are the spectacular ponds on site. These ponds can be viewed from the water and from the trails and platforms that line the shores.
On a sunny morning, I loaded up my canoe and gear and headed to Barnum Pond. Not even a whisper of wind blew across the water as I pulled up to the hand launch on the west side of Route 30, less than 2 miles north of the intersection of Routes 30 and 86 in Paul Smiths. Within a few minutes I was off, paddling clockwise around the pond. Despite being so close to the road, paddlers can still find peace and quiet around each bend in the pond. Once I reached Barnum Brook, I was greeted with the clear, pure whistle of a White-throated Sparrow. In previous trips, I’ve seen Bufflehead and other ducks on the water. The trails at the VIC are excellent birding spots and the water is no different! Don’t forget to bring your binoculars when you go paddle!
The Adirondacks are home to a variety of different habitats but my favorite are bogs. Paddling into Barnum Brook brings you right into Barnum Bog. A trail that begins at the VIC main building leads to a 1,600-foot boardwalk across the bog, but by paddling you can get almost eye level with some really interesting plants. Pitcher plants dot the shoreline along the brook. These carnivorous plants are able to carry on photosynthesis like other plants but also get nutrients from small insects they capture and digest. Other plants that can be seen up-close along the shore are bog rosemary, sheep laurel, and bog cotton.
Off Keese Mills Road in Paul Smiths, about 2.5 miles from Route 30, is the parking lot for another VIC pond, Black Pond. Black Pond is popular among trout fishermen and women with Windfall strain brook trout inhabiting the pond. The Windfall strain is one of several heritage strains of brook trout that are recognized by the Department of Environmental Conservation. Whether you visit for fishing or for recreational paddling, you’re sure to find something interesting here!
For those who are interested in geology, Black Pond is the result of the last ice age. As the glaciers receded, a giant chunk of ice was wedged into the ground. As the climate warmed and the ice melted, the depression filled with water and became Black Pond. In a way, paddling on Black Pond feels like paddling back in time. No motors are allowed on the waters here, adding to the peacefulness of the surrounding landscape. Looking to spend an overnight on Black Pond? Two lean-tos on the shore can be reserved at the VIC for overnight stays and are accessible by foot and water.
Loony for loons
Both Barnum Pond and Black Pond are home to the iconic Common Loon. These amazing creatures are a true symbol of wild lands. Their unique calls echoing across the water make for a really special paddling experience. It’s important to remember that loons, like all wildlife, is just that, wild, so we need to give them their space, especially if there are chicks! The pictures of loons in this blog were taken with a telephoto lens. Stop by the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation in downtown Saranac Lake to learn all about loons and the research being done for their conservation.
To ensure that these bodies of water remain as pristine as possible, consider stopping at a free boat-wash station, run by the Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute. At these stations, a trained technician will wash your canoe, kayak, SUP, or motorboat in an effort to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species. This practice helps maintain healthy, natural ecosystems for the plants and animals that call these ponds homes, like loons and brook trout.
Surf and turf
If you want to combine paddling with other activities, the surrounding forests offer miles of trails! If you’re looking for a little “surf and turf,” try a hike up nearby St. Regis Mountain or a casual stroll around mellow trails at the VIC. After a day of adventuring, stop in downtown Saranac Lake for some food!