By WILLIAM SHANNON
What a shame to have a park with excellent river access gated off at the road until seven in the morning.
That was the aggravation on a recent morning as I arrived with my kayak in the back of my truck, ready for a long paddle from Schodack Island State Park in Castleton.
The sun had just poked over the eastern horizon and it was fully light, though I had to wait another forty-five minutes before the man with the key came to open the gate blocking the long entrance road to Schodack Island. At the end of that roadway, there’s an otherwise beautiful boat launch.
I was still pretty annoyed as I drove in, thinking of the sign out front that stated when the gate opens and when the gate closes each evening (well before dark).
I couldn’t stop thinking about how dishonorable it is to build a boat launch for access to the Hudson River only to cut that access off during the best two times of day, for fishermen and for everybody, to be out on the water.
There were still some wisps of fog draped over the water as I took off. The water was mirror-like, reflecting what was left of the Hudson River’s dawn appearance.
The rising sun burned off the fog within minutes.
The river conditions were perfect and the tide was outgoing as I paddled south.
Schodack Island takes a good, long time to get past, but eventually, I made it to the old brick ice house at Little Newton Hook in Stuyvesant. After concern that one of the entrance roads to Newton Hook—Ferry Road—might be closed for good due to a short space in which vehicles have to stop between Route 9J and the railroad, it was decided in recent years, following quite a long while of citizen uproar, that Ferry Road would remain open. It was also announced this year that some work will be done to improve the river access at Newton Hook.
At Gay’s Point, part of Hudson River Islands State Park near Stockport, I broke for lunch. The peninsula, which was once an island, has about twenty campsites, with grills and sandy beaches off which to moor boats. As far as I know from taking multiple paddling trips from Troy to New York, this is the only proper, publically-run boater’s campground on the tidal Hudson River.
I made good time almost all the way to Hudson, where the slack tide turned into a noticeable incoming tide. But, with no real wind playing with surface conditions, the tidal current was manageable.
Entering Hudson, I paddled along the gravel rail causeway. I paddled underneath the trestle that allows water into and out of Hudson’s North Bay. Mainly, I went in to check if the city of Hudson had, by chance, under the cloak of the previous night, bulldozed the North Bay’s seventeen river shacks—which the State Historic Preservation Office deemed eligible for national and state historic registries this year.
Still there at the moment.
The once-active land surrounding the shacks is fenced off from the public, as it’s been for more than three years.
Paddling onward, I told myself I didn’t need to get up close to the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse, since I’ve done it so many times before. But, I was drawn to it and circled it like I always do.
Nearing the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, I took a break on Rogers Island. On this island, according to Wallace Bruce’s book Hudson by Daylight, there was a major and deadly final battle in 1625 between the Mahicans and the Mohawks.
According to a narrative included by Bruce, the Mahican chief, dying after the battle, ordered that his feathery crown and silver-mounted tomahawk—signs of the power to rule—be given to his son while the chief could still see the sight.
“Then, looking up to the heavens, he said, as if in despair for his race, ‘The hills are our pillows, and the broad plains to the west our hunting grounds; our brothers are called into the bright wigwam of the Everlasting, and our bones lie upon the fields of many battles; but the wisdom of the dead is given to the living.’”
Back on the water, I slowed down and drifted underneath the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, looking upward at the span's underside to feel the slight rush of vertigo.
After Rogers Island’s southern end, I passed the mouth of the Catskill Creek and then went back to hug the eastern shore, paddling past the small spit of land that is part of the Oak Hill estate. Its old white boathouse is always good for gaining bearings in this section of the river. Directly across from the boathouse is the mouth of the Ramshorn Creek, a winding waterway and forever-wild sanctuary worthy of exploring.
Just south of the Oak Hill spit is an abandoned former industrial spit of land, which I think was used as a loading dock for the brickworks that was right in the vicinity.
Soon, I was back in my home creek, the Roeliff Jansen Kill, taking out my boat after a favorable paddle of about twenty-three miles. Generally, full darkness is the deadline when it comes to wrapping up a Hudson River adventure. But, this day, the deadline to get back to the fleeting Schodack Island State Park to retrieve my truck was, for whatever reason, an hour before dusk.