South Branch Raritan River
by Monica Orso
Saturday, July 24, 2021
Weather conditions looked great and 24 paddlers met up by the Clinton Twp Water Treatment Plant in anticipation of a great day on the water followed by a picnic and hot air balloon show. There were new members, old members, canoes, and kayaks of every shape and form including an inflatable and an origami "Oru" kayak.
The shuttle, normally pretty straight forward, was derailed when we were forced to reverse course due to an accident ahead. Nothing like a 14 car caravan making a simultaneous K-turn on a 2-lane road. Fortunately, our fearless leader knew the alternate route via the highway so we were able to make it to the take-out with minimal confusion. A big thanks to Dave M. who came along to help keep the large shuttle together even though he wasn't able to paddle.
Water levels were low at 2.90 at the Stanton Gauge, so we were in for some scratchy stuff. The river did not disappoint in that regard. It was not uncommon to hear someone shouting "Don't go here!" as they were rocking on the riverbed. But overall, still very doable if you kept your eyes tuned to what was ahead and listened to those in front of you. There were a few mishaps along the way producing rather damp paddlers. We made it to the lunch stop where many people chose to get wet and cool off with a little fast floating and throw rope practice. With some muddy spots around and slippery rocks, it was not hard to lose your footing and our fearless leader took a little tumble. His ankle was promptly tended to by well-prepared paddlers in the group. We continued on to the finish of the roughly 11-mile paddle, weaving through a very beautiful part of the state.
Wildlife is always a treat on the South Branch. Aside from the standard variety of birds, a fox was spotted early on. There was also an unusually large number of Belted Kingfishers darting about.
The takeout went smoothly with everyone helping one another get up a slope to load their cars. Then it was off to the park on Rt 22 to set up our picnic and hopefully catch a glimpse of the balloons from the NJ Festival of Ballooning happening in Readington. If conditions were perfect they would float right over us. But as the clock ticked away and it was already an hour past launch time with no balloons, we found out that the pilots meeting determined there was too much wind up there and cancelled the launch. That being said, we enjoyed a lot of good food that folks brought to share along with good company, and left content from a full day of nature and nurture.