Hackensack River Canoe & Kayak Club

paddling for over a third of a century

Black River
Chester, NJ
by Bob Rancan

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A beautiful day, warm sunny, no clouds. We had 21 paddlers with 20 boats meet around 10AM at Cooper’s Mill Park in Chester. Some that followed my directions to go through the middle of town got detoured by a large 10K race. When all were accounted for we moved some boats around, left 3-4 cars behind and headed out for a very short shuttle to our put in at Pleasant Hill Rd. Eleven kayaks, eight canoes and one vintage decked canoe were on the river a little after 11AM. We headed upstream for about a half mile to where the river’s straight course had emerged from its pattern of turns and oxbows which it had followed out of the dense hardwood swamp.

The paddle up into the open area gave us great looks at lots of birds: Eastern kingbirds, Red tail Hawks, turkey vultures, great blue herons and mallards. There were pairs of male yellow warblers chasing each other around, probably trying to establish territories and male red wing blackbirds had each seemingly staked out their own square footage. Many female red wings were also seen emerging and disappearing into nests hidden among the grasses. After we turned around we found our way over to some dry land next to the rail to trail known as Patriot’s Path for lunch. Then we continued downstream past our put in and under another low bridge and the rebuilt bridge at Rt. 206. The underside of the bridge at Pleasant Hill was loaded with barn swallow nests and we caused quite a commotion amongst them.

At the low bridge above 206, I noticed for the second time that the water level seemed to be unusually high. We barely got under the bridge – some life jackets had to be unfastened and I had to really inhale to get my midsection in line. But the real problem was that we had entered the world of the beaver. We had to get over a 3’ high dam which had diverted the main channel to deepen the pool around the lodge. There were other dams, including one further down that diverted most of the river’s flow into an old man-made impoundment. And where the pond sprung leaks, the beaver had plugged them. It was a nice paddle through the lily pads but a portage to get back into the river. It was a wonderful environment to see but not much fun to negotiate the various structures. In fact, we had a beaver caused casualty. Beverly W. caught her pinkie on a damn stick (or a stick that was part of the dam) and it ended up at a very wrong angle. Some tape and an improvised splint and great help from Sue C., Melody W., and Al G. and an iced water bottle helped for a while but as it became more painful the evac unit was called for in the form of John Palubniak’s Grumman canoe. John not only carried the wounded but towed out the empty kayak…what a guy! The latest word is that Bev saw a hand specialist Monday and the finger was reset and she reports it’s feeling much better.

The last section of river gave us downy woodpeckers, Baltimore orioles, wood ducks, green herons and robins as well as some more deadfall. Regardless, we finished before 4PM. Thanks to all for the great adventure and thanks to the Cooper Mill’s miller Ivins Smith (whom I first met in 1988) for letting everyone drive down to the Mill to pick up their boats. Last thought: Motion to the HRCKC governing body: All trips require at least one tandem canoe to transport the injured.


> Great photos by Monica Orso
> Great photos by Mike Capizzi