Paddlin’ the Passaic
by Betty Wiest
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Sometimes we tend to ignore the water in our backyards. Sometimes I believe that’s what we think of the Passaic River. Sometimes it’s just like putting off going to a local landmark—it will always be there.
After our October program “81 Miles of History on the Passaic River,” I thought many of our club members could get out and paddle different sections of this flowing river. Many of us have paddled the Fairfield section—perhaps that’s because it’s more meandering and narrower.
But ahh….the sights you’ll see. And the Passaic River offers plenty .
Our group of ten: Betty, Robyn, Phil, Annette, Gail, Neal, Jacquie, Andy, Ann and Lori set out from the Bergen County Park in Lyndhurst (South Section) on Riverside Avenue. There was some confusion because not far (about a half mile) was the north section (also called Bergen County Park , J. Carruccii Jr. Area (North section)). It didn’t help that I accidentally left my cell phone at home.
The location is also home to a number of crewing organizations; we met the Ridgewood contingent which was just setting out to launch when we got back.
It was windy. No, it was really windy and two of the original group of 12 chose not to paddle.
This was supposed to be a simple trip with no shuttle of cars. A simple paddle upriver and return…except it was decided to go downriver and return…the wind being the deciding factor. The launch is a very long floating wooden dock due to the length of the shells the crews use and tidal conditions . We were fortunate, it was high tide. As Annette told me later, she had never entered the water from this kind of dock so she learned something new.
We paddled downstream through Lyndhurst, North Arlington, Belleville and Kearny (Bergen, Essex and Hudson Counties). The river is fairly wide here. On the Bergen and Hudson County side it is 95% tree-lined; the Essex County side is a mixture with some trees, but mostly walls supporting Rout 21. And if you looked hard enough, iron fencing poles could be seen through the dense foliage perhaps from an earlier day. We came upon a concrete slab where a turtle sat soaking up the sun. Through all the commotion we created, he never scurried to hide in the water; he simply nodded his head a few times and acknowledged our presence. We came upon a number of trees growing out of the walls, one even had a bird’s nest in it. At one point one paddler had gotten too close to some trees and was frightened by three ducks that came flying out of their resting site. Whew! Close call! We passed some graffiti…mostly with town or team names from the crewing groups and then we came to the first bridge—Belleville Tpke. Bridge. This bridge is different from many others as it has two large weighted towers and can be used as a draw bridge, I believe.
And then we saw it. IT was a large motor boat wedged in upside down complete with motor under a side section of the bridge. I wonder what motorists traveling above would think. Never mind the motorists, I know there is jetsam and flotsam in the rivers but never anything like this. Hmm, Phil commented that the motor is still worth something. Maybe I should go back.
We continued on. The wind was a factor, but not as much as we thought. Just south of the Nereid Boat House we ventured off into a tributary. I had been under this bit of highway before and wanted the group to have a surprise. When we paddled a short distance (and past the rope noose under the bridge…what’s that all about?), everyone started to notice something different. The more we paddled into the stream, the clearer the water became. Personally I was looking for Bubba the fish who I encountered years ago but probably wound up on someone’s dinner plate. It was amazing how clear the water was. Also, it became very shallow and we could not venture far.
It was time to turn around and head back. Surprisingly, it seemed more difficult going upstream. The conditions now were carrying our boats (only a bit) but it was different paddling. You see the river with a different view and new eyes. We passed the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners' skimmer which I am told is used five days a week to extract debris from the river. It’s doing its job. I noted only one small area on the tributary that was a pocket of cups and junk.
We passed a small clump of phragmites nestled in the County Park riverbank and I knew we were near the launch. A party of Canadian Geese took off and flew in a line just feet above the water.
Getting back to the dock and out of your boat requires a different maneuver and I found it much easier to twist and roll out on my stomach. The technique worked. I think a few others tried it too.
It was a delightful afternoon topped off by a trip to Rutt’s Hut.