South Branch Raritan River
by Bob Rancan
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Gone are the days when two dozen people enjoyed a paddle trip in 12 tandem canoes. We had 24 paddlers enjoying the wonderful South Branch of the Raritan the other day...in 22 boats. I always enjoyed those John Ford/John Wayne movies with the cavalry charges through the buttes and over the arroyos. We maintained the nostalgia (whistles supplanting bugles) with an even split, 11 kayaks, 11 canoes - even two couples in tandem canoes. it was my kind of group: a Grumman, some regular canoes, like Mad River Freedom, Mohawk Challenger, Old Town Penobscot, some white water solo canoes, like Dagger Prophet, Old Town H2Pro and Mohawk XL 13, bunches of rec kayaks, an older style white water kayak and an Andy Warhol inspired pop boat (Martin's canoe).
As Willie Nelson's song goes, like a band of gypsies we go down the highway. And the highway was grand. The South Branch below Clinton has become a reliable paddle destination in recent years as water is often released from Spruce Run Reservoir to keep the flow and temperatures constant and improve the fishery. we have paddled it throughout the summers and have gotten to know the various sections well. However, most times we are looking for more water and are making do with a Stanton gauge reading of 2.8 or less. from 2.8 into the 3.0 and above range makes for a good paddle. This time we had a full week of showers before the trip. Since Spruce Run Reservoir was over 100% capacity, water was spilling out all week but NJ Water Authority did cut back from the 20 million gallons a day (mgd) it had been putting out. By the end of the week though, with the threat of downstream flooding passed, NJWA started to release 100 mgd the day before we arrived. Between the rains and the release we began our day about 7 miles north of the Stanton gauge with it measuring 4.05 or 699 cubic feet per second (cfs). When we finished, about 3 miles south of the gauge, it measured 3.95 (647 cfs).
All this means there was very good, fast, strong flow. No one ran aground on the countless sand and gravel bars in this shallow stream. The river did all of the work on a mostly sunny day. I could relax and observe: common mergansers...males, females and one new family group, red tail hawks and turkey vultures, many Baltimore orioles, blue jays, yellow warblers, barn swallows, great blue herons, wood ducks, cardinals and catbirds. There was even a heavy shower as we put the boats on the cars to go home, thus preserving my record of most trips in the rain (technically)!
Thanks to Mike Paul for moving his Mohawk Club trip from the swollen Delaware to join us and thanks to everyone for coming and to Monica and Martin for the photos.