Canoeing Upstate New York's West River
How to get there
From Rochester, take Interstate 490 east to Interstate 90. Go east on Interstate 90 to the Canandaigua exit. Turn south on route 332 to Canandaigua. Take route 21 west and south from Canandaigua toward Naples. Turn east on route 245 just north of Naples. There are two put ins along the road. One is a boat ramp, the other is at the Sunnyside Road bridge. For more detailed instructions read the description in the book Quiet Water by John Hayes and Alex Wilson, page 121.
On Saturday, July 6th, 1996 we launched our canoe at the boat ramp along route 245. I mention the date because this was a July 4th weekend and we expected crowds. There were several cars in the parking lot, but no power boats or canoes were in sight. Several friends had recommended the West River to us because of its beauty, wildlife, easy paddling. The West River is beautiful. We were impressed as soon as we got out of our car. The waterway from the boat launch area to the West River was covered with duck weed except for a dozen foot wide swath of clear water. The water was dark and the duck weed bright green. The vegetation along the banks of the river was also beautifully verdant.
Following Hayes and Wilson's advice, we paddled east on the river. This is upstream, but you would never know it. The current is not perceptible. We soon faced a fork in the river. Both ways look navigable, so we took the north fork on our left. As we later discovered, both channels are navigable. Along the way we saw Fragrant Water Lilies, Yellow Pond Lilies, Water Buttercups, Arrow Arum, and Yellow Flag Irises in blossom. We came across Great Blue Herons wading along the shore every few hundred feet and saw many other common birds. My favorite bird of the day was a Cedar Waxwing. I was particularly impressed my the smoothness of its feathers and its beautiful coloration. We also saw turtles and a Muskrat. Another couple we met said that they had seen Raccoons.
Passing under the bridges at Sunnyside Road was an adventure. The passage way under the highway and railroad bridges was just large enough for a canoe if the paddlers bend way down or kneel in the their canoe. Just east of the bridges is a nice stone bar on the right that has rocks of just the right shape and size for skipping. Try to ignore the trash left behind by other visitors.
Further east, beyond the bridges, duckweed covered the river from shore to shore. Paddling through the aquatic vegetation became difficult and tiring. We paddled east to the Beaver dam described by Hayes and Wilson. Along the way, we surprised a female Wood Duck and about a dozen ducklings. The female, chased the ducklings to shore where they quietly hid in the dense foliage. She then put on a spectacular performance to draw our attention away from her young. She first pretended that she had a broken wing and couldn't fly as she squawked and paddled her way to the middle of the river. She then rose up out of the water and wildly flapped her wings and squawked even louder. Next, she paddled upstream squawking all the way. Eventually, she took off and flew into the woods, probably to join her young. We continued on. Each stroke of the canoe paddle lifted pounds of aquatic plants out of the water. Our canoe had no glide. The resistance of the thickly matted aquatic plants stopped us dead in the water at the end of every stroke. Our pace was slow and exhausting.
On our way back from the Beaver dam, we stopped for lunch and a rest at the rock bar. Laying on shore we watched clouds drift by overhead and listened to the sounds of the rural New York, gun shots and chain saws. Because the road passed near by, we could also hear the sounds of weekend traffic, especially motorcycles. We could also overhear conversations of people from the double-wide trailers on the opposite shore on the other side of the railroad bridge. We could smell the partially burned outboard motor oil in the air from their boat motor as they left to go downstream. To commune with nature and to get the feeling of being in the wilds along the West River, bring some ear plugs. If we go again, we will take along trash bags and pick up the ubiquitous beer cans and bait containers discarded along the shore.
Laying on the rock bar I wondered to my self if there will ever come a day when the government will offer an amnesty program for people who want to turn in their chain saws rather than face prosecution for using them. I wondered if I will live long enough to see a time when the shooting in my neighborhood in Rochester and in the rural countryside will stop. As it is, shooting firearms is basically unsafe almost everywhere in states as heavily populated as New York. Because of the ever increasing population density, it is nearly impossible to fire a gun without the risk that the fired bullet might hit someone. We have hiked in New York State forests, not during hunting season, and had bullets from high powered rifles pass just over our heads. We later learned that some local yahoos were drinking and shooting targets from their back porch. Whenever they missed, the bullets shot into the adjoining state forest across a frequently used hiking trail. The local sheriff recommend strongly that we not file charges against the shooters. We didn't file charges and felt lucky to get away with our lives. Even the Finger Lakes Trails organization warns hikers to be ultra cautious where they hike because of the frequency of gunfire along its trails. What is all of this gunfire leading to? Will hikers have to resort to wearing military flack jackets, pants, and bullet resistant helmets to safely walk in the woods to see what's left of nature?
If you are a political person, an elected official, or a nature organization member, I have a modest proposal to share with you. I propose that counties, to attract tourism and for just plain safety, legislate themselves as shooting free. Countries have successfully banned nuclear weapons from their ports, from their land, and from their skies. Why not ban guns and shooting in some counties. What if Ontario and Yates counties banned the shooting of firearms? They could advertise this as a tourism feature. Families could feel safe hiking the trails of High Tor, canoeing on the West River, or sailing on Canandaiqua Lake. A shooting free environment would be a big selling point for ecotourists and especially for me.
Meanwhile, back on the West River. After lunch, we packed out what little refuse we brought in, and paddled back under the bridges. On the way back towards our put in, we took the other, south, fork of the river. It was a real pleasure to be back on a waterway not choked with vegetation. For a brief moment, we were thankful that the motor boats had chewed up the vegetation in middle of the river. Our pace picked up and we were soon back at the channel to the put in/take out. We still had some energy left, so we paddled downstream toward Canandaiqua Lake. Wind stopped us at the meeting of Naples Creek and the main channel to the lake. Although Hayes and Wilson say that the West River is protected from the winds that sometimes make Canadaiqua Lake hazardous for boaters, we found that westerly winds blow strongly up the West River.
Will we go back to the West River? Not real soon and especially not any time close to or during hunting season. The Hayes and Wilson book has inspired us to visit new waters.
Order these books right now.Rich and Sue Freeman Guidebooks. Comment: If you don't own copies of Rich and Sue Freeman's guidebooks, you are missing out on the best places to hike, bike, canoe, or tour in the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York and the Bruce Trail in Canada. Their books are well written and their directions easy to follow. Highly recommended.
Quiet Water Canoe Guide, New York. John Hayes and Alex Wilson. 1996. Published by the Appalachian Mountain Club, Boston. MA. ISBN1-878239-51-1.
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