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Piercefield Flow overnight, 6/1 - 6/2/21

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  • Piercefield Flow overnight, 6/1 - 6/2/21

    Took advantage of a couple of nice mid-week days this past spring to check out another new area via an overnight trip by boat- the Piercefield Flow easement. The Piercefield Flow is an artificial lake formed by the Piercefield Dam on the Raquette River, just downstream of Tupper Lake. The shoreline of the flow is privately owned, but the state owns a conservation easement that allows for some public use of the lands adjacent to the flow. Public use is limited to the time period between May 1st and September 30th, and only to those lands within 300 feet of the shoreline. Camping is permitted at designated sites only. At present, only one such designated campsite exists- the Piercefield Flow Lean-to, which would be my destination for the evening.

    I elected to launch at the Setting Pole Dam at the outlet of Tupper Lake. A large gravel pulloff at the end of the road here allows for some limited parking, and there is a path down to the base of the dam that allows for the hand launching of canoes, kayaks, etc. While there can be some turbulent currents at the base of the dam depending on the flow, the river quickly turns calm as you paddle downstream.

    It didn't take long to reach the flow itself, and soon I was turning east to paddle up the flow. The lean-to is located on the north shore, not far from where the Raquette River joins the flow- maybe 700 or 800 feet away at most. Before long I was pulling up at the signed takeout for the lean-to.

    The Piercefield Flow Lean-to is located back up and away from the water, in a beautiful clearing in hemlocks and mixed hardwoods. It's a nice, quiet and serene spot.

    The lean-to had clearly been occupied not long prior to my arrival, judging from the piping hot bed of coals someone had left unattended in the fire pit. No matter, the afternoon was a bit humid and there were black flies out and about so I took advantage of the coals as well as some rotten logs I found in the woods nearby to get a proper smudge fire going.

    With the bugs held at bay for the time being by the smudge fire, and camp gear unpacked and arranged in the lean-to, it was time to relax. I spent a nice, quiet afternoon reading and hanging out in the lean-to site.

    My perception of the lean-to had been that it was a relatively newly-built one- constructed within the past few years. I was a bit surprised when I opened the log book to find entries going back much further in time. It must've taken the DEC some years after building the lean-to (or allowing it's construction) to get around to actually advertising its existence.

    I'd also sort of expected to see motorboats out on the flow and was mildly surprised that I was the only person there even though it was a weekday. I don't think there's any HP restriction on that body of water, but I did realize after the fact that aside from the hand launch at Setting Pole dam, there's only a small beach launch off of Route 3 by the Piercefield Dam... so access to the water by larger motor boats is essentially non-existent. And with dams pretty close both upstream and downstream there's not really a whole lot of surface water area to explore. I imagine that both of these factors probably help to limit the usage levels somewhat, especially in comparison with Tupper Lake just upriver.

    As the afternoon waned, I decided to take a short stroll out to the broad peninsula where the Raquette River joins the flow a few hundred feet from the lean-to. There were some more nice views from the rocky outcrop at the end of the peninsula.

    It's obvious that the end of the peninsula sees some occasional camping use... but any such use would be illegal. Normally, it would be a violation of the 150 foot rule, but in the case of the Piercefield Flow easement it would also be a violation of the regulation permitted camping at designated sites only. Which, to my mind, brought up an interesting question: If the lean-to is the only legal camping spot on the flow, what are groups expected to do if/when they show up to find the lean-to occupied? Your only options in those circumstances would be to either move into the lean-to with the first group (assuming everyone was friendly enough to make this work), or leave the flow entirely and make the drive of shame back home. It would seem logical that there should be at least 1 or 2 designated tent sites in addition to the lean-to, especially given how popular lean-tos tend to be.

    There was also an old mooring hook of some kind fastened to a rock at the end of the peninsula. What purpose it had once served I could only image. Tying up boats? The end of a boom stretched across the river to hold back logs until the time was right for sending them down river?

    It was still yet spring and I also found a few pink lady slipper blossoming in the woods not far from the lean-to.

    Satisfied with my short ramblings, I returned to the lean-to for more R&R. The afternoon progressed into evening, and soon the shadows were lengthening. Dusk wasn't far off.

    The evening remained warm but at least the black flies turned in for the night as they usually do. I crawled into my sleeping bag early and was up with sunrise, to be greeted by a warm and muggy morning. The black flies once again out in force, and another smudge fire was necessary for my sanity as I broke down camp and packed the canoe.

    I had plans for the afternoon to explore yet another corner of the Adirondack Park, so I packed quickly, dowsed the fire, and was back on the water just as my wrist watched signaled that it was 8 am. I did decide to take a quick loop out to the east before starting back to Setting Pole Dam, to check out that end of the flow.

    As one paddles further and further east up the flow, the water gets shallower and shallower. Eventually, there's a number of old stumps protruding from the murky and muddy waters- evidence that this was once dry land prior to the building of the Piercefield Dam and the raising of the water levels.

    Satisfied with my meanderings around the head of the flow, I turned around and paddled my way back to the Raquette River, and from there up to the takeout at the Setting Pole Dam. At some point after I'd set out the day prior, someone had opened up a portion of the dam to let more water out from Tupper Lake above, and I had to dig hard to get back to the small beach at the takeout. The potential for strong currents here is something to be aware of for anyone launching/landing at Setting Pole Dam.

    All in all, it was a short but fun trip. Again, the Piercefield Flow area seems to get less use than I would've expected otherwise- but this is likely due to the limited area to explore in either direction without portaging around a dam, as well as the limited options for accessing the water if you've got a larger boat.

    It's definitely a beautiful spot well worth visiting- but again, anyone planning to camp there should go mentally prepared to make the journey back to the takeout in the event that the lean-to is occupied, as there's zero options for legal overflow camping anywhere on the flow. Hopefully the DEC designates a tent site or two in addition to the lean-to at some point in the future.
    Last edited by DSettahr; 01-03-2022, 09:00 AM.

  • #2
    Man, if there's a lean-to to be found, you'll sniff it out!


    • #3
      Every trip is an excuse to either bag a new lean-to, or scout out new lean-tos in preparation for future trips to bag them!

      Funny story about me and lean-tos, though... A month or so ago, I was playing around with an AI image generator on the website You type in a phrase, the image generator does an internet image search for that phrase, and then the AI attempts to use the images it finds to draw a visually similar image. When I type in my SN, "DSettahr," it invariably draws a... weird furry creature against a natural background, every single time.

      Some examples:

      At first, I was perplexed by this. I mean, yes, I have a beard, but when you search for "DSettahr" there's not really a whole of pictures of me that show up. But eventually, I looked closer... and realized that it wasn't fur nor hair that was being drawn, it was warped images of lean-to walls. Each stroke is a different log in the wall of a lean-to- and the AI was perhaps getting a tad bit confused and mistaking it for fur.

      I'd guess that a lot of the images that show up when an image search for "DSettahr" is made come from this thread:


      • #4
        Thanks for the TR and pictures. I have been interested in that area since late summer when i began realizing that I might end up living there for a while, and I paid several >5 minute visits to the boat launch/town water building area off Route 3 from mid-October to mid-November when I was up there working on the house. It certainly looks very pretty from there. I'll only be about .6 miles from that launch, so I imagine I'll make some use of it for day trips or (if I feel very silly) to make grocery runs to Tupper Lake by canoe.

        I found mention in a book, though I can't remember now if it was a Discover book or the Northern Flow canoe book that negotiations were under way around 20 years ago for access to make a carry trail on river right to get past the Piercefield Dam, but I couldn't find anything more recent that said if that had ever actually happened. I don't know if many folks actually would want to carry past it anyway, as I have not heard of anyone doing a through trip on that part of the Raquette, but I imagine some folks must have done it.


        • #5
          I did some googling and map examination. The state owns much of the shoreline of the river downstream of the Piercefield Flow Dam all the way to Carry Falls Reservoir. However, while there are some stretches of flat water, it also sounds like there's quite a few sections of rapids. Some of the descriptions I head made it sound like there are portage trails but they aren't always very "official" and some of the portage trails can demand substantial effort to carry over.


          • #6
            The iron in the rock is a pretty a common find along the river. Logging played a big role on that river. Eyebolts, pilings are remains of the once common boom log system that was used to keep the wood heading downstream. Back in the 60's there were still some boom logs along sections of river near Potsdam. The booms were still in place in a few spots below Potsdam. The new dam at the Pine Street rapids flooded several of those remains.
            The section of water below the Piercefield dam is probably my favorite. It has become a bit more accessible in recent years, but it still sees less traffic than the areas deeper in the park. There are several drops in that section that are dangerous in high water conditions. There are no true carries anywhere on this section. Both drops are navigable with the right boat (high volume WW kayak) but should be avoided in open canoes. The smaller and upper drop has a big strainer that can be extremely dangerous if you don't get through it and the lower section of falls should probably be avoided by anyone who is less than an expert paddler. I have heard stories that this section was once used for practice by the US kayak team. I have no clue if that is true. It seems farfetched.
            There are some sections of modest rapids that fill in between these sections as well as some nice sections of flat runs. There are no campsites until you get to the reservoir. Most of the adjoining land is privately owned. There are a few old camps.


            • #7
              Anyone in the area should keep a lookout for the remains of Colin Gillis, the then 18 yr old who disappeared in the area in the spring of 2012. I was part of the massive SAR event that followed. A couple of clues were found by searchers along the road, but nothing definitive to ever lead anyone to his whereabouts. There is a $25,000 reward. A flurry of activitiy with digging in the town of Edwards in 2020 turned up nothing publicly reseased.
              "Now I see the secret of making the best person, it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth." -Walt Whitman


              • #8
                Informative and great, thank you for sharing.
                Two Beavers


                • #9
                  Originally posted by DSettahr View Post
                  I did some googling and map examination. The state owns much of the shoreline of the river downstream of the Piercefield Flow Dam all the way to Carry Falls Reservoir. However, while there are some stretches of flat water, it also sounds like there's quite a few sections of rapids. Some of the descriptions I head made it sound like there are portage trails but they aren't always very "official" and some of the portage trails can demand substantial effort to carry over.
                  Besides this good information about Piercefield Flow and the Adirondack Canoe Waters North Flow book, there seems to be very little descriptions of this area from Tupper Lake towards Carry Falls Reservoir. You mentioned above ?some of the descriptions I read?. I am wondering what other sources you may have that would help describe the above mentioned route. Thank you.