Constitution Marsh along the Hudson River is a great paddling destination
There are many types of paddles. Sometimes you just want to go out for exercise. Sometimes you want to spend some time with friends on the water. Sometimes you’re training for a race. And sometimes you want to get out there in nature.
An ecotour is a paddle when being with nature is your goal. These are one of my favorite types of paddles. There’s no pressure to go fast or even be anywhere. You’re on the water to enjoy nature’s beauty, and that’s about the best reason of all. So I took the Ricochet board out for a spin in Constitution Marsh, which is a gorgeous nature preserve right behind Constitution Island. This island is across the Hudson River from West Point, and is where the famous “chain across the Hudson” was fixed during the Revolutionary War. The marsh is an established bird sanctuary and a very popular paddling destination.
Of course, it’s not so popular in early April. With the water hovering in the mid 40s, these are no conditions for a beginner. I have to say that a wide board is a pretty good choice in these conditions. You’ve got a stable platform for looking at things, which is important if you crane your neck at a bird and lose balance. Also, a marsh isn’t the safest place for a board. The bottom is usually muddy, which is good, but so is the water. It’s so muddy that I can’t see the bottom of my paddle when I dip it in the water. Sometimes I can’t even see the middle! There are also rocks and tree limbs all over the place. If there’s something to hit, I’m going to hit it.
The trail through the marsh
Constitution Marsh has a well-marked watertrail. During the 19th century, an entrepreneur thought it might be a great place to grow rice, so he had straight channels dug throughout the area. The rice failed, but his dredging made the marsh an easy place to enter. You launch at Cold Spring railroad station and a few hundred feet south is a short railroad bridge. You go under the bridge and you’re in! (This bridge varies in level depending on the tide. It’s been so high I’ve had to lay down on my board and propel myself forwards by grabbing the rusty underside of the trestle.) Follow the straight channels into the heart of the marsh.
Normally the reeds are filled with twittering, but this early in the year it’s still dominated by the winter birds: crows and vultures. I passed an eagle’s nest at one point, reminding me that the Hudson Valley is home to healthy population of bald eagles and ospreys. Most of the area was pretty dead too. The only major sign of life was the the green shoots at the edge of the waterways – this year’s reeds poking their heads up.
When the wildlife is sparse, you start noticing other things like geology and water quality. As I mentioned, the water in Constitution Marsh is very murky, but at a few creek entrances it was shockingly clear. You could even see where the two waters would meet and you’d have a dividing line of two types of water. You normally don’t see such a stark difference, and it was fascinating.
Suffice to say, the Pau Hana Ricochet was a great platform for seeing nature. The width — something I’m noticing a lot — was an advantage in the narrow spots where the tidal current threatened to overturn the board. I might have flipped on a narrower board, but the wide deck gave me a chance to adjust my weight to the flow. I’m still back and forth about the width though. It is an advantage in the slow moments like this, but it also slows down the board in general. The all-around shape also means your sometimes dragging the board over the water instead of through it. You can’t have it all, though. A stable all-around platform won’t be fast, so that’s part of what I have to contend with in a one board quiver.