Ah, the pleasure of “a stroll on the French Creek!” That’s right – on – not beside.
My trip to the Thousand Islands-Seaway was a weekend of many firsts, and we can count stand-up paddle boarding on the French Creek among them!
The diversity of water conditions in the North Country of New York State, which encompasses the Thousand Islands-Seaway Region and much of the Lake Ontario area, is matched only by the means of enjoying them! T.I. Adventures alone offers sea kayaking, whitewater kayaking, power kiting (across snow on frozen lakes and freshwater bays) and of course, stand-up paddle boarding.
The placid surface of the French Creek on a fair summer day doesn’t scare off even tall and awkward newbies like me. The paddle board resembles a flat surf board (wider for novices), while the paddle is a longer version of a canoe’s. A novice starts on his or her knees for a bit, but with my coach Jan’s encouragement I was standing rather soon. Once while edging the board (turning by tilting) I dropped to my knees but didn’t fall off.
Stand-up paddle boarding is an ancient Hawaiian means of transportation that surfing instructors recently revived to better watch over their students. Now it’s become a popular sport in itself, which T.I. Adventures enthusiastically promotes.
And it’s no wonder! There’s much to see on the French Creek from a higher vantage point. T.I. Adventures is well situated, with a small dock right on the NY Department of Environmental Conservation’s 2,300 acre French Creek Wildlife Management Area. This vibrant wetlands, waterway, meadow and nut forest preserve offers great opportunities for foraging, fishing, bird watching, boating and hiking. There’s trapping and hunting too, but stand-up paddle board riflery strikes me as profoundly unwise.
After exploring wetlands a bit and peering over tall grasses, I switched to a sporty sit-on-top kayak to ply the choppier waters of French Creek Bay on the St. Lawrence River (see a map of the area paddled through this link). The centerpiece of the bay, and a gem of the Great Lakes Seaway, is the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, NY. It’s a special thrill to visit this world renowned institution by water, but even those arriving at its 4.5-acre campus by land have plenty of opportunities to cruise or row in gorgeous wooden craft.
Further into the creek there’s an unusual display that’s narrower and yet captures an even broader sweep of the region’s nautical history. French Creek Marina owner and diver Wilburt Wahl has a collection of thousands of anchors for all to view — he doesn’t charge admission. With water clarity radically increased due to zebra mussel filtration (the species is still an environmental disaster, despite this one benefit), the region is a new pilgrimage spot for wreck divers and marine archaeologists.
It seems that every anchor is tethered to a story! As Wilburt tells it, one anchor was cut loose by an American ship slipping the British Navy during the Revolutionary War. Another anchor startles with a swastika. This is living history for Wilburt, who says that in 1942 he watched American fighter aircraft shelling the St. Lawrence River to sink a German U-Boat that had ventured as far into the continent as Lake Ontario. Now he has a memento to evidence his boyhood tale of battle. His son, Heinz, is also a diver and contributes to the collection.
For me the most exciting ages-old adventure that I could feel as rust at my fingertips was one large exhibit item that could have modeled for the iconic tattoo anchor. Wilburt explained that this anchor served as ballast aboard one of the ships used by Jacques Cartier, the explorer who claimed much of North America for France. He borrowed a Iroquois regional name and applied it to the whole territory: ”Canada.”
An inscription on the anchor indicates it was forged in 1339, Wilburt explained. That’s perhaps conceivable, being between mathematician Fibonacci’s promotion of the numbering system (in a book written in 1202) and mass popularization with the printing press in 1482. One can only imagine what ports were visited and storms weathered with the aid of this anchor.
My paddle buddy Ed Hancox and I are grateful to Gary DeYoung of the 1000 Islands Tourism Council for showing us around. Two fantastic restaurants where we did far more than merely fuel up are Bella’s and Teaism, pictured below. Both have amazing fresh baked goods, and healthy entrees and lunches that are delicious.
Our meal at Bella’s was made especially enjoyable by the company we kept! Not only were they fun, smart and warm people, but as representatives of Save the River (part of the Riverkeeper network) and Thousand Islands Land Trust, they greatly contributed to preserving and restoring the beauty we’d enjoyed all day.
Clayton was once the terminus for a rail line that brought New York City residents up to their summer homes in the 1000 Islands. Today you can still take Amtrak near to the region, and then drive. Or, of course, you could sail in! Our hotel, Capt. Thomson’s Resort, was perfect for sailors and drivers alike. You’ll find it just up river from Clayton in Alexandria Bay, across from beloved Boldt Castle.