Quinebaug River paddle celebrates CT Trails Day

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Mon., Jun. 3, 2013
Park Ranger Cathy St. Andre leads the 6-mile paddle on the Quinebaug River. Photos by D. Coffey.
Park Ranger Cathy St. Andre leads the 6-mile paddle on the Quinebaug River. Photos by D. Coffey.

Park Ranger Catherine St. Andre led a group of more than 20 paddlers on the Quinebaug River National Recreation Trail on June 1. Participants came from Lebanon, Killingly, Thompson and a few towns in the western part of the state. The event was one of more than 259 hikes, bike rides, paddles, walks and horse rides scheduled throughout the state to celebrate National Trails Day. One-hundred-fifty-two cities and towns in the state sponsored an event during the weekend.

Carmelle McArdle came from Bozrah for the 6-mile paddle. She and friend Eileen Boisseau brought their Heritage Featherlite and Coleman Rebel kayaks so they could explore a portion of the state's northeastern corner. Both wanted to participate in the National Trails Day event. Neither were familiar with the area, but that didn't stop them. “We knew it was going to be really hot,” Boisseau said. “So we decided to get on the water.”

The two joined St. Andre as she led the group down an isolated 6-mile stretch of the Quinebaug River into West Thompson Lake. The river trail was recognized as a National Recreation Trail last year. The trail brought paddlers through steeply-forested slopes to flat agricultural fields on a slow-moving current. St. Andre belongs to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that monitors the water flow levels of the Quinebaug and West Thompson Lake. On Saturday morning, the flow into the lake measured 399 cubic feet per second.

According to St. Andre, levels less than 150 cfs would have canceled the paddle. At that level, paddlers would have had to shimmy themselves off shallow spots along the river, she said. Mixed broadleaf trees overhung the river banks. Bird calls and the sound of the current were the only noise. The paddlers moved around snags and rocks in the river with no problems.

In the sweeper position was Ranger Michelle Cucchi, a 12-year veteran of the USACE. She made sure that all the paddlers were safe and with the group. She was also keeping her fingers crossed that the group might see a bald eagle on the route. “It's so beautiful out here. It's so peaceful,” she said. “That's enough.”

“It's so country out here,” McArdle said. “It's so beautiful.” She could be a poster child for the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association. An advocate and sponsor of CT Trails Day and publisher of the 2013 CT Trails Day Weekend, she travels to different areas regularly to explore the state's resources.

“The CFPA has organized this event for several years,” said The Last Green Valley Chief Ranger Bill Reid. “They maintain a phenomenal trail system in Connecticut. Trails are well marked. They get you out into amazing forest habitat. Even though we are close to millions of people, close to major interstates and major metropolitan areas, we live in a very special place. The best way to experience it is to get on out there.”

Reid led a 10-mile paddle on the Shetucket River on June 3. “There's no better way to feel alive,” he said.

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