It’s quiet and hot. The only sounds are those of the water gently lapping against the old wooden dock. Off in the distance, a boat can be seen, bleached by the early-morning sun with faint silhouettes of fishing lines and nets arching towards the water. A woman comes running by, adding the sound of her sneakers kicking up some pebbles in the small, shady parking lot of the unassuming New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) fishing boat access point at Chodikee Lake in the Town of Lloyd.
Her name is Ariella Morris. She lives nearby, and the access point is half way through her morning jog. She busies herself tidying up the garbage and recycling that sits next to a worn wooden box for “Invasive Species,” into which people are apparently encouraged to place non-native plants if they should come across them. “I love it here,” she says as she stretches along the wooden dock. “It’s a sacred place. Families come here together to kayak; there are usually fishermen here as well. In the winter they ice-fish.”
Morris explains that, if you were to take the lake north, via kayak or canoe or paddleboard, you would reach “a waterfall at the end,” as well as some great blue heron nesting sites. She also explains that at night you can hear “the slapping of beaver tails.” One more glance at the lake, like she’s taking a drink of water, and she heads off to finish her run.
Soon, Neil Curri of Lloyd’s Environmental Conservation Commission (ECC) arrives, followed by Craig Chapman, owner of New Paltz Kayaking Tours, to help load the crafts in the water for the dozen or so residents who have signed up for this annual ECC-sponsored community paddling event. The goal of the event is to encourage people to get out onto the lake and enjoy the meandering channels that run past aqua fields of water lilies, beaver dams, redwinged blackbirds and next, great blue herons. “Whether they’ve paddled or not, we want to show them a fun-filled day right in their backyard,” says Curri.
Within a few minutes, with the help of Chapman and an informed, easy-to-follow paddling lesson, multicolored kayaks and a silver canoe are lined up by an old wooden dock leading out to the glistening waters of Chodikee Lake: part of the Black Creek Water Trail, which eventually winds its way to the historic Hudson River. There are mothers and sons, couples, friends, solo paddlers suited up in life jackets, with Curri and his ECC company providing some much-needed water before Chapman helps to launch each boat out into the glistening waters of the pristine lake.
“Once we paddle north just a bit, you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere,” says Curri to the group. “You won’t hear Route 299 or see anyone, except some occasional fishermen or other kayakers.”
He is correct: With the red or green or orange tip of your kayak pointed northward, the world quickly falls silent. At the edge of the lake are narrow pathways lined with endangered and breathtaking white waterlilies. There’s a father and son in a canoe observing the intense engineering work of some beavers and their dam. There are redwinged blackbirds atop dead tree-trunks spiking into the blue sky, and the sudden and dramatic takeoff of a great blue heron, streaking low across the water, likely upon hearing our approach. “You feel like you’re in prehistoric times out here,” says Curri.
Although the temperature is climbing rapidly, the breeze coming off the lake and the watershed is like a natural anecdote to the heat. Curri and his pal in the silver canoe point out water nettles: a nasty invasive species that not only hurts and cuts if brushed up against, but also can choke out native wildlife. They say that the ECC and other Chodikee Lake and Black Creek watershed caretakers come out do a nasty nettle sweep of waterways to ensure that they’re kept at bay.
At the very north end of the lake, it comes to a bit of an aqua cul-de-sac, where trails lead into the shaded woods towards Chodikee Lake Road and the water begins to cascade into a series of lush waterfalls and an enticing swimming hole and eventually makes its way as part of the Black Creek towards the Hudson River. Once we hit the shade, everyone climbs out of their canoe or kayak to stretch, drink some water and take in the view from a land-based vantagepoint.
Not only does this guided tour of the lake and creek encourage veteran paddlers and new kayakers to come and explore natural beauty that can only be accessed by boat, but it also reminds visitors why it’s so critical to protect this wild and diverse ecosystem. (See sidebar on the ECC and its work on the Black Creek Water Trail.)
As the fleet of locals paddles back, there is that beautiful feeling of absolute solitude in the company of others – each person lost in their own thoughts, the rubber blades of the oars sweeping the water in concentric patterns, the hum of bumblebees drinking the nectar from the yellow tentacles inside the water lilies and the knowledge that, when night would fall, this would all return to its original shape and those beaver tails would begin to slap in excitement.
For those interested in taking an easy, relatively quick meander through the lake and creek, the DEC Chodikee Fishing Access point is located off Route 299 in Lloyd, about five miles north on Chodikee Lake Road. If you need a kayak or canoe, just go to New Paltz Kayaking’s website at https://npkayaking.com.