I row. Not in a canoe – in a rowing shell. I first stepped foot in a boat my junior year in high school. Having been cut from the varsity soccer team, I decided to follow all my friends to the boathouse to see why they were hyped up about a sport I had never seen. I fell in love with the meditative rhythm of the rowing stroke, and the incredible serenity felt when gliding across the water, surrounded by nature. It was very unlike any sport I had tried before, and a welcome change to my urban childhood.
Flash forward twenty years, and I have discovered canoeing. Kind of like rowing, (only less tippy and you can bring food in the boat), canoeing is quickly becoming one of my favorite outdoor activities. Last fall my friend Beth introduced me to the beauty of a leisurely paddle down a river in a canoe. A few weeks later, I did the same for the kids in my Outdoor Adventures Club. It was awesome, so when the opportunity came up to participate in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Youth Opportunities Program’s Canoe Workshop, I immediately signed up!
We met early in the morning at Harold Parker State Forest in Andover, MA. Home to nine man-made ponds, it is a great place for canoeing adventures! Everything we learned in the workshop was geared toward working with kids and teens, making sure they are both safe and having fun while canoeing.
Our fearless AMC instructors – Jamie and Nate, first demonstrated how to properly remove the canoe from the boat trailer. From there, Jamie explained the different parts of the boat, and then reinforced the lesson by handing us each a card with the name of a canoe part on it,which we had to place on the correct section of the boat.
Next, we covered basic safety rules, and how to use the paddles to propel the canoe forward and backward. When we’d reviewed everything, we paired off, carried canoes down to the water, climbed in, and explored Stearns Pond.
The pond is overrun with lily pads, which made it difficult to paddle at times, yet made for great wildlife viewings! We saw loads of tadpoles swimming through the water, turtles sunning themselves on rocks, and frogs and snakes hiding among the tall grass.
After playing a game of tag, in which the boat that was “it” chased after the other canoes, attempting to toss in a bundled throw-rope, we headed back to shore and ate lunch.
For the second half of the day, we paddled on Field pond. When we pushed off the shore, our first wildlife spotting was an odd-looking creature we called, “the Turducky.” Unlike Stearns pond, Field pond has relatively few lily pads, which makes it much easier to paddle through the water.
We played another fun game once everyone had launched their canoe. A piece of duct tape was stuck to the bow and stern of each boat, and we had to paddle after each other and grab the duct tape off the other boats, while protecting our own. Sort of like flag football or capture the flag.
After catching our breath, and exploring a bit more of the pond, we practiced T-rescues (using an upright canoe to empty a flipped canoe of water, and then help the swamped paddlers back into the boat), and balanced on the gunwales of the canoes (and in many cases, fell off while trying to balance).
I was quite exhausted by the time the workshop was over, though I really didn’t feel it until the next day. This was my third AMC YOP training, and as always, I learned quite a bit. If you work with kids, or even just want to learn new skills or brush up on your old ones, I highly recommend an AMC workshop.
Directions to Harold Parker State Forest:
There are several entrances to Harold Parker State Forest, including one off of Rt. 125 in Andover, MA, and another off of Rt. 114 in North Andover, MA. Click here for a map of Harold Parker.
From I-93: Take exit 41, follow 125 north (toward Andover), for about 4 miles to the State Police Barracks (on right). Turn right on Harold Parker Rd to Jenkins Rd.
From 495N: Take exit 42A, travel east on Rt. 114 for 6 miles. Take a right at the Harold Parker State Forest sign.