Kayak on the river islands of the Hudson Eagles Recreation Area

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COXSACKIE – Seven uninhabited islands lie in the Hudson River between Columbia and Greene counties, only a few hundred feet of water separating them from the villages that dot the shore.

The largest is a mile and a half long; the smaller one almost disappears at high tide. All are only accessible by kayak or other small watercraft.

In January 2020, then-Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed incorporating the islands, which are all state land, into a new river park, calling it “New York’s first linear water park” in his briefing. budgetary. The effort would involve improvements to five state boat launches — at Schodack Island State Park, Crailo State Historic Site and the communities of Athens, Coxsackie and Hudson — so that kayakers and other boaters can explore the wild northern third of the Hudson River estuary.

Although only Coxsackie’s launch is complete, it opens a door to access the River Islands and experience their splendor.

The village of Coxsackie from the Hudson River.

Roger Hannigan Gilson

According to Michael Krstovich, owner of Screaming Eagle Outdoor Adventures in Athens, getting to the islands can vary greatly in difficulty depending on the day — and even time — a boater decides to launch.

“It’s the Hudson River…it’s different every day,” he said.

The main factors are current and wind, according to Krstovich. The Hudson Estuary – the part of the river south of the Federal Dam at Troy – is marized and therefore flows north as the tide rises and south as the tide falls. The indigenous Lenape tribe called the river “Mahicantuck”, loosely translated as “the river that flows both ways”.

Then there is the wind. The open nature of the river allows the winds to blow at speeds well above those on land. As well as being difficult to paddle, the winds can kick up small, choppy waves.

The winds blow strongest in July and August, Krstovich said.

“We have these days of high heat, and we have thermals that come from the tops of the mountains, and they just go down into the river valley, and the Hudson River is like a wind tunnel,” he said.

It’s best to launch in the morning and evening to avoid the winds, Krstovich said. Boaters can also consult tide charts before setting out so they can paddle with the current.

Nature abounds on and around the islands. Paddlers may spot osprey, great blue herons, double-breasted cormorants, great egrets, red-tailed hawks, green herons, rough-winged swallows, and various ducks and gulls on their journey, as well as see bald eagles, which have become a common sight in the area in recent years.

Despite all their beauty, the islands are not natural.

Beginning in the late 19th century, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began altering the river to create and maintain a navigation channel.

First, wooden and stone seawalls were built along or between existing islands, according to Department of Environmental Conservation habitat restoration coordinator Dan Miller. The levees were intended to “stabilize (the islands) and concentrate the flow of the river through the main channel to increase scour in the main channel, making it deeper”.

The Rip Van Winkle Bridge as it passes over Roger Island on the Hudson River.

The Rip Van Winkle Bridge as it passes over Roger Island on the Hudson River.

Roger Hannigan Gilson

When the river was dredged, the resulting material was deposited behind levees and between islands to further concentrate the navigation channel, according to Miller.

As a result, many small islands were joined together to form the islands we see today.

John Lipscomb, vice president and co-director of the scientific and patrol program at the conservation group Riverkeeper, said before European intervention that “the structure of the river was determined by the geology and geography of the Hudson watershed and of his valley.”

Before the 19th century, the upper third of the estuary was shallow and consisted of a series of braided channels and a multitude of small islands, the result of sediments deposited by the upper Hudson and Mohawk rivers as they tumbled toward the Hudson Valley, where the steady elevation made the water slow to crawl, Lipscomb said.

Some of the islands were connected to the mainland by dredge spoils, Lipscomb said, becoming peninsulas. Some of these peninsulas – Shad Island, Beeren Island, Schermerhorn Island and others – are still named after their original landforms.

The ruins of the Scott Ice House near Nutten Hook, across the river from the Coxsackie <a class=boat launch. The cooler stored frozen chunks of the Hudson River during the warm months to transport them down the river in the days before refrigeration.”/>

The ruins of the Scott Ice House near Nutten Hook, across the river from the Coxsackie boat launch. The cooler stored frozen chunks of the Hudson River during the warm months to transport them down the river in the days before refrigeration.

Roger Hannigan Gilson

Hudson Middle Ground Flats, a mile-plus stretch of forested island between Athens and the town of Hudson, was once a shoal, according to Lipscomb, but was raised to an island by the dredge spoils. Stockport Middle Ground, about five miles north near the Stockport Creek delta, is also a high shoal. Schodack Island, now an eight-mile peninsula running north to south under the Castleton-on-Hudson Bridge, was once a series of smaller islands, according to Lipscomb.

Today, kayakers and other boaters can land on the sandy beaches of Hudson Middle Ground Flats and Stockport Middle Ground and spend the day exploring the forest there. Others came before. Although officially state land, residents of Hudson and Athens built cabins on the Hudson Middle Ground Flats, and several structures currently stand on the island.

Krstovich said Hudson Middle Ground Flats was his favorite and most accessible island. Paddling from Athens to the island avoids the shipping channel, which runs along the eastern side of the river, and offers calmer waters.

The Rip Van Winkle Bridge as it passes over Roger's Island near the village of Catskill on the Hudson River.

The Rip Van Winkle Bridge as it passes over Roger’s Island near the village of Catskill on the Hudson River.

Roger Hannigan Gilson

Further south, below the Rip Van Winkle Bridge span, is Roger’s Island, comprised mostly of tidal marsh and tidal forested wetlands, as well as mudflats, according to the DEC. Most of the island is so low in the water that you can’t walk on it, but you can kayak there. A winding channel in the center of the island is accessible from the south of the island.

But the two islands closest to the new state park boat launch in Coxsackie are Coxsackie Island and Rattlesnake Island. The first is about a mile north of the boat launch (less than 20 minutes of paddling following the current), the second about a mile beyond.

The southern tip of Coxsackie Island, with the village of Coxsackie visible in the background.

The southern tip of Coxsackie Island, with the village of Coxsackie visible in the background.

Roger Hannigan Gilson

It could take days to explore all the islands, but it’s time well spent. Even though the islands have been modified by man, nature has taken hold and exploring the wilderness in the northern Hudson Valley is only a short distance away.

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