The Kayak Chronicles ©

by Darren Caffery


Urban Paddling on the Hackensack River

Sunday April 13,  2003


The recent changeable weather this year had me seriously wondering if Spring was ever going to arrive.  Anyway, when the temperatures were forecasted to hit close to 70 for the upcoming weekend,  I eagerly made plans to meet some of my North Jersey paddling buddies in their neck of the woods..or shall I say ‘city’. 

“You never come up our way” they complain, and I must admit it’s true. I’m a sea kayaker and I live at the Jersey Shore, so I rarely have to travel very far to get to a great paddling place.  There are more than enough great places to paddle nearby where I live.

“Time for a change of scenery”  I thought, as my opening season paddle plan progressed.  Since my kayak had been quietly hibernating in my garage since November, any plan to drop it in some water was a good one.  After our plans were confirmed, my kayak and I headed up the Garden State Parkway and then even  farther north on the NJ Turnpike into Secaucus.


When most people think of Secaucus and that area of the NJ Turnpike, they most likely think of outlet malls, industry, oil refineries and the Meadowlands.  I highly doubt anyone ever associates kayaking with this area, however the area does afford some great paddling opportunities and quite a diverse backdrop of  scenery.  It’s not the Jersey Shore, but it is still very scenic …. in an urban sort of way.

And so this journey began on the morning of Sunday April 13th.  Our urban paddlers included myself, Rob C, Joy H, Tom K, Steve Z, Neil Y, and Drew M.  This was the first official Jersey Shore Sea Kayak Association club paddle for Neil and Drew.  Welcome aboard! We launched into the Hackensack River at the Laurel Hill County Park site in Secaucus at about 9:40 am.  The sun was shining bright but air temperature at launch time was a nippy 48 degrees with winds at about 5-7 mph with occasional gusts of 8 and 9 mph. As the day went on, air temps increased into the 60’s and winds died down a bit, which made for a very comfortable and beautiful day on the water.  There were some very scenic views of the Manhattan Skyline and Empire State building from the marshy launch site.


The original plan was to paddle into the brackish marshes of Sawmill Creek from the Hackensack River.  After venturing a short distance into the creek however, we soon realized that the tides in the creek were not favorable for such a trip.  This was apparent as we approached a very narrow stretch of creek which required us to paddle with all our might against the very swift current rushing towards us.  Even paddling our hardest on this small stretch of creek, we moved forward very little and one of our paddlers capsized in the current, taking an involuntary swim in the cold, swift moving waters under a low NJ Turnpike bridge.  Good thing he was wearing his drysuit! He quickly got his kayak over to the nearby shore, re-entered and was back with the group. After this incident however, we decided to paddle with the tide and current for a more urban paddling route downriver. As we made our way down back out of the creek and into the Hackensack River, portions of the shoreline route became progressively more urban.  Some areas looked a bit similar to recent media images we've seen of downtown Baghdad after the bombings.  It was never boring. We paddled downriver past a cogeneration plant, abandoned boats and a few abandoned buildings.  We also paddled past some oil refineries where the smell of the black gold permeated the air at times.  We paddled amidst the loud rumbling of NJ Transit, Amtrack and a variety of other cargo trains crossing old bridges above us and roaring of supersonic jets taking off and landing at nearby Newark International Airport.   We continued downriver until we passed under the Pulaski Skyway and then we returned back upriver for a slow and somewhat laborious paddle against a light wind to our takeout.  We landed at about 1:45 pm after approximately 10 miles of paddling.


It was an interesting paddle overall and the comfortable weather made it a great day to be paddling, where ever you were. When I really pondered this urban paddling environment, I realized the noise and smell was not much different than the Jersey Shore's Barnegat Bay in the prime of summer, with all its powerboat noise and smell of boat fuel.  Interestingly, we even  managed to see a lone snowy egret in the water near the Pulaski skyway ... and  yes, it was alive!  We capped off our adventure at the nearby Secaucus Diner to replace the energy we spent navigating through this urban waterway.



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