Exploring Cheshire Reservoir by canoe and kayak
We think of a reservoir most often as a no-trespass impoundment for drinking water - not so with Cheshire Reservoir. When the North Branch of the northerly flowing Hoosic River was dammed in 1869, it created a "big reservoir" to retain water and control its flow to power the textile mills downstream.
Also known as Hoosac Lake, this 418-acre body of water consists of one large basin recognizable from the highway as a lake with a depth to about nine feet.
The middle basin's greatest depth is about six feet, while the exceedingly shallow southern basin is, at most, only a few feet deep and is best attempted by kayak or canoe, and in spring before plants regain their strangle hold. These two smaller basins have wild shorelines with little development. Across all three, an almost ever-present wind comes up the valley.
For easy access, especially for the main basin, begin at the parking area and launch site at the north end, where the bike trail crosses Route 8 and draws kayakers from around the Berkshires. Here, summer and year-round residences dominate the northwest shoreline, while the rest of the lake remains fairly natural. The Ashuwillticook Rail Trail travels alongside the east shore, although not always visible.
The reservoir's six islands intrigue me and I always visit at least one when I paddle with someone new to the lake.
I avoid the northern basin at its busiest, on afternoons and weekends during July and August. Here the water reaches nine feet and attracts both party boats and speed boats.
I almost always gain access to the middle and southern basins from the causeway at Farnam's Road. For the adventuresome wanting to explore the southern basin, either portage across Nobody's Road (the actual name) or park and launch from what may be the oddest named gravel road (now dead ended) in the county.
Both basins have heavy plant growth in summer, with Eurasian milfoil and yellow pond weed making paddling difficult, and most recently, water chestnut is showing signs of gaining a stronghold in the shallow, slow-moving water. On a bright side, the great blue heron and the occasional osprey will keep an eye on visitors, and painted turtles often bask on logs. Families of mallard ducks and Canada geese will paddle by the quiet kayaker in late June, with their young weaving this way and that.
In late summer, I have watched a great blue leave the water and search along a steep bank on the western shore of the middle basin for more terrestrial fare. On the last day of summer several years ago, I spent an hour watching a male hunt for insects. Not only did it catch several large grasshoppers, but also a leopard frog.
I had grown used to the old Farnam's lime furnaces on the northwest shore, photographing them at all seasons and times of day. For some, their demolition was a victory. For me, it was a cheerless improvement -- I miss the opportunity for yet one more photograph, and I had been visiting the site since I was about 9 years old to fish for yellow perch below it.
The south basin is the most wild of the three and difficult to navigate from mid-June on. On my last early morning visit, with fog hanging low above the shallows, a black bear cub was craw-fishing, and bass, carp and probably pickerel tore through the milfoil to avoid me.