A Quiet Escape Paddling the Peconic River

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Between rivers, bays and harbors, interconnected waterways merge saltwater currents and estuaries. Marine life inhabiting underwater homes meet the shores and its world of flora and fauna. Both vast and small pockets of water have long been a pull for those that enjoy swimming, boating and fishing. Getting people on the water has been made more accessible in recent years, with more motorboats hitting the high seas and more personal vessels, like paddleboards, kayaks and canoes, sharing the waters. There are few places now free of engine-run watercraft. But on the west end of the Peconic River, only those with paddles in hand can explore what feels like a hidden paradise.

On this quiet part of the river, it’s easy to forget that just beyond the looming trees are the roads and bridges that transport the busy, everyday person from one stop to the next. Sometimes you can hear the cars, but mostly it’s the rushing water under a footbridge or wind rustling the trees.

Saturday morning, Corina Svendsen opens the garage door to a white box building right on Peconic Avenue that houses paddleboards, canoes and kayaks for sale and to rent. A sign prompts visitors to put down the cellphones and destress. The chain link fence is pulled back to reveal a shady launch for these vessels, right next to Grangebel Park. This is where paddlers may start or return to Peconic Paddler.

Pushing a kayak out, Svendsen carefully heads under a footbridge toward a gathering of lily pads in bloom with white flowers. Just on the other side of the trees are busy roads, but you don’t notice them.

“It’s like you’ve gone back in time because there’s nothing here,” she says. “You hear the frogs chirping and sometimes see little turtles swimming. You can hear cars passing sometimes, but you don’t really focus on that.”

One of the more popular launch points for those just looking to enjoy a couple of hours on the water, the river teems with fish and turtles. Swans swim while herons wade, and many more birds fly overhead. Free from wakes and sounds of boat engines, the quietness of the river is serene.

Paddling down the Peconic River. Madison Fender photo

There are more challenging options to paddling the river. Svendsen, her husband Jim, and son James stack rented canoes and kayaks to cart to various launch points depending on what level of endurance people are seeking. The seven-mile route is the most challenging with five portages where the boat must be carried across the street to the next launch point. Traveling two miles takes two hours, with the rest of the journey taking another two-and-a-half. A five-mile journey is a bit less challenging, though still comes with three portages. These trips are best made with at least two people. An hour out from Peconic Paddler’s shop, many pull up to the shore behind Roadhouse Pizza for a slice to relax and enjoy views from the picnic tables.

Svendsen, who bought the shop three years ago, remembers coming there when she was a girl scout.

“We’re from the South Shore and always went out on motorboats, waterskiing and jet skiing,” she says. “This is a completely different experience. It’s so peaceful. Now others who grew up knowing this place bring their own kids.”

Customers also take rentals to the bayside, many visiting friends and family camping at Indian Island. Here, some motorboats have access as well, offering a more mainstream experience. Paddlers can make their ways to various sites, parks and even sandy beaches as they get closer to Peconic Bay. But it is careening through the other side of the Peconic River that offers the most unique and natural experience.

“Wildlife is the biggest shock for people,” Svendsen says. “There are tons of fish and huge carp that almost seem prehistoric! Muskrats pop up and there are beautiful white herons. You hear and see so much. Just like yoga, it’s a great way to destress.”

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