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One advantage to the flatwater streams in the South Jersey Pinelands is the ability to combine put-in and take-out. By parking at a designated site, attaining up the river for a few hours, and then running the river back to your starting point, you can avoid having to shuttle! Many paddlers do this from Quaker Bridge up the Batsto, from Evans Bridge up the Wading, or from Goshen Pond up the Mullica. Here's another shuttle-free adventure: the Upper Oswego!
When my fellow kayaker Bruce "Two Hawks" Soboleski and I tried this July 17th, we wondered if ANYONE recently or historically had gone this route. These are virtually pristine waters. While countless paddlers have done the lower Oswego from Oswego Lake through Martha Pond to Harrisville Pond, this upper section of the Oswego has gone virtually unnoticed and it is worth attempting under the right conditions.
First, we parked our car at the picnic/swimming area at Oswego Lake, unloaded a pair of Dagger Zydeco's, and proceeded up the lake. By keeping to the left or northern side of the lake, it becomes easier to spot the skeleton of an old cabin that marks the upper Oswego's entrance into the lake. The river is at least twenty feet wide at this point, and meanders back and forth through an open marsh.
The current was quite manageable and there were no obstructions. The northern bank belongs to Penn State Forest and the southern bank closes in on the Warren Grove Bombing Range. Long periods of utter silence may be punctuated by the roar of fighter planes. There are many swamp maples lining the banks, interspersed with some of the largest Atlantic white cedars I have ever seen in the Barrens. There are some challenging reed beds about an hour into the trip. Unfortunately the reed beds create a number of braided streams with accelerated currents, so Bruce and I had to "punch" our way through. I'm not sure a canoe would be able to handle this. My 35lb Zydecos seemed to handle it nicely. I was surprised how few toppled trees and strainers there were--I don't remember having to portage around anything. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful and there were only a few bridge ruins and cranberry bog diverters/channels to indicate any signs of humanity.
About ninety minutes into the trip, the Oswego tapers down to about ten feet wide with a few obstacles, old debris or beaver dams that we had to ascend. After about two hours we came to the Papoose Branch which branches off to the left or northeast. We ventured up the Papoose for a few hundred yards, but it was overgrown with many obstructions--although the moss-covered banks there were fascinating--so we turned around and ascended up the Oswego again. After two hours attaining up the Oswego we decided to turn around. It simply became too narrow to navigate. You might think: why bother? Well, the return trip was perfect. There was a swift current, especially through those reed beds, the debris dams created some minor whitewater, and the afternoon sun was full in our faces. It took us only forty-five minutes to paddle down the river and across the lake to my car. A great afternoon excursion with few hassles.
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