Kayak around a floating island at Sadawga Lake

If you won’t have many opportunities to kayak in Southern Vermont this summer, why not choose a rare body of water? The 200-acre Sadawga Lake is said to be named for Chief Sadawga, an American Indian known to camp on its shore, and rumor has it he could swim under its floating bog-like island.

Yes, a floating island.

On July 1890 a California newspaper, The San Francisco Call, wrote “The island contains [more than] 100 acres and actually floats upon the water. One can easily pass entirely around it in a boat, one of the most remarkable freaks of nature and one of the greatest curiosities in the world.”

Today, the island is a roughly a quarter of the reported size, and a few years ago friends Tony Costello of Pittsfield and and Laura-Lee Alfonso of Richmond joined me for a late summer visit. We found a well-kept launching area owned and maintained by Vermont Fish and Wildlife. The many summer homes along the shore and the lack of rest rooms were at first a disappointment; before long though, our paddling brought us farther from civilization, and with the sounds of nature our attitude changed. The secluded island and its convoluted passages and smaller islands became a delight to explore.

We kept on the lookout for insect-eating plants like the sundew and pitcher plant and soon found both. This pond is the remnants of a bog with its insect-eating plants.

And as we paddled about, we found many other surprises — two kinds of cranberries laden with fruit yet to ripen, sheep and bog laurel, and cotton grass or bog cotton, a native sedge that at this season through Autumn has seed heads that resemble tufts of cotton.

The yellow flowers of common bladderwort emerge from the water surrounding the mat. Bladderwort itself has developed special traps for capturing tiny swimming water animals.

And at this end of the lake we saw little sign of humanity. We slowly approached a great blue heron intent on swallowing a just-caught fish while kingfishers were calling in the background and a double-crested cormorant that nested here earlier flew low over the open water and stopped long enough for a portrait.

Dragonflies were everywhere, and I was determined to land at the island to explore. I carefully got out of my kayak and even more carefully made my way across the island, photographing its many species of plants. For safety, I carried my paddle in the event I fell through the mat, which I didn’t.

Early reports have described the island floating around the lake with tamarack trees acting as sails. The tamaracks or American larch, are still there, though I suspect that the island, a floating sphagnum mat, is stationary now, anchored by tree roots.

Directions: From North Adams, take Route 8 north to Route 8/100 north; continue past Readsboro, and when you start of seeing Harriman Reservoir on left, look for Sadawga Lake Road on right. Image at the top: Tamarac is a coniferous and deciduous tree that turns bright yeallow before dropping its needles in the Autumn. All photos by Thom Smith.

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

If you’d like to see the website grow, you can join me for a few dollars a month, enough for a cup of coffee and a cider doughnut. Members get access to extra stories and multimedia, itineraries a bookmark tool. Let me know what you're looking for, and we’ll explore together.

One thought on “Kayak around a floating island at Sadawga Lake

  1. I loved your article about Lake Sadawga. I visit often and now I know to look for Pitcher Plants! Around 2004 a big section of the island floated clear across the lake from where it is now to the shore of my dad’s backyard on Sadawga Lake Road. It stayed for a few weeks and then floated away.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

BTW Berkshires