The Madawaska River is justifiably celebrated as one of the best places in North America to learn whitewater paddling.
Flowing past our front door, through a forest of pines and hardwoods, the river’s supply of dam-
During class hours, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) releases a generous flow over the top of Bark Lake dam filling the riverbed with warm water from the surface of the lake. In mid-
We’ve been paddling on the Madawaska River for more than 45 years and know every sluice and eddy. The river is a series of rapids and pools, alternating places to play and rest. Rapids like Staircase, Chalet, Gravelpit, Cottage, and Claudia’s Roller range from an easy Class I to a pushy Class III. Features such as: Salvation, Dumplings, The Spin, The Boof, Zoom Flume, Zig Zag, Hole 10, and Football eddy are excellent spots to experiment. Mud Bay and Andrew’s Eddy are warm, shallow, and sheltered. They are our favorite flatwater teaching sites.
Classes move downstream, using the many teaching spots. At rapids-end, you are picked up by our Driver and shuttled back to the top by our mini-vans with trailers. Walking to your boat left along the rivers edge just below the MKC’s Resort you first need to descend the steep hill into the river valley, then spotting the maze of gates hanging across the river at “Chalet Rapids” hanging from wires strung across the river – you may ask if there is a race coming soon. A few each season, yes…but the gates are used for technical training. We call them “swinging rocks”. They hurt a lot less than real rocks and provide instant feedback if you’ve succeeded in your stroke sequence.
On the Friday of our 5 day courses, our section of white water is too low to paddle (no water release) which sees our classes venture out for a full day River Trip on one of the many choices within an hours drive. Destinations depend on the time of year, and your paddling skill. The Lower Madawaska is a popular destinations with spring water levels, the Petawawa when it rains and the Ottawa River in the middle of the summer with it’s big friendly white water.
Bark Lake Dam defines the start of the middle Madawaska River. Built for flood control, and peak power production it’s mandate now extends to a much broader scope, including white water recreation. Bark Lake is eastern Ontario’s second largest water reservoir (Lake Temiskaming feeding the Ottawa River being the largest) supplies the Madawaska River. Early spring, the water level in Bark Lake can be over 10 metres lower than summer levels as it’s waters have been drawn for power production on the 5 Hydro-producing Dams downstream through the cold winter months. The spring freshet fills the Lake back up in time for the May Long Weekend. The Madawaska River produces what is called ‘peak power’ – during high electrical consumption, or emergencies as in 2003 with the famous Northeast Blackout. In 1969, my parents Christa & Hermann Kerckhoff chose the Middle Madawaska for this sole reason – guaranteed warm water…as it drops over the top of the dam all summer long. Negotiating with Ontario Hydro the ‘current’ schedule of 26 hours of water releases per week came to be. My parents asked “how much water needs to flow downstream over 7 days, even in periods of drought?” and then “could this water be released during the day for white water recreation, replenished overnight? ” Being in cottage country, keeping lake levels constant as well as providing downstream flows is a delicate balance. This balance is managed extremely well through the Madawaska River Management Plan, a legally binding document created in 2000 through consultation with the many stakeholders by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) along its 240 km length. A document that has won national awards, and is now utilized in other River systems around the Globe.