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HomeNL-2017-03 Pumpkin Lake

Pumpkin Lake
Feb. 5, 2017
by John Rich

Introduction

President John F. Kennedy, Sept. 12, 1962: "We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."

Well, I'm no John F. Kennedy, nor am I a rocket scientist or an astronaut. However, I did choose to go to Pumpkin Lake, not because it is easy, but because it is hard, because I can find no evidence of anyone ever paddling it before, and because I said to myself that I was going to do it, so I have to do it.  

And so comes this trip report!

~~~~~

In the January issue of the newsletter, I wrote an article called "Pumpkin Lake Reconnoiter", which can be seen 
here. In that report, I visit the area and try to find an access route.

With the path through Orchard Lake and Orchard Lake Estates closed, I now have returned to the scene and carried through on my alternative plan to gain access to Pumpkin Lake. That plan used the FM-1464 bridge over Oyster Creek as the put-in site. Then paddling east past the housing subdivision into Cullinan Park territory, and portaging overland through the woods to get to Pumpkin Lake.  


 
Location map   Aerial view

Note that Owens Road looks like it has excellent possibilities for put-in's to Oyster Creek.  But that road is gated at FM-1464, so you can't use it. I believe that land belongs to the state prison to the east, and is part of the prison farm.

Here is the Google Maps link if you wish to check out the area for yourself.

I can find no USGS water gauge for Oyster Creek, so I don't know how one might check the water level from the comfort of your home. Maybe we can get a home phone number from one of the people that lives in Orchard Lake Estates facing Oyster Creek, so we could just call them up and say; "Hey, look out your back window - how high is the water in Oyster Creek?"

The best parking area along FM-1464 is an empty gravel lot containing only a fireworks stand and a giant backhoe bucket full of flagstone.  This lot is south of the creek, on the east side of the road (north-bound). From there, you portage 250-feet north to the bridge and creek. There is a small drop-off on the creek bank that would make entry into a canoe tricky.  But if you go under the bridge, the ground tapers gently right into the water, and it's easy. The bridge is low, so duck your head. 

Route map

Once aboard the canoe, I paddled east on Oyster Creek, passing a few ducks along the way.  The ducks were very tame, and you could paddle within 10-feet of them without arousing their concern.  I went around the big bend in the creek, following the boundary of the subdivision. After three-quarters of a mile I reached the end of the houses, and the beginning of the woodlands which are the boundary of Cullinan Park. I pulled my boat out of the water there, and headed north into the woods on foot to scout the difficulty of the portage.

   
FM-1464 bridge   Oyster Creek

 
Muscovy ducks   At the woods

What I saw was discouraging. The distance is about 200 yards, the woods are thick, and full of vines and brambles. And once you reach Pumpkin Lake, the shoreline is choked with about 20-feet of dense reeds.  Once through the reeds, the waterline is filled with floating weeds, and under the water are yet more weeds.

But, being one that does not give up easily, I decided to give it a try anyway. Assisting in that decision was a new set of canoe wheels I had purchased.  You strap these wheels under your boat, and you can tow it along behind you rather easily. At least on open land.  It takes an ungainly 80-pound boat and turns it into a one-handed tow job. Just the ticket!

Well, not quite so fast. As it turned out, the vines kept lassoing the wheels, and I had to frequently stop, put down the bow, go back and clear the wheels, or lift the stern up over a log. Ugh. It may have only been 200-yards, but it was a really hard 200 yards.

 
The woods   Vine snag

Along the way, the  woods contained some entertainment and wonder.  There was a deer rub on a tree, where a deer was rubbing the velvet off of his antlers against the bark.  The apple snails are present here - they may be an invasive species, but they are impressive in their size.  Also large in size, were a half-dozen turtle shells,their former occupants vacated. I'm curious as to why so many turtles have died in this patch of woods. There is also a serious feral hog problem in this part of the park, as the ground is churned up everywhere from pigs digging for roots and bugs. And this explains why the adjoining neighborhood is ringed with a metal fence, as otherwise the hogs would be running rampant through their yards. One spot contained a pile of grey feathers, where a feathered friend met it's fate. 

 
Antler rub   Apple snail

 
Turtle shells

 
Hog skull   Bone

Feathers

Finally, after much huffing and puffing, I arrived at the shoreline of Pumpkin Lake.  My goal is in sight! Well, not quite yet. The shoreline is ringed with a

(Continued at top right.)
20 foot thick wall of dense reeds. Since it is reputed that there are alligators here, now you need a plan in case you surprise one while pushing your boat through the reeds: run like hell, or jump in the boat. I pushed through the reeds to open water, climbed aboard, and was finally ready to began my visit to Pumpkin Lake in earnest.


 
Shoreline reeds   First view

Pumpkin Lake is oval in shape, about 1,200 feet long by 600 feet wide. Not very big.

The first thing I noticed when I emerged from the reeds was the large number of coots on the lake. Probably a hundred of them, mostly in one big group, with other smaller groups scattered around.  They vocalized an interesting alarm sound at my presence. I tried to keep my distance so as not to disturb them, but I don't think they're used to seeing people on that lake, so they were very skittish. When I got within 200 feet, they would relocate. They don't seem to take to flight very well from water. They kind of run along the surface, wings flapping madly and striking the water on each down-stroke, kicking up parallel rows of splashes. And they would do this for about 100 feet before managing to actually get airborne.


Coots

The next thing I saw was an alligator. He wasn't a very big one, but judging from the head sticking up above the surface, he was probably 4 or 5 feet long  And of course, even a 5 foot gator is half tail. So, I wasn't worried. He ducked under the water and wasn't seen again. I figure he must eat pretty well on coots.

I also saw occasional V-shaped wakes on the surface, from something swimming just under the surface. Gators or fish? The lake is only one to two feet deep, so when you surprise a fish with your boat, they can't dive to get away, and just have to scoot along just below the surface. So I kept getting surprised by large V wakes. Never saw the fish that made them, but judging from the disturbance they caused, they might be good-sized.

This lake is very shallow. As mentioned, one to two feet. And just under the surface it's filled with some kind of river weed, so there weren't many spots that actually had unobstructed water. The water is fairly clear though, unlike adjacent Orchard Lake, which is brown.


Underwater weeds

The reeds which surround the shoreline, also appear in clumps out on the water, like little islands. And there seemed to be birds hiding or nesting inside those clumps, which probably keep them safe from land-based predators. As I paddled past them, a great ruckus would ensue from upset birds, but I could never see what was making the sound.

In other places up against the shoreline reeds, there were dense mats of floating weeds on the surface, thick enough for the birds to walk on top looking for insects and frogs to eat. 


 
Surface weeds
  Ibis & egret

So, the shoreline looked like this, as viewed from out in the lake looking back towards land: water, underwater weeds, floating weeds, reeds and trees. 

 
 Weeds   Weeds, reeds & trees

The neatest part of the whole experience was not just seeing the variety of birds, but all of them seemed to be vocalizing. There were so many strange sounds, and for many of them I couldn't even see what was making them.


Little blue herons

I made a slow, lazy circuit around the perimeter, watching birds, listening to birds, and observing the flora.  I went counter-clockwise, and the flock of coots also rotated counter-clockwise a long way ahead of me to keep me away from them. When I was on the west side, they were on the east side, and so on. They kept on the opposite side of the lake from me.

I made my way around to the east side of Pumpkin Lake, and pushed through the floating weeds to get to the concrete spillway on the berm separating Pumpkin Lake from Orchard Lake. The Orchard Lake water level is about two feet higher than Pumpkin. If it rises any more than that, it flows over the spillway into Pumpkin.


Orchard Lake spillway

At one point, there was a gosh-awful roar as a jet aircraft took off from the nearby Sugar Land Airport, but it seemed to bother me more than the birds, who reacted as if nothing unusual was happening.

And with that, my visit was complete. It was totally worth the rigorous effort to get there. And now all I had to do, was make the effort one more time to return to Oyster Creek.

The return portage was just as difficult, with more vine snags on my canoe wheels, more brambles, more hog-made potholes. I was in no hurry though, so I rested often and took my time.

Back in Oyster Creek, I was now paddling upstream against a slight current, and also some strong winds. Returning to the put-in site, I put the canoe on it's wheels, and this time it was an easy finish pulling it to the truck through the roadside grass, to the curious stares of passing motorists.

Done!

Distance paddled:  
Oyster Creek:  3/4 mile x 2  = 1.5 miles.
Pumpkin Lake: 3/4 mile
Total: 2 1/4 miles.

The paddling was the easy part.

Distance portaged:
FM-1464: 250 feet x 2 = 500 feet.
Woods: 600 feet x 2 = 1,200 feet.
Total: 1,700 feet, or 560 yards.

And that was the hard part. 

If you're looking for somewhere that's hard to get to, and that few other people have ever seen, this is a good one. Those two things go together. If it was easy, everyone would do it, and then there would be trash everywhere, and the birds would go elsewhere. The fact that it's hard to get to, is what makes it a natural unspoiled gem.

 



Thanks to Natalie Wiest & Frank Ohrt for the bird identifications.


The author, John Rich