Chapter Chair Robert Scull scouted two wilderness areas and offered feasibility reports for potential outings. This post is his report for Great Lake:
On a pleasant March day, I drove over to Great Lake, which borders Sheep Ridge Wilderness on the north and Pond Pine Wilderness on the south. The weather was ideal and I was unsure when another opportunity would present itself. Great Lake Road was very narrow, so that it would not be very easy for two cars to pass in most stretches. There had been a recent burn. Some trees and logs were still smoldering and when I got out on the lake I could see a places here or there where smoke was still rising over the tops of the trees line.
Despite the fact that it is a much bigger lake, it only took me three hours to kayak around because it has a less jagged shape than Catfish Lake. I was the only person in the lake during the time I was there. There were some visible signs of target practice at the launch site, but not anything like Catfish Lake, only a few shells and one discarded ammo box. The trees are tall along Pond Pine Wilderness, but along Sheep Ridge Wilderness it is just continual dense brush (about six feet to eight feet high) with few trees. The only piece of trash I found on the entire lake was a St. Valentine's Day balloon that I found stuck in a tree like one of Charlie Brown's kites. I used it to decorate the front of my kayak and took it out of the lake.
On the east side of the lake there are a few sandy beaches. They are only about two or three feet wide before the brush, but that is enough space to pull up your kayak and sit down to eat. Most of the birds were hanging out on that side of the lake where there are a lot of trees in the water. Otherwise the lake was very quiet.
I noticed the remnants of a hunter's blind, with a platform too unstable to stand on. There was evidence of other places where a hunter's blind may have been once, but at this point they were only studs sticking out of the water. The collapsed hunter's blind was the only structure I noticed anywhere along the lake other than the dock at the launch site.
After coming around back toward the launch site, there were a number of areas where yellow grass was growing out of the water. I twice encountered an alligator while traversing this part of the shoreline In both instances the alligators came off of the shoreline and glided into the water. The first one was very graceful. The second one did a belly flop. They were both full size alligators.
As I came around full circle I heard some laughter and saw two Vietnamese women in straw hats fishing at the launch site. I asked them if the fishing was any good and the older woman said it was. In the time it took me to rest for ten minutes, write some in my journal and load up my kayak she hauled in no less than 5 catfish from this very shallow inlet where the launch site is located. She did this as though it was no big deal. The other woman did not catch any.
When I told them there were alligators out there the one who was catching the fish told me that she snagged an alligator once and fought with him for control of her fishing rod until the line broke. She said she could tell the alligator was hurt, by the way he opened his mouth and groaned like he had a toothache. It wasn't a very big alligator, she said, but it kept gliding back and forth in front of her as she warned him that if he got close again she would hook him once more. Eventually, the alligator backed off, so she said proudly.
Another couple drove up while I was loading my kayak and they walked through the nearby woods checking out the plants. While driving back out a pickup truck was coming from the other direction. The driver found a place to pull over and they all got out. They were teenagers, a young girl in very short cutoff jeans and two guys,one of them holding his rifle in the air as though he was giving me official permission to pass. I mean he didn't have to show his gun just because I was passing. It was sort of like they were playing the Dukes of Hazzard.
So there were no cars there when I arrived at 10:30AM but there was some activity at the launch site in the afternoon.
If I had a choice of going back, I think I'd go back to Great Lake again, even though its a bit further than Catfish Lake.