MOHAWK - Discovering the Valley of the Crystals Copyright 2002
Chapter 12 - Tributuaries
Discovery: Calamity on Cayadutta Creek
My introduction to the Cayadutta was a passage in a book on the Mohawk Valley noting that George Chapin discovered the site of an ancient Indian village while hiking up the creek in 1892.
Subsequent research indicated the village was occupied by Mohawk Indians some 500 years ago, and that over the years archaeologists and historians had visited it many times.
Much of Cayadutta Creek flows through wild
and beautiful woodland.
Historian, Jane Dieffenbacher and her husband, George had visited the site 20 years ago and guided Gert and I for a brief visit through muck and mosquitoes on a rainy day this past July. The extent of our visit was to approach the site from the high ground and look down into Cayadutta Valley. As we were leaving the area, a logger told us he had uncovered some pottery shards and pieces of flint and placed them on a log slab. We were welcome to take a few samples if we came back.
I wanted to "discover" the site and this tributary of the Mohawk the way George Chapin did in 1892, so I returned on August 14, 2000 with longtime friend Ron Kolodziej. I asked Ron to join me because he lives in the general area, is a student of Indian artifacts and writes an outdoor column for the Amsterdam Recorder.
We found pieces of pottery, worked flint and mussel shells.
Ron told me that for as long as he could remember, Cayadutta Creek was called "Old Stinky" because of the outflow of tanneries at Johnstown. Although a sewage treatment plant for Johnstown and Gloversville had been constructed a number of years ago, Ron hadn't heard of anyone taking fish from the stream, so he decided to discover the creek with a camera. Like always, I brought along my ultralight spinning rod and a few lures.
After Ron parked his Explorer near an upstream bridge we returned downstream to begin the two-mile hike up the creek. When we exited my Jeep near the Sammonsville Bridge, a basset hound and golden retriever came out to greet us. It was 9:15 a.m., sunny and 70 degrees. I waded up the creek between willows and box elders. Ron took the "high road" on the left..
The creek bed in this area was mostly chips of shale. I worked the shallow runs and pools with a gold Phoebe with no results. A hen mallard jumped off the water, quacked a chorus of objections to my presence and flew upstream, dodging overhanging willows. A great blue heron pumped its huge wings skyward and disappeared over tree tops.
As I approached a section of shale outcrops, a mallard pretended injury, quacking and beating water with its wings. When I came closer it took off, perhaps protecting a late brood hiding in the weeds.
The streamside vegetation of goldenrod, Joe Pye weed and "bamboo" weed was so high and so thick it was almost impossible to walk through. Except in areas where the water was too deep to wade in hip boots, I stayed in the creek. I was beginning to wonder if I'd be able to locate Ron in all this cover.
It was 9:30 when I passed under some huge willows and spooked a great blue heron that left with a squawk. A clump of tiger lilies grew next to a big cotton wood with a huge fungus at the bottom. A kingfisher scolded as it flew from a perch in some streamside sumac. Sand collected at a wide bend in the creek and purple loosestrife competed with other streamside vegetation.
At 10:15 I saw Ron walking along a forested bank of birch and hemlock. He had crossed the creek We talked for a moment and decided to meet at the Indian village site at the top of the ridge.
This site, like others of the period, was located on high ground at a sharp double bend, or open loop, overlooking the creek. At each end of the loop was a gully. Nature had created a peninsula of land jutting out into the valley. The ancient village was located on this very defensible position; three sides on high ground. The open end of the peninsula which led to village farmfields, was protected by a log barricade or palisade. Of course that was hundreds of years ago.
I continued upstream, through a stretch of boulders, passing between wild apples and willows. Although the creek was quite shallow, it was well shaded, so I had cast into practically every pool and run without so much as a hit, so it was a big deal when I discovered a deep pool and my lure stopped in mid-retrieve. I set the hook, felt weight for a few seconds and retrieved the lure. A fish? Maybe.
Near a large island, a stream entered the creek from a gully. According to my topo map, this gully led to the village site. Perhaps this was the path that George Chapin had taken when he made his discovery in the 1890s. It took about 10 minutes to climb up the steep and slippery shale streambed. Relatively easy when no one was throwing rocks, spears or shooting arrows.
I found Ron looking for mussel shells on the forest floor where a log skidder had churned up the soil. Ron noted that an abundance of mussel shells usually indicated an Indian village. We found several shells and also located the loggers "stash" which consisted of small pieces of pottery, worked flint and more shells. We took a couple of each.
Nearby was a large boulder with a bowl-like depression on top. Someone had suggested to the logger that this boulder was used by Indians for grinding corn. Place corn in bowl and mash with a stone pestle. Perhaps. The rock bowl seemed too rough to have had much use, but a lot can happen in 500 years.
After photographing the artifacts, we explored the site for about 20 minutes, trying to imagine what it was like when several hundred people lived here in the middle of a vast wilderness.
It was 11 a.m. when we followed a logging road down to the creek, noting the profusion of yellow touch-me-nots growing on the cleared hillside.
Ron decided to follow me up the creek while I fished ahead. We passed under some big cottonwoods and drooping willows, startled two great blue herons and discovered outcrops of shale. I had previously told Ron that what surprised me most about these discovery trips was the surprises. At 12:20 we found our first surprise of the day, a series of waterfalls.
While Ron photographed the first falls, I cast a gold Phoebe into the plunge pool beneath.In quick succession I caught and released a 13-inch and a 12-inch brook trout. Brook trout in Old Stinky! Surprise.
The next falls was the highest, perhaps 10 feet. I waded to the opposite side of the creek to cast into the plunge pool and caught an 11-inch brookie. There were mill dams on just about every stream in the Mohawk Valley at one time, and they were usually located at the highest falls. Cayadutta Creek was no exception.
We found the remains of at least two mill sites at this waterfalls. One was made of flat stone, no mortar, indicating late 1700s to early 1800s. The other was brick and mortar; late 1800s to early 1900s construction.
This was definitely an area frequented by the Indians who lived in that ancient village. It was the furthest up feeding or spawning fish could get on the Cayadutta. This wilderness stream was also the source of another major source of food --- freshwater mussels.
The series of waterfalls we
discovered were a real surprise.
The creek bottom above the falls was like a slate road, and it led to a small waterfalls with a deep plunge pool where a trout as long as my forearm followed the Phoebe into shallow water and hit it but didn't hook up. I couldn't tell if it was a brookie or a brown.
After exploring the falls and mill sites and taking photos of the brookies before I released them, Ron opted to climb the ridge and follow it to the bridge. I continued wading up the creek.
I made a couple of casts below a wooden log dam without results and then climbed through the brush on the right side of the dam. Just upstream, where the creek ran tight to a shale "wall", creating a long pool, a small brown trout took my lure.
I tried to walk around another deep pool, but the streamside vegetation was so thick I decided the better path was atop a huge log that paralleled the stream. At the upper end of that log was a root mass I couldn't get around. Reverse direction. Partway back, I sat on the log, legs hanging a foot above water. When I dropped off the log, I discovered the stream bottom was hard, water up to my knees. No surprises here.
Halfway across, the water was over my knees and running fast. The stream bottom was slick. Slate slick. I started sliding, slowly at first, picking up speed as I got closer to the pool. Although not overly concerned with getting hurt, I expected to get very wet. I started laughing at my predicament; skiing down Cayadutta Creek, fishing rod in hand, pack on my back. Several feet before reaching the pool, I discovered a large boulder just under the water. I latched onto it with hand and foot. Lucky!
It was 1:40 when I came to the sewage treatment plant outflow. The water was too deep to wade, so I climbed over the staircase-like overflow chute and continued upstream towards the bridgewhere Ron's car was parked.
I was thinking: What a great day! Saw wildlife, wildflowers and waterfalls, visited an archaeological site, caught some nice fish and discovered a beautiful region of the Mohawk Valley. And only a few hundred yards to go before I could rest, relax and remove the hip boots. Just before passing under the treatment plant footbridge, I fell flat on my face in midstream. I staggered to my feet, bifocals gone, hip boots filled with water. Being so close to the car, I continued upstream for another 50 yards and fell again.
At 2:15, I climbed the streambank next to the bridge. Ron wasn't there. I emptied the hip boots, wrung out socks and shirts and hung them on tree branches. Everything was wet except for the back of my shirt collar and the day pack.
While waiting for Ron, I lay back and enjoyed a snack from my pack. Drivers-by waved, some smiled. A half-hour later I was still waiting for Ron. Traveling the high ground, he should have been ahead of me. I had decided to flag down a motorist to get a ride back to my car before contacting local officials to mount a search. When I walked to the road, I saw two men standing near the entrance to the Sewage Treatment Plant. One of them was Ron.
He had tried to climb up the ridge, but after several encounters with jungle-like vegetation that he had to crawl through or "throw" himself on, he returned to the creek. When he came to the treatment plant he stopped to chat with workers.
On the way back to the Jeep we discussed our adventure, and agreed it was something special . . . and full of surprises.
I asked Ron if we came back if he'd bring a fishing rod. He replied, "The next time I'm bringing a machete."
Cayadutta Creek --- 200 Years of Pollution
Cayadutta Creek begins as a trickle in the hills some three miles north of Gloversville. It flows southward for more than 17 miles to the Mohawk River/Erie Canal, passing through the communities of Gloversville, Johnstown, Sammonsville, Berryville and Fonda.
For more than 200 years it was one of the most polluted streams in the Mohawk Valley. In addition to the raw sewage of communities along the creek, tanneries at Gloversville and Johnstown dumped tons of chemicals, hair and other waste into the creek
The first significant effort to clean up the creek was in 1903 when farmer, Sampson Sammons sued the village of Gloversville claiming that "Sewer filth, accumulating on a river bank, constitutes trespass."
Although there were other sources of pollution, including "the city of Johnstown, along with several tanneries", the court ruled: "that city's sewage disposal practices amounted to a continuing trespass that substantially injured Mr. Sammons' property rights. It issued an injunction, to take effect after one year, prohibiting Gloversville from fouling Mr. Sammons' premises by discharging its sewage into the creek."
For almost 70 years the only sewage treatment on the creek was the plant at Gloversville.It wasn't until 1972 that the cities of Gloversville and Johnstown completed the construction of a new sewage treatment plant. Although this was a major improvement, area residents still noted the gray color and the "stink" of the Cayadutta.
In 1986 and again in 1991 the treatment facilities were upgraded to meet more rigid standards. Today the Gloversville-Johnstown Joint Wastewater Treatment Facility is "designed to treat up to 13.8 mgd (million gallons per day) of domestic sanitary sewage from the cities of Gloversville and Johnstown as well as industrial wastewater from leather tanning and finishing, glue manufacturing, textile and other major industries. Peak treatment capacity is 30 mgd."
In 1996 the Cayadutta from its mouth to Johnstown was reclassified from "D" to "C". Trout water.
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