MOHAWK - Discovering the Valley of the Crystals Copyright 2005
Chapter 10 - The Canals
From Rome to Crescent by Boat
Technically the Mohawk Valley section of the Canal starts where the Mohawk River enters the Canal at Rome, but the nearest public boat launch is about a mile west of the river, so that’s where we’ll launch our boat. (When the canal is open, the river flows east and west from Rome to keep the canal full, so it has been argued that the traditional Mohawk Valley has been altered by the construction of the canal.)
Although there are a number of marinas where big---self-contained---boats can tie up for the night, currently there are not many places to secure a small powerboat and stay at a canal side motel, so I’ll point out public launches along the way, allowing small boat owners to plan a series of piecemeal trips. It takes much too long---a couple of hours---to travel two miles through the five locks at the eastern end of the canal, so we'll end our discovery trip at the boat launch near Crescent Dam.
The Mohawk River enters the Canal at Rome over this falls.First Ya Gotta Pay the Piper
The new bridge is part of the Erie Canalway Trail
Boating on the Canal is free if you don’t go through a lock, but right now (2005) a pass for a one-day, 10 days, or for the entire season is a good deal. For instance for a boat less than 16 feet, a day-pass is $5, a 10-day pass is $12.50 and the Seasonal Permit $25. For a 16 but less than 26 foot boat, it’s $10, $25 and $50 respectively. Boats greater than 39 feet - $20, $50 and $100. Passes and permits can be purchased at New York State Thruway Authority Headquarters, 200 Southern Blvd., Albany New York (518) 436-2799. For more information, including current fees and other purchase locations see: http://www.canals.state.ny.us/exvac/boating/bctolls.html
And Then Go By the Rules
The maximum speed on the Canal is 10 mph; slower in designated areas and when approaching canoes, kayaks, small boats, docks and marinas. Big boats should stay between the buoys that mark the deepest part of the canal. Smaller boats can explore---with care---bays, backsets, stream outlets and around islands. All boats should stay away from dams. For more information see: http://www.nycanal.com/nycanalfacts.html#facts
It’s The Great Carry for God’s Sake
Before launching at Rome, consider reliving the rich history of “The Great Carry” by visiting Fort Stanwix and associated Marinus Willet Reception Center . . . AND . . . Erie Canal Village. The Fort is a National Monument that is an exact replica of the bastion where the British were held at bay during the Revolutionary War. The Village, which is located where the construction of the Erie Canal began in 1817, is an outdoor living museum that features a variety of period homes, workshops and other buildings, plus a packet boat ride on the Old Erie Canal. Between visits stop at one of Rome’s many fine restaurants.
For more information see: http://www.stepintohistory.com/states/NY/Ft_Stanwix.htm
The public boat launch in Rome is located where Muck Road meets the Canal at the south ends of S. Madison or S. George streets. Both streets run off Erie Blvd. It’s an excellent launch with plenty of parking.
And Away We Go
If you’re a fisherman, you will want to spend some time in this area. If not, head east. You will soon discover a number of highway bridges, Guard Gate 7 and the falls where the Mohawk River enters the Canal. Take a close look at the moveable dam. In the winter it’s down and all that water coming over the falls flows east. Note the new wooden arch bridge above the falls; it’s part of the Erie Canalway Trail that will eventually cross the entire state.
Just east of the river is the Rome Terminal; it’s being developed into a canal-side park. If you’ve spent a few hours fishing, or boated into the area from the West, you can tie up at the park to take a break or walk into Rome.
On the south side of the Canal is a channel leading to the Rome Marina, and the approximate location of the Lower Landing of the Great Carry. It’s also a good place to fish. About three miles east is a crossover dam and Guard Gate 6. Right now (We are pretending it’s summer.) some of the canal water flows over the dam and into the Mohawk River. In the winter this moveable dam is down, so most of the water flows over the dam into the river. These are all good places to fish.
On the north side of the river, at about four miles, is the mouth of Six Mile Creek. For many years this was the launching site for a raft that carried young stock to and from the “island” on the south side of the Canal.
At around six miles Ninemile Creek flows into the Canal and over another crossover dam. The wide mouth of the creek is a good place to fish and to see spawning carp. Tiger muskie fishermen pay special attention to this area of the Canal. Crane Creek enters the Canal at nine miles and flows over a crossover dam. From there it’s less than a mile to Lock 20.
There is a beautiful park at Lock 20, so it’s a good place to tie up. The park features picnic grounds, restrooms and a pavilion, plus a special viewing platform to watch boats go through the lock. During the summer, evening concerts are held here. Lock 20 has a 16-foot lift, or in our case, traveling east, a 16-foot drop.
Lock 20 is a 16-foot "drop" lock located in Marcy. It features a beautiful canal-side park and picnic area.
A mile or so east of Lock 20 is the entrance to Marcy Marina. This is the approximate location of New York’s first canal. At 13 miles is a State Boat Launch on the south side of the Canal, and at 13.4 miles the Utica Harbor Lock. The waters around the lock and the turn around bay opposite the lock are fish havens. In the spring and fall this is also a good place to look skyward, because a nearby wildlife area--- Utica Marsh---attracts thousands of geese, ducks and other waterbirds.
In the Mohawk Valley the Utica Lock is unique. It’s the only lock on the Canal that is not in the Canal. This 6.5-foot "drop" lock leads to a dammed section of the Mohawk River and to Utica Harbor. Today this seldom
used and environmentally abused harbor has great potential to become a major tourist attraction in Utica and on the Canal. Presently the harbor and surrounding lands are so polluted it will take many years and millions of dollars to clean them up.
Just east of the Genesee Street Bridge is the brand new Utica Marina building. Presently the “marina” is not fully developed, but it does feature one of the finest restaurants on the Canal. Kitty’s On The Canal features indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the Canal and the falls at the mouth of Reall Creek.
Except for a few bridges and the crossover dam in Schuyler, the next stop on the Canal is Lock 19 at 20 miles. This 21-foot “drop” lock is a long way from the road, but it features a small park and the mouth of Sterling Creek. From Lock 19 it’s about 3.5 miles to Frankfort Harbor. There are a number of small tributaries and bays along this stretch of the Canal that can be very fishy.
Frankfort Harbor (23.4 miles) is a major player on the Canal. It’s here that the Canal and the Mohawk River come together. From here on, the Canal and River follow the same path---except for a couple of minor separations---all the way to the Hudson River. The harbor is also the location of a public boat launch, a marina, fishing platform, restaurant and a sport shop.
(For much more information about the Canal and River east of Frankfort see: Chapter 11 – The River.)
The Ilion Village Marina, at 26 miles, features a picnic area and restaurant, and is within walking distance of the Remington Firearms Museum.
A couple miles east of Ilion is the Herkimer Marina which features Gems Along the Mohawk and The Waterfront Grille, providing a visitor center, a retail outlet for many local products, and fine dining overlooking the Canal. This is also a “port” for the “Lil' Diamond” that offers guided cruises on this area of the Canal. For more information see: http://www.gemsalongmohawk.com/about/
Just past the Mohawk St. Bridge are Guard Gate 5 and the Mohawk Dam. As noted previously, this is where the river and canal part company for about four miles. The Canal passes under the Guard Gate and on to the site of Fort Herkimer, and right by the 250 year old Fort Herkimer Church and Cemetery.
The parting of the river and canal created Lock 18 (Plantation) Island that is a State Wildlife Area and the location of remnants of two earlier canals. See also Lock 18 Island.
Lock 18, at 32 miles, is a 20-foot "drop" lock located just outside of the hamlet of Jacksonburg. The river rejoins the canal just east of the lock. The waters below the lock are very fishy, as are the mouths of several tributaries that enter the canal along this section.
The State Public Boat Launch at Little Falls is on the north side of the Canal at around 35 miles.This launch features a park and plenty of parking. Little Falls is located in a gorge, so there are escarpments on both sides of Herkimer County’s only “City.” A sloping hill on the south side of the gorge is called the Rollaway. In the early days the only way to get logs to the sawmill located on the south side of the river was to roll them down this hill. Little Falls is a great place to tie up and explore Moss Island, browse through gift and antique shops, or to partake at nearby restaurants. For more information see: http://www.littlefallsny.com/
The Canal and River part company at Little Falls.
That’s the Little Falls Terminal on the right. It’s being developed into a canal-side park and “port.” You might see the Erie Canal School Boat tied up here. Although the boat’s primary purpose is to teach students about the history of the Canal, it doubles as a tour boat for young and older folks. Just east of the “park” is Guard Gate 4.
Lock 17, at 36 miles is a 40.5-foot “drop.” For many years it was the highest lock in the world. Today it’s the highest single lift on the New Erie Canal, and the site of a power plant and the aforementioned Moss Island where trails lead to giant potholes created 10,000 years ago by a glacial river.
<>Little Falls to Amsterdam
Take a left turn out of Lock 17 and go upriver to see Cathedral Point and the Power Plant on Moss Island, and the lower reaches of the Little Falls. Lots of fish in this area. Look skyward and you will probably see a dozen or more turkey vultures soaring in the updrafts near the top of the gorge. Consider this. Some 9,000 years ago the gorge was solid rock from top to bottom. As this “dam” in Glacial Lake Iroquois deteriorated, it created a 500-600 foot waterfalls that created the huge potholes on Moss Island.
This concrete derelict along the
cliff east of Little Falls was a stone
crushing plant back in the 1920s.
After passing under the highway bridge, which incidentally would have passed through Moss Island if a whole bunch of folks didn't scream and holler, look to the left. That’s the Little Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant, one of the reasons the river/canal is so much cleaner these days. Further along, that derelict concrete building on the side of a cliff was a stone crushing and distribution plant in the 1920s. That side of the gorge is called Burned Rocks. relating to fires that spread along the side of the gorge in the 1800s
Herkimer Home sits way back, on the south side of the Canal, at around 38 miles. There is a huge sign and a small dock near the water. Don’t tie up at the dock unless you have special permission. General Nicholas Herkimer lived in the brick “mansion” on the hill in the mid 1700s, and died here in 1777 after he was wounded during the Battle of Oriskany. Herkimer made his fortune carting boats and cargo around Little Falls. Today his home, family cemetery and adjacent buildings is a New York State Historic Park.
From Herkimer Home it’s only a couple miles to Five Mile Dam where the river and canal go their separate ways. A mile further is the mouth of Nowadaga Creek and Guard Gate 3. Chief Joseph Brant and his sister Molly (Lady Johnson) lived on a farm near here before the Revolutionary War, and were friends and neighbors of the Herkimers. The 1769 Indian Castle Church is located across Route 5S from the Brant homestead.
General Herkimer's Home is a New York State Historic Park.
Around 2 miles east on the south side of the Canal (and opposite the mouth of East Canada Creek on the separated Mohawk River) is the site of the Mohawk village of Canajoharie, Fort Hendrick and King Hendrick’s orchard. (See Hendrick.)
Next stop, at 44 miles, is Lock 16. This 20.5-foot “drop” lock is located about a half mile east of the hamlet of Mindenville. The waters below the lock and dam are popular fishing spots, as are the waters where the river and the canal come together again. There is a concrete “lip” in the river in this area, so it’s not a good idea to motor up the river, especially during low water periods.
Just past the bridge, at the lighthouse on the north side of the canal, (44.5 Miles) is the Saint Johnsville Municipal Boat Launch and Marina. (Launch fees are stuffed in a locked box on the dock.) This is a good place to tie up and take a break. This “full service” marina features a campground, and it’s only two blocks to the center of town. See: http://www.stjohnsville.com/vilmarina.htm
East of Saint Johnsville, look for a small dock on the south side of the Canal. It's a good place to stop and explore the Old Erie Canal locks that were uncovered here recently. A mile or so east on the north side of the Canal look for a small tributary and a stone house on a hill. This is Fort Klock, a fortified homestead that dates back to the French and Indian War. This is also an area rich in Indian history. There were a number of Mohawk villages atop the hills on the south side of the river dating back to the 1600s. The mouths of tributaries plus islands along this stretch of the canal can be very fishy.
Fort Klock dates back to the French and Indian War.At 50.7 miles it’s only an 8-foot drop to the bottom of Lock 15 and associated moveable dam at Fort Plain. Fort Plain was the site of a Mohawk village and a Revolutionary War fort. There is an Indian and Revolutionary War museum just west of the village. Downstream from the lock on the other side of the canal is the village of Nelliston and a State Boat Launch. The village of Fort Plain features a canal-side park at the mouth of Otsquago Creek.
The island between Lock 15 and its moveable dam is a popular fishing spot.
The white building on the right is the Beechnut Foods plant in Canajoharie.
At 54 miles the canal drops another 8 feet at Lock 14 where another moveable dam just west of Canajoharie controls water levels between villages. The island between the lock and the dam is a popular fishing spot. The huge white buildings on the right side of the canal belong to the Beechnut Gum and Baby Food Company that once employed a couple thousand residents of Canajoharie, Fort Plain and surrounding communities. Today only about 300 people work there. One lasting legacy of the founders of the company is the Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery.
Despite all the traffic, The Noses are one of the most beautiful sections of the Mohawk Valley.
Just east of the lock are a park, State Boat Launch and a tie up at the mouth of Canajoharie Creek. A couple miles up the creek is the famous “pot that cleans itself.” Across the river from Canajoharie is the village of Palatine Bridge. One of the first bridges to cross the river was located here.
At around 60 miles, the Valley squeezes between The Noses---Big Nose on the left, Little Nose on the right. In addition to the canal and river, the NYS Thruway, Route 5, Route 5S and the railroad pass through this gap in theAppalachian Plateau. Despite all the traffic, this is one of the most beautiful sections of the Mohawk Valley.
On the north side of the canal is the mouth of Knauderack Creek. Note the sign and small dock. A little ways up this stream, on the site of an ancient Mohawk Village, is Kanatsiohareke, a Mohawk Indian Community that features a Bed and Breakfast and Gift Shop.
Kanatsiohareke, a Mohawk Indian Community, is located on the site of an ancient Mohawk village.
There is a major canal maintentance facility on the north side of the Canal at Fonda.
Lock 13, at 61.8 miles, is easy to get to by boat, but tough to get to by car. The construction of the Thruway blocked the road between the lock and the hamlet of Randall, so public access was provided through a Pedestrian Tunnel. The 8-foot “drop” lock and moveable dam features a park and the opportunity to watch canal and railroad traffic running side by side.
At 66.5 miles the Canal passes between Fonda and Fultonville. The big State facility on the north side of the Canal is a major Canal Corporation repair facility. On the other side, east of the highway bridge, is a private facility that was way ahead of its time. Poplars Inn and Marina included a motel, restaurant, launching ramp and docks. Today only the motel is in operation. Possibilities?
Once away from the sights and sounds of civilization, the Canal is a wild and peaceful run for about five miles to Schoharie Creek This is smallmouth bass country. The State Boat Launch and Park at the mouth of Schoharie Creek are very popular with bass fishermen and kayakers. Just up the creek are the remnants of the Old Erie Canal Aqueduct called Schoharie Crossing. On the opposite side of the creek is the hamlet of Fort Hunter. Once the Lower Castle of the Mohawk Nation, it now features a museum and remnants of the canals that ran through here.
Just around the corner is Lock 12 at 71.5 miles. The moveable dam at this l1-foot "drop" lock serves a double purpose. It controls the water for the lock and canal, and serves as a bridge between Tribes Hill and Fort Hunter. The wall on the south side of the dam is a popular fishing spot.
A couple miles downstream, on the south side of the Canal is the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site where a section of the Old Erie Canal and a double lock have been restored. There are several islands and stream outlets along this stretch that can be very fishy. This is also a good area to look for wildlife.
This crumbling aqueduct carried the Old Erie Canal across Schoharie Creek.
Directly north of the east end of Pepper Island, at around 73 miles, is the mouth of Kayaderosseras Creek. Lots of canoes and bateaux landed near here in the 1750s because it’s less than a 10 minute walk to Fort Hunter, Sir William Johnson’s home during the French and Indian War.
Lock 11 and moveable dam, at 76 miles, is a 12-foot drop into downtown Amsterdam. It features Guy Park Manor State Historic Site. The limestone mansion was once the home of Sir William Johnson’s daughter and her husband.
Amsterdam and Chuctanunda are popular names on this section of the Canal. The City of Amsterdam and North Chuctanunda Creek are on the north side, and the community of South Amsterdam, and South Chuctanunda Creek are on the south side. Amsterdam features docking facilities, restaurants, concerts and skating rinks at Riverlink Park. South Amsterdam features a boat launch at Port Jackson Park near the mouth of South Chuctanunda Creek. (The State Boat Launch east of Amsterdam is closed until further notice.)
Just east of Riverlink Park is a rock ledge. Long ago there were Indian paintings on this rock face that were called the "Painted Rocks." There are a number of islands and tributary outlets at and east of Amsterdam that can be very fishy.
Lock 10 and its moveable dam are the 80-mile mark. Before taking the 15-foot drop, look over the old power plant on the south side of the Canal. Those four huge smoke stacks once belched smoke skyward and the plant used river water for cooling.
Amsterdam to Crescent
Although there is an excellent hand launch at Lock 10, there is no public boat launch ramp on the 6-mile section between Lock 10 and Lock 9, making this a “lake” less traveled. Too bad because it’s one of the more beautiful sections of the Canal, running between ridges where rock “walls” are exposed by nature, stone quarries and road construction. This is especially true on the north side, where the Canal, Route 5 and the railroad run side by side.
Several tributaries, points, bays and an island provide habitat for both fish and wildlife. The first major trib, the Evas Kill, is just downstream from Lock 10. Two miles downstream is one of the better fishing spots, created by the outflow of the Compaanen Kill “crashing” into Swart Island. It’s also a good spot to drop anchor.
One of the few railroad
bridges that cross the Canal.
A mile further on the same side of the Canal is the mouth of Chaughtanoonda Creek. On the way to the Canal it runs through the legendary Wolf Hollow where the Mohawks and Mohicans clashed in 1669.
Just downstream, the canal/river narrows slightly as it passes between the communities of Hoffman and Pattersonville. Long before there was a canal this was a ferry crossing. The Sandsea Kill enters the Canal at Pattersonville. If your boat is small enough to poke into the mouth of this stream, you should be able to see the remnants of an Old Erie Canal aqueduct and a railroad bridge. .
Around the next bend in the Canal is one of the few remaining railroad crossings. If you’re lucky a multi-colored string of freight cars will pass overhead. It’s less than a mile and a half to Lock 9, so consider lingering in this area to wait for a train, look over the riverside homes or cast to the bridge abutments.
Lock 9, at 86 miles, is a 15-foot “drop” lock, and its moveable dam also serves as a bridge between Route 5 and Route 5S at Rotterdam Junction. The park at the lock features a picnic area, restrooms, tie-ups and plenty of parking. About half way through this 5-mile section---on the south side of a horseshoe bend---is a public boat launch and park maintained by the Rotterdam Kiwanis. Right across the Canal is a Marina and RV Park.
Lock 8 drops the Canal into one of the most historically fascinating regions of the Mohawk Valley.
Lock 8, at 91miles, is a 14-foot drop into one of the most historically fascinating regions of the Mohawk Valley. It’s along this 11-mile section that the first Dutch-sponsored settlers came to the area, building a trading post---Scotia---on the north side of the river in 1658, and a walled “city”---Schenectady---on the south side in 1660.
Schenectady was a major port and boat making community in the 1600s and 1700s; a major railroad terminal and locomotive manufacturing facility in the 1800s and 1900s, and the home of a major electric and electronics manufacturer in the 1900s and 2000s.
Small boats can circle the Iroquois
Islands and stop at the dock at
Glen Sanders Mansion at Scotia.
The Oneida Indians lived here after their villages were destroyed during the Revolutionary War, and several of the islands are named after members of the Iroquois Federation. A small boat is a definite advantage in this area because circling the islands is the best way to see wildlife and catch bass. It’s also the best way to motor to the dock at Glen Sanders Mansion on the north side of the river; the site of the first Dutch trading post in the valley and the location of one of the finest restaurants in upstate New York.
Just downstream from the Mansion is the Western Gateway Bridge between Scotia and Schenectady. Past the bridge on the left are Freedom Park and a fast food drive-in. Below the last of the Iroquois Islands is the site of a ferry crossing and an ancient covered bridge. On the Schenectady side of the crossing was the original walled city. Today this Stockade District features a riverside park, and homes dating back to the 1700s. Unfortunately, there isn’t a dock in this area.
Within sight of the Stockade District is a railroad bridge; another good place to fish for bass. Downstream from the bridge, on the right, are several large buildings that were once part of a locomotive manufacturing facility. A mile or so downstream on the opposite side of the river are the Freeman’s Bridge State Boat Launch, a marina, followed by the abutments of an old trolley bridge.
Aqueduct is the location of this remnant of the Old Erie Canal.
From here on it’s smooth sailing all the way up to the Big Bend at the “Eel Place,” or Alplaus. The Alplaus Kill enters the river at the west end of the bend, and the remnants of an Old Erie Canal Aqueduct are at the east end. Before the 1915 Canal was built, this section of the river flowed through a gorge. The cliffs on each side attest to that. Today the hamlet of Aqueduct is home to Niskayuna Park and the High School Rowing Club, so be prepared to see the Niskayuna Crew rowing shells in the middle of the river. There are two marinas in this area.
Go slow and easy for the remaining four miles of this section because there is plenty of wildlife to see, fish to catch and scenery to enjoy.
Lock 7, at 102 miles, is a 27-foot drop into the largest lake in the Mohawk Valley. The permanent dam at this location doubles as a power generating facility. That’s Goat Island in the middle of the dam. There is a boat launch above the lock, and a lock-side park featuring restrooms and shaded picnic area.
The double steel arch bridge on The Northway (I-87) is a man made wonder in the Mohawk Valley.
About a mile downstream on the right is Niska Island where the Mohawks had a village and extensive cornfields. Today the rich soils on this highground peninsula still support extensive vegetable gardens. For the next three miles on the other side of the river is the Vischer Ferry Nature & Historic Preserve. This nature and man-made wonder features remnants of the Old Erie Canal, trails and wildlife out the gazoo.
After passing the hillside hamlet of Mohawk View, an s-curve leads to a manmade wonder: the massive twin steel-arch bridges of The Northway (I-87). From there to Crescent Dam is the 4.5-mile long and up to a half-mile wide stillwater called Crescent Lake. It features numerous islands, bays and deepwater points, making it a favorite among local fishermen. There are marinas on both sides with access from I-87, and from Route 9 near Crescent. About halfway between, on the south side of the Canal, is the Colonie Town Park and Boat Launch.
While passing under the Route 9 bridge look for the remnants of the old bridges and Old Erie Canal Aqueduct that crossed the river. From the bridge it’s only a mile or so to Crescent Dam. There are several islands in this area, and the shallows above the dam attract a variety of waterbirds, so it’s well worth the time to look them over. Crescent Dam, at around 112 miles, is 39 feet high and a half-mile long.
Crescent Dam is a half-mile long and 39 feet high.
As noted previously, the boat launch just east of the dam is the end of this trip, but if you have plenty of time and patience, continue on to the five locks that take the Canal down to the Hudson River. You will pass under Guard Gates 2 and 1 before entering Lock 6, at 113 miles. Lock 6 is a 33-foot drop, followed by 33.3-feet at Lock 5; 34.5-feet at Lock 4; 34.5-feet at Lock 3, and 33.6-feet at Lock 2, for a total drop of 165 feet. The Canal meets the Hudson River at Waterford at 115 miles. All of these locks are accessible from the road (s) on the north side of the Canal.
For much more information on the Canal and River give a click.
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