Champlain Canal Guide: Waterford to Schuylerville
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The southern half of the Champlain Canal lies mostly within the dammed and dredged Hudson River. The Champlain Canal officially begins in Waterford at the same location where the Erie Canal meets the Hudson River.
Northbound boaters coming up the Hudson River will see a large blue sign (formerly green) pointing the way to the Erie Canal (left/west) and the Champlain Canal (right/north). Boats entering from the Erie Canal have no sign, but upon leaving Lock E2 are forced to choose North (left) or South (right) on the Hudson River; north is the route to Lake Champlain.
Most boaters traveling in all directions pause here at the Waterford Visitor Center. The Waterford Visitor Center provides a launching point to explore the historic area, stretch your legs along the Champlain Canalway Trail or within Peebles Island State Park, enjoy a restaurant, or just stock up on supplies.
Today, Waterford is located at the junction of the Hudson River, Champlain Canal and Erie Canal, but before the modern Erie Canal was built (1903-1818), Waterford was only known for the Champlain Canal and the northern fingers of the Mohawk River as they join the Hudson. Previous versions of the Erie Canal were routed through Cohoes to the south.
The village was initially visited by traders, but before long mills were built to utilize the river's hydropower. These industrial developments, along with others throughout the northeast, are partially what fueled the building of the Erie and Champlain Canal. The Waterford Sidecut Locks near the Visitor's Center are a ever present reminder of the villages great history. This set of three combined locks, built out of hand-cut stone, allowed boats to enter the Hudson River from the Champlain Canal.
The three locks raised and lowered boats about thirty feet. This simple sidecut allowed boats to enter the Hudson River without entering the Old Erie Canal, thus reducing travel time and congestion in Cohoes. The adjacent modern day Lock E2 singlehandedly replaced the three locks. This scale gives a perspective of old stone locks versus modern concrete locks. The sidecut locks still play an integral part of the canal system as a waste weir for surplus water. Today the locks are ideally located between the Waterford Visitors Center and Erie Canal Lock 2.
With the need of a larger canal system around 1900, the Erie and Champlain Canals were enlarged and rerouted. The new course of each canal would utilize the rivers when feasible. Today's canals bypass Albany and Cohoes and remain within the Hudson River. The challenge to overcome Cohoes Falls required an engineering feat. Routing the Erie Canal near the old route through Cohoes, or even adjacent to the river were considered, but each created enormous challenges. At Waterford however, the land was largely unsettled, and large locks and connecting pools of water could be built without the challenges of an adjacent river. This advantages outweighed the challenges, particularly digging a large cut through stone at the height of the flight, and today the Erie Canal proceeds up through five locks, called the flight of locks, bypassing Cohoes Falls altogether.
This reroute of the Erie Canal through Waterford has made it the entryway to the Erie Canal. The Champlain Canal was also rerouted from through the village, to within the adjacent Hudson River. Adapting to its new role as the eastern gateway to the New York State Canal System, Waterford has opened its arms to canal travelers.
Champlain Canalway Trail
The Old Champlain Canal is no longer navigable by boat, but has been transformed into a scenic recreational walking and biking path through town. To the south of Erie Canal Lock 2 the path meanders though the town until its junction with the main branch of the Mohawk River. At this junction are the remains of the former Champlain Canal Lock 4. Also here is the Waterford Historical Museum and Cultural Center, with access given by a nice bridge over the old lock.
The museum makes a good destination for a rest or rainy day. The museum is located in the 1830 Hugh White Homestead, which was spared from demolition and moved to the present location. The museum preserves the history of the area, both canal related and otherwise.
The Champlain Canalway Trail heading north from Erie Canal Lock 2 meanders through town briefly before entering the nicely wooded area. Of interest in this direction along the trail are the remains of the Champlain Canal Weigh-lock, an old stone supported railroad bridge, and Lock 5 of the old Champlain Canal.
Construction on the Champlain Canal Weigh-lock was completed in the summer of 1862. This building housed a weigh station that was used to weight boats to determine applicable tolls. This station was built for two reasons, first was the West Troy Weigh-lock weigh station, which serviced both the Erie Canal and Champlain Canal, was unable to keep up with the demand by boats and caused many boats unnecessary delays. The second reason was that some boats would travel up the Hudson River and enter the Champlain Canal through the before-mentioned Waterford Sidecut Locks. These boats bypassed the weigh station and evaded tolls. The building is long gone, but the stone support structure is still visible from the Champlain Canalway Trail, just north of the heart of Waterford.
North of the weigh-station is an old railroad bridge. This bridge support structure dates back to the Old Champlain Canal days, and one can see how the tow path was designed so that mules could tow boats under the bridge without breaking stride. Also the hand cut stone supporting the bridge is in excellent condition, and is worth noticing. Finally on the northern end of this section of the Champlain Canalway trail in Waterford is the remains of Old Champlain Canal Lock 5. The lock is in reasonable condition, though the area has degraded from nearly 100 years of disuse. The trail continues north from Lock 5, but most visitors choose to turn around here.
Peebles Island State Park
Peebles Island State Park is located at the junction of the Erie Canal and Hudson River. The park played a role in protecting for the country during the Revolutionary War and now stands as a state park where one can learn about the past or just take a walk on the island web of trails.
The walk to the island begins at the 2nd Street Bridge (directly next to Visitor Center), once at the end of the bridge, access to the walking trails is to the right while a park with picnic tables is to the left. The back trails of the island are quite scenic. Walking all the way to the southern end of the trail system reveals the dam that was built on the Mohawk River to allow Champlain Canal boats to transverse the river on the previous version of the Champlain Canal.
In the picnic area of the park there is an overlook on the Hudson River where one can relax. Also here are historic breastworks, which are basically earthen mounds, built during the 1700s as a partial defense in preventing an invasion from the north. Fortunately the island never saw battle as the victory at Saratoga stopped the British's march south. There are information boards located on site which describe more of this historic area.
Waterford is also a location to stock up on supplies. Technically located on the Champlain Canal, just north of the Erie Canal junction on eastern side of the river is located a Price Chopper, a large locally-owned grocery store chain. The store provides a floating dock (watch depths when approaching) that gives boaters possibly the shortest grocery trip in New York via boat. This is a great place to stock up on heavy canned, long term and specialty items.
Boaters can also take advantage of Waterford's free docking and enjoy a day exploring the capitol region. Albany and its surrounding cities and towns can be reached by taxi, bus or rental car. If you need to do some shopping, watch a show, or really need just about anything, the capitol region probably has what your looking for. Be sure to ask the local volunteers who manage the Visitor's Center, they can let you know of events, farmer's markets, and other things to see and do in the area.
Boating supplies are not available directly here in Waterford, but two nearby locations are well stocked and provide the only opportunity to find the rarer items until reaching the northern parts of Lake Champlain. The first option is located directly on the Erie Canal just west of the Waterford Flight at Albany Marine Supply (518-783-5333). This is a family run business that has, or can get, nearly anything that you might need. The other option is a West Marine store (518-783-7700) located in Latham, a few miles south of Waterford and only accessible by car/bus/taxi.
Waterford Visitor Center
|Waterford Visitor Center|
|Docking||Free (48 Hrs)|
Boaters interested in staying more than an hour or two in Waterford will be happy to know that this is one of the finest facilities along the canal system, and best of all it's free! Dockside services include power, water, pump-out (very small fee), restrooms, showers, Internet access and even coffee. On the east end of the terminal wall is a boat ramp, but boats larger than 15 feet should look elsewhere as the condition of the ramp has deteriorated. Located in town is a laundry mat.
Most recreational boaters opt for a spot on the floating docks (western end of wall) where there is power and water stands. If the docks are full there is additional space on the high wall to the east, but it lacks power and water. This terminal wall is owned by the New York State Canal Corporation and thus mooring is restricted to 48 hours per calendar month. If the entire wall is full you may ask permission to tie-up on the lower side of Erie Canal Lock 2 from the lock tender, or in an extreme case smaller vessels can anchor to the south, out of the navigational channel, but boaters should proceed with extreme caution as the area has submerged obstacles.
Waterford Flight of Locks
The locks at both ends of the Erie Canal begin in grand fashion. Here in Waterford in the east there are five locks in a row called the Waterford Flight of Locks. The Waterford Flight of Locks raises boats up 165 feet in 1.5 miles, the highest lift and in the shortest distance by a set of combined locks in the world!
These five locks are an engineering feat that Champlain Canal boaters do not get to experience. If you have a day off and a bike, you can bike up flight lock road to see Locks 3-6. It's not a easy ride up, but coming back is all downhill.
Each year Waterford host numerous events, including three canal related events: A Canal Festival, Steamboat Meet and Tugboat Roundup.
The Waterford Canal Fest is similar to those held across the state by nearly every canal-side community. The festival is usually held on Saturday of Mother's day weekend, typically the first or second Saturday of May. There are local vendors, entertainment and boat rides.
The Waterford Steamboat Meet is a throwback to the days before the internal combustion engines. Steamboats from across the area converge on the village to display their unique vessels to the world. In addition to the steamboats, there are vendors, exhibits, fireworks and boat rides.
Perhaps the most well known of all the annual events that Waterford hosts is the Waterford Tugboat Roundup. This annual event held each year the weekend after labor day revolves around the use of barges towed by tugboats, particularly those built for today's modern canal system as well as those found on larger rivers and ocean ports. Also in attendance are modern "tugs" that have been either converted or designed for pleasure cruising.
The roundup attracts many different sized tugs, form a tug about the size of a rowboat to large ocean port tugs. Every vintage of tugs are represented as well, starting with the New York State Canal Corporation's Tugboat Urger, to modern working tugs and pleasure tugs.
The event draws enough boats that the entire terminal wall is filled, usually a few boats deep, and usually includes the wall above Lock E2 as well. Pleasure cruisers wishing to attend the festival can tie up to the normally restricted pier between Erie Canal Locks 3 and 4. There are no services on the pier.
Traveling north on the Hudson River from the canal junction, Lock C1 is about 3 miles away. This area is lined by houses and is not very scenic. Lock C1 is located on the western side of the river in an artificial cut. This lock is rather scenic given the urban surroundings, and offers space for docking if the Waterford Visitor Center is full or if you prefer a quieter environment. On the upper side of the lock is a local (free) boat launch and floating dock.
Once on the high side of the lock, look for Lock - 1, Champlain Canal painted on the bank, this is actually a large protective wall, beautified greatly by the text. This concrete wall is used to protect the lock during times of flooding. Many of the locks across the state have these, but this lock was able to blend it in very well. The amount of engineering into the lock structure itself and the surrounding approach walls, buildings, and flood control devices is truly amazing, something that is far more appreciated when the water level is drawn down for the winter and most of the structures are visible.
Lock 1 Marina
Approximately one-half mile north of Lock C1 on the western side of the river is Lock 1 Marina, a small 51 slip marina with nearly every amenity. They charge $2/foot (last verified: 2009) for overnight docking. They can be contacted at 518-238-1321. Amenities include power, restrooms, showers, water, trash disposal, restaurant and a boat ramp.
From Lock C1 (or Lock 1 Marina) to Lock C2 is approximately 4 miles north with houses lining the river. When approaching Lock C2, be mindful of the currents and your location within the channel. The area below the lock is wide, but shallow outside the channel and while waiting for the lock to open it is easy to drift unknowingly into danger.
This lock is unique because it is not along the bank of the river, rather the lock is located on a small island with a spillway to the east and a hydroelectric power station to the west. If an extended delay is expected it is best to tie up at the approach wall.
Once through Lock C2, being mindful again of the channel location, it is approximately two miles to Mechanicville.
|Mechanicville Terminal Wall|
|Docking||Free (48 hrs)|
|Services|| Power |
Mechanicville is a small city along the Hudson River and offers many resources for passing boaters. Access to the town is via a free terminal wall, located outside the channel on the western shore. Deep draft boats should prefer the northern end of the wall, away from a local stream outlet. If possible, all boaters should prefer the northern end of the wall, the stream outlet is a popular swimming and fishing spot for the locals. A pump station is located at the north end of the wall which should not be blocked.
Mechanicville, like many of the cities across New York, was developed because of the success of the canal system. Mechanicville offers many reasons to stop. Its large free wall with power (15A/20A/30A), water, and trash is enough, but the city also offers a free pump-out. A short walk brings you to shopping centers with stores to meet any demand (except perhaps specialized marine supplies), restaurants and a library. Most places are a short-to-medium walk, but a bike may be preferred to access the Price Chopper (grocery store) and library. There is an informational board located at the wall that shows the location of many of the businesses throughout town.
Safety is little concern here, the Mechanicville Police Department (36 North Main Street; 518-664-7383) is located 100 yards away.
North of, and within sight of, the Mechanicville Terminal Wall is Lock C3. Located on the eastern side of the Hudson River, with an adjacent dam and hydroelectric station. This lock lifts and lowers boat 19.5 feet; though relatively small, this lock is actually the largest on the Champlain Canal. There is little to do at this lock, and there are no great tie up points. For access to stores and the like, use the Mechanicville Terminal Wall, for seclusion, use Lock C4.
Lock 3 controls the level of the water pool between Lock 3 and 4. Vessels requiring more than 15 feet of bridge clearance should contact the lock master well in advanced to ensure the pool can be dropped enough to fit under the railroad bridge (15 feet of clearance at normal pool level). The lock master can be reached at (518) 664-5171 or on VHF channel 13 if spending the night in Mechanicville.
After leaving Lock C3, its a straight shot to Lock C4 (1.83 miles), but boats must pass under the low railroad bridge. There are markings on the bridge support showing the air draft, but boaters with questionable clearance should approach slowly, preferably with a person in direct view of the top of the boat. Once under the bridge, Lock C4 is clearly visible. A local stream enters just south of the lock to the east, while the main river flows to the west.
Located in an artificial channel east of the main river, Lock C4 is surprisingly secluded. Lock C4 is a local park and makes a nice place to stop for a break if you want to be left alone. There are picnic tables located on site with charcoal grills. Tying up on the high side is preferred.
Lock C4 also gives reasonably close access to the Village of Stillwater.
Located on the eastern side of the Hudson River is the small Village of Stillwater, home of the turning point of the American Revolutionary War. Access to the town is via either walking from Lock 4 north and across the bridge, or from Admiral's Marina (see below).
The Stillwater Blockhouse is located in a riverfront park with paths meandering down to the shore of the Hudson. Visitors can see "loopholes" used to shoot muskets through, colonial era artifacts and photos from earlier days in Stillwater. The Blockhouse is open free to the public Friday through Sunday from 12 to 4pm and can be reached at 518-665-0610.
Upon leaving Lock C4, the first extended artificial channel is encountered. Be aware of your speed (10 MPH) and wake, especially in the proximity of other vessels. For vessels traveling in the same direction, it is usually best to allow space between boats to allow wakes to subside. As the channel ends and the canal reenters the river, stay to the right and be mindful of channel markers. Downstream 1000 feet is a dam which should not be approached.
Across the river here at the junction of the Artificial Canal and river is Admiral's Marina, a local marina which can be contacted at 518-664-9093. Services include gas, restrooms, shower, power and water. Deep draft vessels should stay away, draft is limited to about 2-3 feet.
Traveling north from Lock C4 enters a very historic area that includes the Saratoga Battlefield.
Alcove Marina and Pub
Formerly Coveville Marina, Alcove Marina and Pub (518-695-6079) provides electricity, water, boat ramp, and a popular local restaurant. This marina and restaurant is a favorite for locals, but unfortunately is located at the end of a long narrow channel with depth restrictions. Likewise most boaters pass by, but if you are on a smaller vessel and are in search of food, this makes a good stop.
Saratoga National Historic Park
Located along the western shore lies Saratoga National Historic Park, a park preserving the history of the Battle at Saratoga. You will pass a sign commemorating the Saratoga Battlefield, but there are no docks. The hills beyond the sign is the location of the Battle of Saratoga, an important battle, and largely considered to be the turning point, of the Revolutionary War.
The Saratoga Battlefield primarily is designed for auto tours, but can be walked or biked. The tour covers 9 miles and contains 10 stops including the Freeman Farm Overlook, the Neilson Farm, General Burgoyne's Headquarters and a series of redoubts. The Visitor Center includes a bookstore, museum and 20 minute film, and is open 9 am to 5 pm everyday. Entrance to the Battlefield between May 1 and October 31 is $2.00 for hiking or biking and $4.00 for automobiles. An annual pass costs $10. Special Programs and Activities, including nature walks, re-enactments and encampments are held throughout the year.
Boating access to the site is limited, but it is possible to anchor outside of the navigational channel here and explore the part of the park near the river by foot.
The city of Schuylerville is a historic little town on the Champlain Canal, a few miles north of the Saratoga Park sign.
Schuylerville is unique in that there are numerous canal and military related historic sites preserved throughout town. Attractions include General Philip Schuyler's house, the Saratoga Monument, an old Junction Lock, an aqueduct, battle fields and historic homes. Also there is Hudson Crossing, a educational and recreation park. In addition to Schuylerville itself, Saratoga Springs with its horse racing, performances, spas and other attractions is a 15 minute taxi ride to the west.
Some attractions are described below, but a full description of things to do can be found at the visitor center, located within the park.
There are two places to access Schuylerville by boat, the first is the Schuylerville Yacht Basin, a private marina a few blocks from downtown. The second option is using the approach walls at Lock C5 or adjacent floating docks at the Hudson Crossing educational and recreation park. These two locations are approximately one mile north of town and connected by the old towpath trail.
The Schuyler House
The house can be accessed by foot via walking south along Route 4, or more scenically by walking along the towpath south from the park (behind the post office). Free guided tours of the interior are offered Friday through Sunday (plus holidays) between 9:30 am and 4 pm, June 20 through September 1. For more information call (518) 664-9821.
Schuylerville Basin and the Junction/Guard Lock
When the Champlain Canal was enlarged for the final time by the Barge Canal Act of 1903, it utilized the Hudson River rather than an artificial channel through town. This meant that profitable businesses along the former Enlarged Champlain Canal in the Schuylerville Basin would no longer be directly on the canal.
To provide access to this section of the Enlarged Champlain Canal the town decided to forgo a new terminal wall on the Hudson River. Rather, the money for a terminal wall was instead used to build a junction/guard lock to connect the old canal with the new canal. Located directly along side the modern Champlain Canal Lock C5, this guard lock once allowed boats to enter the Old (Enlarged) Champlain Canal after the modern Champlain Canal was built, without the risk of the Hudson River overtaking the town.
The lock, built of concrete and not stone like the old locks, was completed in latter half of 1916. The intent was only to provide access to the Schuylerville Basin and therefore the northern side of the Fish Creek Aqueduct was filled in. This fill also prevented the need to maintain the aqueduct, saving money down the road.
The decision to not create a terminal wall and instead maintain access to the old canal basin unfortunately has had a negative long-term impact. Being built to a smaller size, it did not allow large vessels to enter this section of the canal and thus it eventually went unused in the 1950s. It was then sealed by a metal dam and the chamber partially filled for use as a roadway. This means that today there is no terminal facilities in Schuylerville, something that would help drive recreational traffic to the riverside side community.
Hudson Crossing Park
Partially filling the void of a terminal wall, a new bi-county park is being developed on Lock 5 island in Schuylerville. This park includes trails, playgrounds, fields, fishing access, pavilion and a floating dock. It is also part of the Champlain Canalway Trail. A new floating dock (no services) on the north side of Lock C5 gives boaters day-use access. Eventually this park will also include an educational center and a pedestrian bridge to the east side of the Hudson River.
Schuylerville Boat Launch
Located between downtown Schuylerville and Lock 5 is a public boat launch. This free launch is located off Tow Path Road (follow signs) and consists of a single ramp with a floating dock. There is parking for approximately 12-15 trucks and trailers.
Schuyler Yacht Basin
Located right in the heart of Schuylerville is the Schuyler Yacht Basin (518-695-3193). This private marina is a popular stopover near the midpoint of the Champlain Canal. Gas, diesel, pump-out, electricity (30A), water, restrooms, showers, laundry and other amenities found at most campgrounds are available. Transient slips go for \$1.75/foot.
The marina is partially located on an island protected from the navigational channel. The approach to the marina should only be done from the south, and there are private buoys marking the safe channel. Proceed with caution.
Saratoga Springs is west of Schuylerville by about 12 miles. Obviously it is too far to walk, but you can try and get a taxi to pick you up and drop you off. Taxi companies operating from Saratoga Springs are Saratoga Capitaland Taxi (518-583-3131) and Saratoga Taxi (518-584-2700). Be sure to ask for their rates, and if the can drop you off later in the day/evening.
Saratoga Race Course
This famed 350-acre racetrack features thoroughbred horse racing during its six-week season from late July through early September.
Lock C5 is located one mile north of Schuylerville, adjacent to Hudson Crossing Park and the Schuylerville Junction Lock. The junction lock is located on the west side of the lock and the Crossing Park located on the east. There are a few tables located at the lock, but otherwise this lock is similar to other locks along the canal system.
Docking is best done on the north side of the lock at the Hudson Crossing Park's floating dock. There are no services here, but it makes a nice spot to stop for either a break or the night. There is additional docking on the approach wall to Lock C5 (ask lockmaster), but be sure not block the tour boat's space at the north end of the lock. Schuylerville can be accessed by following the old canal towpath trail south.
Leaving Lock C5 northbound, the canal follows an artificial channel for approximately 0.9 miles, where the channel exits into the river directly adjacent to a dam. Severe caution should be displayed here as the currents could carry a vessel quickly into trouble. From here it is about three easy miles to Lock C6, which is located in an artificial channel.
Lock C6 is away from the main channel, currents, and civilization which makes it another scenic stop for lunch or longer. Upon leaving the lock, boats should proceed at no wake speed until clearing the cement walls, as the walls on both sides bounce wakes back and forth better than any wave pool at an amusement park. Southbound vessels should be especially concerned as wakes created at the beginning of the cement sided walls will catchup to the boat while in the chamber. It seems as if the wakes are perfectly timed to make for a very unpleasant ``line grabbing situation.
Upon leaving Lock C6 northbound, there is a 2.25 mile artificial channel before reentering the Hudson River. At approximately 1.9 miles, there is a blue guard gate, an unusual site along the Champlain Canal. The guard gate prevents the channel from flooding during periods of high water and is closed at the end of each season for safety and to prevent debris and silt from entering the canal. From here it is about five miles to Fort Edward.
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