A week of robot creation, lake exploration, and fun has just come to an end for another summer; ROV building summer camp was fantastic! Thank you campers!
We had a great time, and wanted to share the videos taken by camper’s ROVs. SeaPerch kits can carry a GoPro video camera and they bring back some fun footage from under the waves of Lake Champlain. Enjoy!
It was a glorious sun filled, blue sky day in Utica. We had entered Oneida County and were now under the caring eye of Kelly Blazosky, President of Oneida County Tourism. Many months ago I had done a reconnaissance trip along the canal thanks to a planning grant from the Champlain Valley National Heritage Corridor. My goal was to make contact with communities where we hadn’t been in a while or people in various positions had changed. I worked with our principal partners, the New York State Canal Corporation, to get contacts and stakeholder names in the various communities. It’s a long process to plan out 37 ports-of-call!
Kelly was my rock star. She embraced the coming tour, made all the necessary contacts with communities within her area, and set up meetings for us to attend to make connections and build excitement. Some facilities along the canal lack certain amenities such as showers. You can imagine how our crew smells after a day on the water in the blazing sun. Let’s just say engaging the public can be a challenge. Kelly provided us with a hotel room in both Utica and Rome so the crew can rotate through and “freshen up.” It’s people like Kelly that make things happen.
Beverly Esche, General Manager of Aqua Vino, has hosted us before. Her restaurant is on the best section of dock in Utica and she welcomes us with open arms. She also serves up some delicious food in a great atmosphere. We started off right in Utica, being hosted on a morning talk show and getting great coverage on the local television news. Mayor Robert Palmieri stopped by shortly after opening to get a glimpse of the history upon which his City was built. He was fascinated and appreciative of our boat and tour efforts, and excited to accept our gift of White Oaks and White Pines. They’re currently working with NY DEC to inventory their city trees and have a park in mind for planting our contribution. The Mayor could appreciates our style of engaging folks on a personal level through conversation. He was on his rounds of the City doing exactly the same thing.
The crew is looking forward to a down day in Utica to explore everything the City has to offer. Maybe that will even include a laundromat. Hey, it’s a great gig, but it’s not all glamorous. Next stop is Rome where we’ll join the City celebrating the very beginning of construction of the Erie Canal.
The Mohawk Valley is a beautiful series of lush green rolling hills cascading away from the river. It’s not uncommon to see Bald Eagles perched in trees or deer drinking from the river banks. Farm fields abound, and the landscape is only periodically cut by the occasional town or lock along the river. As you continue to gain elevation the hills get closer and the railroad and I-90 corridor close in, nearly touching one another, making the juxtaposition of three forms of transportation very poignant.
Nowhere is the closeness of the Mohawk hills more prominent than in Little Falls. Gneiss rock begin forming sheer walls where rock climbers find vertical bliss. Just when you wonder how a vessel could possibly climb this impasse, there, looming before you, is the mighty lock 17. This lock is the tallest in the system with a 40’ lift, and the only regular lock with a guillotine gate, raising vertically, dangling seemingly precariously overhead, but only to drip water on you as you pass under. The canal snakes along westward with cliff on the left, river on the right, and the picturesque community of Little Falls across the way. This is one of the few places where the 20th Century Barge Canal still follows the historic route of its predecessors.
Canal Harbor and Rotary Park in Little Falls has gotten a very good reputation amongst boaters and is now under the supervision of Harbor Master Mark Roy. The park is well kept with a cascading fountain. The former canal facility building has been converted into a boaters haven, with clean showers and rest rooms and a lounge. The Erie Canalway Trail follows a former rail bed and for the ambitious gives access to historic sites such as the Herkimer House. We welcomed aboard well over 400 visitors in our weekend stop in Little Falls, some of them old friends like Tom Ryan. Tom not only gave us a lift to the grocery store, he even loaned us his car so we could go back to Fonda to strip the running rigging from our masts, get them organized and covered until our return in the fall.
We were sad to see Jeff and Churchill Hindes, and our Maritime Apprentices Oliver Cole and Brandon Hanley pack up their bags, but the time had come for another rotation. New energy had arrived in the form of Americorp Member Matt Harrison, long-time volunteer Rosemary Zamore, and new comer from Moriah, Myles Madill. After an orientation and port safety briefing our newcomers were on the job, welcoming visitors.
The weather threw a heavy thunderstorm our way causing the Mohawk to rise a solid foot in just a few hours, but just as quickly it resided. It’s a dynamic and often challenging body of water, one this Captain will be okay having in the rear view mirror. As much as I love the scenery, the communities and the people, unpredictable weather like this year keeps your Spidey senses on alert.
To say that putting an 88’ wooden canal boat into a lock while the Mohawk River’s flow rate is up thanks to heavy rains is a bit “squirrelly” may be a bit of an understatement. Fortunately our trusty tug C.L. Churchill and our inflatable bow thruster Oocher with the 50hp Honda are just the vessels to get the job done. It’s a bit of an odd arrangement to not be completely controlling the tow (Lois) strictly from the tug, however Churchill’s low wheelhouse doesn’t afford good visibility so most of the steering is done from the canal boat. The tug has far superior capability to turn the package of vessels quickly, so it’s a common phrase to hear “Art, half right” over the radio, meaning I’ve just asked Art at the helm of the tug to turn the rudder half to full over right. The results of the request are rapid and definitive. The tug also controls the forward or astern propulsion, so it’s like telegraphing to an engine room to make requests except via a radio. After thirteen years of working together and with Captain Roger Taylor we really have evolved our system and have a good feel for how things react. The strong currents keep us on our toes, so you’ll frequently see us with binoculars to our faces trying our best to “read” the currents and eddies in an attempt to anticipate which way we’ll be set.
So with squirrelly currents we made our way to Canajoharie. It was with great excitement we touched down on their riverfront park, complete with the Village Police to greet us (no we hadn’t done anything wrong in Amsterdam). Each time we come to port the crew is busy putting away modern intrusions to make the visitor experience better. Today was no exception to the clean-up but it was accompanied with an air of excitement to this three hour stop. We had been coordinating with the Arkell Museum and the Village who were expecting the arrival of Cycle the Erie , an annual event that draws over 650 cyclists who bike from Buffalo to Albany. The crowd was steady and appreciative. Our crew enjoyed tours of the Arkell Museum during breaks from interpreting.
As curtains closed on our public boarding hours volunteer Churchill Hindes went to work making some magic happen in the limited galley facilities of Lois McClure. Our hats off to Church, for so willingly and enthusiastically embracing our desire to consume good food. He and his son Jeff, a history teacher and captain, have been frequent volunteers on “Camp Lois,” as they call it. They’re part of what makes our program so special. We extend our sincerest thanks to volunteers like Churchill and Jeff and all the folks in the communities we visit. Special thanks to the Arkell Museum and Village of Canajoharie for a wonderful visit. And the next time you’re visiting the Arkell check out the spiffy white oak tree in their yard.
The Lois McClurecrew left Waterford with thunderstorm forecasts looming overhead. The crew’s eyes were on the sky as we moved from Waterford to Schenectady, then from Schenectady to Amsterdam. Luckily for us the thunderstorms never came. We got to Amsterdam under clear skies. While underway the crew got a first hand look at the Erie Canal’s transformation from a commercial waterway to a recreational waterway. As we travelled along we encountered kayaks, fishing boats, row boats, water skiers, and more. The Lois McClure was the largest boat on the canal, where 100 years ago it would have been considered small and not gotten a second glance. It’s wonderful to see people taking pictures of the boat at locks and as we travel along as a moving piece of history. We have encountered plenty of enthusiasm for canal history already, and our tour down the Erie Canal is just beginning!
We docked in Amsterdam the night before our tours the following day. The forecasted rain finally hit us that night and into the next day while we were open for tours. We still had a great turnout on the rainy day! After closing for the day we packed up our gangway and made way above lock 11 to get a jump on the following morning, and to get a great Italian meal at a crew favorite, Russo’s. Our stop in Amsterdam was outstanding thanks to support from the community. We’d like to acknowledge and thank Gina DaBiere-Gibbs, Director of Tourism for the Fulton/Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce and Danielle Whelly, Assistant Recreation Director for the City of Amsterdam. Danielle organized a crew to receive our gift of a white oak tree to be planted in Amsterdam. Many thanks to Dan Nelli at Riverlink Park for great food and hospitality.
The following morning we got an early jump on it, meeting on deck for our safety briefing at 6am. Our early start was intended to allow enough time to remove our rig at the Canal Corp facility in Fonda. We had brought our masts with us anticipating wintering over in Waterford to get an early start on the Hudson in the spring for our 2018 tour. Rather than carry our rig throughout the season and try to navigate with limited visibility we opted to leave the rig behind, like so many other sailing canal boatmen before us, and become a standard canal boat. The crew at the Fonda facility under the supervision of David Lamphere couldn’t have been more accommodating, skilled or professional. We had the rig removed in less than an hour. What a transformation! With decks cleared we got underway for Canajoharie and an afternoon opening.
As we left Amsterdam we were seen off by a group of waving spectators on the foot bridge. We headed for Canajoharie on a dreary day with on and off rain. On the way we lifted the masts off of the Lois McClure using a crane, as we will not be needed them during our tour down the Erie Canal. The Lois looks like a whole new boat without them!
We had a short but eventful stop in Canajoharie. We stopped for the night on our way to Little Falls and had an evening event, where we got to meet many of the cyclists participating in the Cycling the Erie Canal tour. It was great to be able to exchange canal history and conversation with another group of people touring the canal. The cyclists showed how valuable the canal is beyond an economic trade route. The Erie Canal cyclists, old and young, had been deeply impacted by the canal, and it was enlightening to hear their canal stories. The Arkell Museum in Canajoharie was also nice enough to let the Lois McClure crew walk around their museum for free! The crew was able to check out the museums fascinating art exhibit on the Erie Canal during our off time. Thank you to the Arkell Museum for sharing their historical art with us!
After a great stop in Schuylerville the Lois McClure continued down the Champlain Canal to Waterford, where we began our journey up the Erie canal by passing through the first of 35 locks. We tied our boat up on the intersection of the Erie Canal and what used to be the Champlain Canal, before it was updated to the barge canal in 1918. During the barge canal expansion a section of the old Champlain Canal was re-purposed into a water bypass for lock E2 of the Erie Canal. It was interesting being at the intersection of the old and new canals, and seeing how the old canals were re-purposed as the canal system expanded. Waterford has been greatly impacted by the canal system, which made it an interesting stop on our tour. As the intersection of the Champlain Canal, the Erie Canal, the Mohawk River, and the Hudson River the town celebrates the canal system, and the interconnected waterways the canals create. The canals allowed for Waterford to prosper, and the prosperity brought by the canals is commemorated all over the town through artwork and historic exhibits; and this weekend the Lois McClure contributed to the festive atmosphere.
Unfortunately our luck with the weather ran out. After enjoying sunny days for almost a week straight the rain finally came while we were docked in Waterford on Saturday. Despite the rain crew of Lois McClure had a great time talking with folks who came out to tour the boat, and hearing how the canals had impacted their lives. On Sunday we also said goodbye to our first two maritime apprentices, Kael and Matt. Thanks for all your hard work during the first week of our tour! While we’re sad to see Kael and Matt go, we’re happy to welcome Jeff and Church Hindes to our crew, who will both be volunteering on the schooner for the next week. We also welcome our two new maritime apprentices Oliver and Brandon. We put our new volunteers and apprentices to work right away, having them put some finishing touches of paint on the Lois McClure on Monday. We’re looking forward to a great week with our new crew members as we head up the Mohawk Valley to Amsterdam, Canajoharie and Little Falls.
We’d like to give a big thanks to Adrienne Vaccaro for bringing us delicious mac and cheese on Saturday and to the Callaghan Family for inviting to their home on Sunday evening. Canal hospitality never ceases to amaze us.
Over 70 rowers and paddlers dug deep in the waters of Lake Champlain on Sunday in the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s 21st Annual Challenge Race. The race, an annual event for 21 years, has a distinctly communal spirit – with a delicious and bountiful potluck picnic afterwards – while also fueling participants’ desire to fiercely compete.
“Everything was going for us today: we had a great turnout, superb weather, and spirited youth and adult competitors from the Champlain Valley as well as from Massachusetts. It takes a community to pull off such a successful event,” said Nick Patch, LCMM’s Director of Outdoor Education.
Many of the boats rowed by teams of 4 to 6 people are built here at the Maritime Museum by students from Addison County high schools. The youth boatbuilding program – Champlain Longboats – has constructed 21 wooden boats, many of which took part in Sunday’s race. A number of solo participants brought their unique versions of muscle-powered boats, from kayaks to surf-skis. Over 10-knot winds and 2-3-foot waves proved challenging for some of the slimmer, lighter craft, but the larger rowing vessels plowed ahead.
The weekend began on Saturday with the arrival of teams from Hull and Gloucester, MA. They were joined by rowing team members from Vergennes and members of LCMM’s Community Rowing Club and spent the day in light-hearted, informal cross-lake rowing, swimming and picnicking.
This warm and welcoming spirit extended throughout the weekend. “The teamwork of the entire rowing community was evident, especially in races where rowers from Vermont and Massachusetts were randomly mixed into new teams,” commented
Community Rowing Club coordinator Lisa Percival. “After the racing was over, people lingered for lunch and a chance to continue visiting.” The LCMM connection has a new dimension this summer for the rowing team from Duxbury, MA. At the end of the racing weekend, they took home their newly purchased gig “Mad Martha,” which was completed and launched by LCMM’s Champlain Longboats program in May. “It can be hard to say goodbye to our newest boat,” Patch acknowledges, “but the sale of boats helps fund our youth education programs. All of the boats we have built are still actively being used, and it’s great to meet them again when we travel to races around the region.”
We left Westport on Monday morning under blue skies, but with the specter of a closed canal in front of us. Heavy rains at the end of the previous week had deposited 3” of rain causing the canal and its associated rivers to swell to alarming heights with increased currents. As a safety precaution the Canal Corporation had closed the Canal, but the clear weather meant water levels were dropping, and soon the canal would open. It took us 8 hours to traverse the 42 miles to Whitehall and alas, the canal would remain closed that day. We anchored in the section of channel known as The Elbow just below lock 12 amid fish jumping and birds chirping. A more picturesque setting couldn’t be imagined in a more historic location. Later that evening we used our inflatable to head to town, and bore witness to the pounding water and currents rushing through the dam adjacent to the lock.
Tuesday morning we locked through and entered the Champlain Canal, exactly 200 years to the day that the first shovelful of earth was cut from the ground in Rome, NY, marking the beginning of construction of the Western Canal, which today is better known as the Erie. The same piece of legislation in 1817 had also authorized the Northern Canal, a predecessor to what Lois McClure now traveled. It also happened to be the 241st birthday of our nation. Once again we almost made our destination at the Fort Edward Yacht Basin, but high water on the Hudson prevented our passage through lock 7. Morning dawned bright and word passed down that we could make our target destination just around the corner on the Hudson. With shining decks and new crew shirts we made preparations to stage an opening ceremony and press conference.
We were officially welcomed to Fort Edward by Adam Devoe, President of the Fort Edward Chamber of Commerce, which would later treat the crew to dinner at the Anvil Restaurant. New York State Canal Corporation Director Brian U. Stratton welcomed the crowd and put our 2017 Legacy Tour into the big picture perspective of 200 years of canal history. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5 Director Robert Stegemann officially presented the Lois McClure with a payload of white pine and white oak trees and seedlings raised under the care of David Lee at the Saratoga Nursery. The crew will present these trees to the communities along the tour route for planting in public areas, a symbolic reminder of the important role our forests and trees have played and continue to play in our environment and economy. The ceremony concluded with the crew of Lois McClure presenting the first trees of the tour to Fort Edward. A vibrant afternoon of visitation followed on a glorious sunny day.
After a relatively quick passage we made “landfall” once again at Hudson Crossing Park and made quick preparations for a 3-hour whistle stop. Energy was building thanks to good press in Fort Edward and the support of our friends at the park. We welcomed aboard nearly 200 visitors in our short visit. All the crew was truly energized by the enthusiasm and excitement around the boat, the canal, and the bicentennial. We would like to thank Cindy Wian, Debbie Peck Kelleher, Mike Bielkiewicz, Darryl Dumas, and all our friends at Hudson Crossing Park for hosting a spectacular event and providing a fabulous feast for the crew!
If our first three stops is any indication of how the 2017 Legacy Tour is going to go, we’re in for a great year!
As the nation celebrated its birthday, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s (LCMM’s) replica 1862 canal schooner LoisMcClure began her 2017 Legacy Tour commemorating the Erie Canal Bicentennial. “The groundbreaking for the Erie Canal took place just 200 years ago in Rome, New York on July 4, 1817,” said Erick Tichonuk, LCMM Co-Director, “Our Legacy Tour will visit more than 35 canal communities along the way to the World Canals Conference.” Programs presented by the schooner crew pay tribute to the legacy of the canals and the Northern Forest trees which built the thousands of wooden boats that plied these historic waterways. “The Lois McClure has a unique capability to bring 200 years of canal history to life, while engaging people to appreciate and protect our legacy waterways,” says New York State Canal Corporation Director Brian U. Stratton. “It can also help inform how the canal system can best serve the evolving needs of present and future generations.”
During the Legacy Tour the schooner crew will share with community members and students a maritime perspective on the relationship between waterways and trees, canal boats and forests through an initiative called Stem to Stern. Visitors can board the schooner free of charge to explore the 88-foot long boat and a special exhibit. This summer, the schooner crew will include four high school students who are participating in a new, hands-on educational initiative, the Robert Beach, Sr. Maritime Apprenticeship. “Being a part of the Bicentennial of the Erie Canal and traveling its waters is an exciting prospect,” said Maritime Apprentice Oliver Cole. “After high school, I plan on attending college in order to pursue a career in the maritime field and eventually earning my Captain’s license. The Bob Beach Sr. Apprenticeship will be a fantastic step towards my future plans.”
“The schooner’s message this season is that forests and the waterways are a key to understanding how America transformed into a powerful and prosperous nation,” says Tichonuk. “Using human and animal power, the canal builders cleared a pathway 60 feet wide and more than 400 miles long, much of it through forested lands, to create the water highway that streamlined travel and communication between the interior of the continent and the coast, and brought an economic boom. Almost overnight, natural resources too bulky to ship overland became valuable commodities.” The canals opened a floodgate of trade between the Champlain Valley, ports along the Hudson River and the Atlantic Seaboard, and through western New York to the Great Lakes.
However, the transformation also brought some unintended consequences. Stem to Stern is designed to spark insight into the impact of deforestation: eroded soil, silted waterways, loss of habitat for fish and wildlife, and the arrival of invasive species. Marking the transition to an era sustainable forestry and environmental stewardship, the schooner will transport a cargo of white oak and white pine seedlings provided by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Trees for Tributaries Program, to be planted in communities along the canal.
Further information and the full itinerary of the 2017 Legacy Tour can be found at www.lcmm.org. As an authentic replica, Lois McClure has no means of propulsion other than sail, so 1964 tugboat C. L. Churchill serves as power. Travel conditions for these traditional wooden vessels are weather dependent, so the schedule is subject to change.
Free admission is offered throughout the tour thanks to the generous support of sponsors including the New York State Canal Corporation and the State of Vermont. Additional support has been provided by Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership, Lake Champlain Basin Program, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, the McClure family, the farm families of Cabot Creamery, Lake Champlain Transportation, Corning Museum of Glass, International Paper, and Vermont Family Forests. AmeriCorps Members have helped LCMM staff develop educational and interpretive materials for the project.