FUSION: Life through Lenses

Erin King, AmeriCorps, LCMM

We’ve just finished up another great Fusion program with Vergennes Elementary School. For the past eight weeks we’ve been joining two small groups of students on Mondays and Wednesdays to take a closer look at various parts of the natural world. Our theme was “Life through Lenses” and our goal was to explore the world on a deeper level than we get with the naked eye.

On our first day, we explored the outdoor world around the school and brought samples back indoors to look at under our microscope. We examined seedpods, feathers, leaves, spider legs, burdock pods, and even our own skin. It was a great introduction into the micro details of the world and helped us get into the mindset and remember to look small!

Our next adventure was into the microscopic yet vastly important world of water organisms to learn about the phytoplankton and zooplankton. To do this we examined a water sample bought in from Lake Champlain and examined it through the microscopes. We also had a chance to gather a sample from the

School’s pond with which to compare. We made observations and drew pictures of all the tiny creatures that make all other life in the water possible. We learned to recognize copepods, rotifers, and Bosminidae, and talked about the difference between plants and animals.


While the weather was still warm we took a field trip to Basin Harbor to fly “Eva” our ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) and get a look under the surface of Lake Champlain. The students watched Eva’s travels under the water on a large television brought outside for this purpose. Eva helped us explore the bottom of the lake and even introduced us to some aquatic plants and animals. We had a great time looking at the lake from underneath rather than above, and everyone loves to see Eva do what she does best.

In a later class we were able to use the underwater footage from our ROV to identify some of the Fish and aquatic plants we had seen. We learned how to use a dichotomous key and talked about fish adaptions. Then we had the chance to combine fish adaptions into a whole new “Franken-fish” and give it a name. We came up with some pretty creative new species, some, I have to say, I’m glad don’t exist.

We also learned what it’s like to be behind the lens by spending a day learning how to use GoPros. We ventured outdoors and looked for examples of animal sign, taking pictures and deciding where the best placement for a field camera would be. On a cold and rainy day we got the GoPros out again and took a photo scavenger hunt within the school.

Combining some of our new skills in looking for animal sign, thinking about adaptations, and making observations we took a couple of days to go birding as well as questing for insects. We were able to capture some great photos of birds around the school and identify what we saw. We also collected a range of insects and took some close up pictures of them. We learned about different species and made notes on where we found them and what they were doing.

All and all, we had a great time exploring the world around us, taking the time to look small and think big. We learned a lot and had a great time doing it. We had two great groups of students and are looking forward to our next Fusion adventure with Vergennes Elementary school starting in January!


Ship’s Log: Schooner Lois McClure, End of the 2017 Legacy Tour

Matt Harrison

Winter is in the air in Vermont and New York and the 2017 Lois McClure Legacy tour has come to a successful conclusion!  The canal boat made 36 stops in communities all along the canals, connecting the public to the history of their local waterways. Thanks to all of our friends who followed along online! As many have noticed, our blog entries gradually dwindled. The day-to-day tasks necessary for conducting a replica canal boat hundreds of miles along the Erie Canal can be time consuming and, regretfully, by the middle of the trip they had began to outpace our crew’s journal writing capacity. There were so many good things happening that it was all we could do to keep up the momentum! Much thanks to the volunteers who not only helped on the journey but also contributed their experiences for the blog.

The busy second half of our tour was full of highlights. The towns of Pittsford, Palmyra, Clyde, and Newark, along the idyllic section of canal between Lockport and the Montezuma Swamps, were gorgeous and full of history. They also consistently provided the crew with generous accommodations and excellent weather. From there we headed on down to the Cayuga-Seneca Canal and spent a weekend in historic Seneca Falls, with its Victorian houses and historic downtown. A short jaunt down the Oswego Canal next brought us to Phoenix, where we had a blast with the local fourth graders, before proceeding on to another busy stop in Brewerton.

The big event of the tour happened in Syracuse in late September. As Peggy recorded, the crew had quite an adventure getting Lois into and out of the shallow Syracuse Inner Harbor without the help of tug Churchill. It all went smoothly and turned out to be an enjoyable break-from-routine! The Inner Harbor was looking its best for the conference and it was a fun novelty for the crew to be so close to a big city. Late in the week, we were honored to be a part of the World Canals Conference, which took place between Sept 24-26. Hundreds of professionals involved in the world of Canals gathered in Syracuse for a week of tours, seminars, and roundtables to consider the future of man made waterways around the world. For the grand public opening of the conference, Lois was one of numerous attractions open to the public within the Inner Harbor, another highlight being the Corning Museum of Glass’ glass barge. The unseasonably hot weather did not deter the brisk stream of visitors, even with glass furnaces over 2,000 degrees adding to the heat.  For the final event of the conference, Lois was looking particularly handsome, lit up for a sunset cookout on Paper Mill Island adjacent to the Glass Barge on the Baldwinsville waterfront.

World Canal Conference, with LCMM’s Jimmy D rowing in the background

With the conference concluded, we made headway for the Hudson, with some final quick but productive stops. In Ilion NY, we discovered a pleasant farmers’ market below a regal old barn and enjoyed the hospitality of Village Marina’s Café on their final night of the season. Onward to St Johnsville, where we welcomed another fantastic batch of fourth grade students. The crew very much enjoys these visits by enthusiastic forth grade classes. Erick and Matt were also lucky enough to tour the Margaret Reaney Memorial Library & Museum, a hidden gem in St. Johnsville that a number of visitors had clued us in to.  In Halfmoon, NY, we spent a day welcoming passersby aboard on our final stop before descending the great Flight of Five locks to Waterford. It was good to be back on the waters of the Hudson for our final open day, at the Waterford Farmers’ Market along the waterfront. One last bunch of Waterford and Cohoes school groups left with plenty of little oaks and pines to plant in celebration of what they’d learned aboard. It was the perfect way to end a great tour! Although the boat won’t be returning to Burlington this winter, our arrival in Waterford felt like a homecoming nonetheless, with old friends and familiar scenes. Lois will be well taken care of this winter, fittingly resting so close to where the Champlain and Erie Canals met for a hundred years.

We want to once again thank the numerous volunteers and community friends who helped us in one way or another along our journey, and particularly during the second half of the tour. We hope you’ll indulge our request for forgiveness in not mentioning everyone in this final condensed blog.  There are simply hundreds who make our voyage possible, and a sincere pleasure to undertake.

We would also like to thank and acknowledge the New York State Canal Corporation, our principal partner in this tour, for empowering us to make this historic voyage, and helping New York celebrate 200 years of canal history.  In addition, our home State of Vermont, for supporting our work as Ambassador for the State and the Champlain Valley.  Our sincerest thanks to the Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership and Lake Champlain Basin Program for providing funding for our Stem to Stern and Aquatic Invasive education programs. And to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Saratoga Nursery for providing the trees we spread across the State.

While the Legacy Tour may be over, Lois will have only a short sleep this winter. She’ll be back on the water in early spring, in preparation for the 2018 Glass Barge Tour in conjunction with Corning Museum of Glass and South Street Seaport, beginning in Brooklyn NY in May!  Stay tuned for more on-water adventures.





Ship’s Log: Schooner Lois McClure, Seneca Falls & Clyde, NY

Alexandra (Sandra) Murphy

Mist rises from the Seneca River as the canal schooner Lois McClure pushes away from the dock at Seneca Falls, NY. Ship’s captain and Lake Champlain Maritime Museum co-director Erick Tichonuk turns her north toward Lock 3 of the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, just around the bend. Tied alongside, the tugboat C.L. Churchill nudges the Lois McClure on her way, captained by the museum’s co-founder, Art Cohn.

On deck, a dozen waist-high white oak saplings sway on gangly trunks. Beneath them, a tiny grove of white oak and white pine seedlings bristles from plastic growing pots, greening the deck. The trees are part of the “Woodlands to Waterways” story that forms the backdrop for this year’s voyage.

Since setting out in early July from the museum’s docks in Basin Harbor, the Lois McClure has made port calls in 26 communities along the historic canal system that flows between Lake Champlain and the Great Lakes. More than 8,000 visitors have toured the boat so far, learning from crew members the story of the vessel and her place within the larger history of the canal system that connects the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean.

Clyde mayor and public works person with Erick, Sandra, and seedlings

2017 marks the 200th anniversary of the completion of the Erie Canal, which stretches from Albany to Buffalo, NY. As part of that bicentennial celebration, Syracuse will host the World Canal Conference September 24-28, and the Lois McClure will be a featured event. The theme of the conference is “Our Vital Waterways: Agents of Transformation.”

For the forests of Vermont and New York, canals were, indeed, profound agents of transformation. The Lois McClure is a replica of an 1862-era canal schooner, designed from shipwrecks on the bottom of Lake Champlain. Like the canal boats of that time period, she is built from about 20,000 board feet of clear-grained white oak and white pine, plus two arrow-straight boles of white spruce for the vessel’s two 50-foot sailing masts. During the heyday of the canal system, up until the canals were rendered obsolete by railways in the 1870s, thousands of canal barges were built to haul cargo and passengers.

Tractor-trailers of the 19th Century, canal barges were capable of carrying a phenomenal amount of cargo cheaply and quickly by the day’s standards. During the canal season, April to December, cargo barges hauled raw materials like stone, wood, coal, iron, grain, hay, and wool to manufacturing centers, and carried finished products back. Of all the commodities to move through the canal system, lumber was most common. Albany, NY, at the confluence of the Champlain and Erie canals and the Hudson River, became the busiest lumber port in the country.

And so the forests of Vermont and New York fell to ax and saw. Rain and snow-melt washed exposed hillsides downstream, doubly damaging as runoff stripped the land of topsoil that could nurture new growth and choked streams and rivers with sediment. Increased flooding threatened the very canal infrastructure that facilitated the transformation from forest to clearing.

Fast-forward to 2017 and the mist-hung waters of the Seneca River. The Lois McClure—replica of the vessels that once carried so much lumber from the forests of New York and Vermont—now carries seedlings of the two tree species that were central to the canal era’s economic boom. During the week I was aboard the vessel, we received hundreds of visitors during port calls in Clyde and Seneca Falls. And we gave white oak and white pine seedlings to each town to plant in their public spaces.

Members of the Seneca Falls garden club with George Pauk and Erick, with 4 seedlings

For me, that gift symbolizes another transformation—a transformation in our attitude toward and relationship with the forest community of which we are a part. (Whether you live in the town or country in the Northeast, in open field or forest, you live on soil that was once forest and which would return to forest with remarkable speed if left to its own devices.)

It’s a gesture of gratitude, and of recognition of how much we have taken from the forest community without care for the impacts on the wide community of living beings that live there. The gift and the planting of these white oak and white pine seedlings can signal an intention to act with care toward the land that cares for us.

One of our central aims in Vermont Family Forests is to foster relationship with the forest that is focused on community wel l-being, with an understanding that “community” includes all living beings and the land from which we all spring. A mutually beneficial relationship nurtured by reciprocity and loving care.

As I carried my bags from the Lois McClure to the car that would shuttle me back to Vermont, crew members carried a fresh batch of white pine seedlings from the car to the boat, replenishing the on-deck nursery. What a privilege it was to travel for a week with the staff and volunteers of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum on this journey of transformation. Thank you one and all!

Ship’s Log: Schooner Lois McClure, Phoenix, Brewerton, & Syracuse, NY

My week on the LOIS MCCLURE  ~ Peggy Huckel, September 2017

I’d never been to Phoenix. “Not Arizona, what does it matter?” in the words of the old Three Dog Night song…  Last week I got to spend time in Phoenix, New York in the best possible way- on board the Lake Champlain canal schooner Lois McClure. My week rotation as a volunteer began on Tuesday with lunch at the famed Dinosaur Barbeque in Syracuse, before I was dropped off at at the boat, on a well-maintained dock in Henley Park, in this tiny town on the Oswego Canal. I greeted the crew, most of them old friends- Art and Anne, Erick, Len, Matt, and Barbara, and stowed my bags in my quarters below deck. Free wifi, bathroom facilities (including a coin-op shower), picnic tables, and a neat little museum made our stay very comfortable. Friendly historical society folks kept us company and made us feel welcome all week. Shady streets made for pleasant strolling and we found a diner and a tavern for sustenance and relaxation.

Wednesday was a day of rest, scrubbing the deck and other little chores. I got a ride in the tender when Erick and Matt needed to go over to where the Corning Glass barge was, in order to take some measurements. The same day, I was very excited to see the large tug Cheyenne (which I’d seen a week earlier at the Tugboat Roundup in Waterford) pass by and go through the lock (Lock 1 of the Oswego Canal) on her way to her new owners and new job in Detroit. And not long afterwards, the cruise ship Grande Mariner sailed by in the other direction, on her way back east after a trip to the Great Lakes. I waved to my friend Will who was on board. The Lois McClure seems big until something bigger goes by!

We spent the day very enjoyably showing several classes of fourth graders the ins and outs of the schooner. They were delightful students, well prepared, enthusiastic, and well-behaved (though I really think the adorable Josie Wales, the ship’s dog, stole the show).  We presented the town with two trees, as part of our forestry mission (see www.lcmm.org ) and were told that one of them will be planted at the school.  In the evening we opened to the public and had a nice stream of visitors who dodged the brief rain showers to come aboard. The rain left us with a sunny evening and one of many beautiful sunsets. I went to sleep to the sound of quacking ducks and squawking geese.

Friday morning we got underway, reentered the Erie Canal, passed through Lock 23, and were in Brewerton, on the Oneida River at the edge of Oneida Lake, by lunchtime. Again we had the rest of the day to relax and explore- that is, find food and restrooms- before watching the sun set from the deck. It was different here- Phoenix had been quiet, but here we watched many, many modern recreational lake boats come and go. We were between two bridges, one an interstate, so there was quite a bit of road noise too. Some boats docked by us, but were generally polite and quiet, and interested in our vessel. In the evening there was a deafening roar from a nearby speedway, but luckily they also knocked off at a very decent hour. The good news was, the prime (and pretty much only) feature at this dock was the Waterfront Tavern, which was very busy and had fantastic food! We ate like kings for three nights.

We opened to the public from 10 to 5 on Saturday and Sunday. Both beautiful sunny, breezy days (after an unusually dense fog on Sunday morning), we enjoyed a steady but manageable crowd who all seemed to enjoy learning about our history and mission. We gave away more trees, and enjoyed a visit from the folks who had donated the oak trees to us. On my lunch break I took a walk across the road to the shady grounds of Fort Brewerton’s blockhouse, which was closed.

An interesting boat pulled in one evening, to share the dock with us. Farallone, a 61’ U.S. Army Quartermaster boat, almost 100 years old, spent the night and the captain and his wife visited us the next day. They were very interesting people; he is a wooden bucket maker, and made us a gift of one of his great, sturdy buckets. They are from Newport, RI and it turned out we have some friends in common. You see all kinds of boats on the Canal!

Monday morning we pulled out at 8:15, gassed up and pumped out at Winter Harbor, and were on our way, locking back through Lock 23, and proceeding for several peaceful hours filled with views of wildlife (herons, turtles, and the like) and picturesque little homes, and a little hint of fall color, until we reached a sign that said “Welcome to Syracuse.” Raising the centerboard and dousing our shady canopies, we headed across windy Onondaga Lake, and an hour later, we were experimenting with ways to get into the shallow channel to the Inner Harbor without the tug. About a half an hour later we had the inflatable lashed on and C.L. Churchill spun away to spend a week in a marina, while Oocher pushed us through Onondaga Creek. Another peaceful (but hot, without our shade) half-hour cruise and we were secured next to a long dock with a huge hotel looming over us.

And there, in the gravel parking lot, was the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum van, with Elisa and our new crew (Kerry and Barbara), loaded with re-supplies and ready to take me and Len back east. The schooner would be spending the whole week in Syracuse complementing the World Canals Conference event, before heading for home. I was very sad to leave, as life aboard suits me fine, but new adventures await! Thanks for the ride, LCMM.