By Rachel Spensieri
Upstate New York and western Vermont are home to some of the country’s most beautiful and navigable rivers. These tree-lined waterways were home to indigenous peoples in the area many millennia ago. Later, these same rivers made the location highly attractive to early European settlers, providing a water source, fertile soil, and transportation for trade. Today, the rivers of the Capital Region also offer scenic beauty and recreation to hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors each year.
Walloomsac and Hoosic rivers
The 16-mile Walloomsac River originates in the Green Mountains of Vermont, travels west where it passes through Bennington, Vermont, then continues into eastern New York where it meets up with the 76-mile Hoosic River just below Hoosick Falls, New York. The Hoosic then winds its way westward, a tributary that empties into the Hudson River near Stillwater, New York. While these rivers are smaller than some in our area, they boast a number of picturesque covered bridges. The Silk Road Covered Bridge traverses the Walloomsac near downtown Bennington, Vermont. Included on the National Register of Historic Places, this 88-foot , single-lane bridge was constructed in 1840 with a lattice truss design, patented by prominent engineer and architect Ithiel Town in 1820. The Silk Road bridge project was managed by Benjamin Sears, who was from a family of well-known bridge-builders in the area at that time. The 125-foot Paper Mill Village Covered Bridge crosses the Walloomsac down river and to the northwest of the Silk Road Covered Bridge. Also a Town’s lattice truss design and on the National Register, the bridge was constructed by Benjamin Sears’ son, Charles, in 1889. Just west down the Walloomsac, the Burt Henry Covered Bridge is another National Register Town’s lattice truss design bridge. Originally constructed in the 1830s, the 121-foot bridge is the oldest of the three covered bridges in this area of Vermont. Once the Walloomsac meets the Hoosic in New York, yet another National Register covered bridge spans the waters. The Buskirk Covered Bridge was built in 1850 using a Howe truss design, a plan originally patented in 1840 by engineer and architect William Howe.
The waters of the 315-mile Hudson River travel north-south from the peaks of the Adirondack Mountains, past New York City, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, the lower Hudson (the portion of the river south of Troy) is actually a tidal estuary, where freshwater and salty ocean waters converge. Named for English explorer Henry Hudson, who, working for the Dutch East India Company, visited the area in 1609 while searching for the Northwest Passage, the highly navigable Hudson would soon attract European settlers who established villages along its shores. In the Revolutionary War, the river was considered strategically crucial by both sides, and in the nineteenth century, the bucolic area would inspire the famous Hudson River School of landscape painting. In 1807, plans began to construct a canal connecting the Hudson River with the Lake Erie frontier to the northwest. A critical trade route, which could slash the costs of shipping from the Great Lakes to New York City, the engineering marvel that is the Erie Canal was opened less than two decades later, in 1825. Today’s Hudson River is prized not only for transportation, but also for recreation. Moreau Lake State Park in Gansevoort straddles the river and includes everything you would expect in a state park: camping and cottages, picnic areas with grills, sandy beaches on the lake for swimming, boat launches on the river (including rentals), and wooded hiking trails (which can be used for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter). Hudson Crossing Park in Schuylerville, near the convergence of the Hudson and Battenkill rivers, has water access (as well as a kayak launch), picnic facilities, trails–including the Riverwalk Sensory Trail, which is specially designed to be inclusive of people with physical and sensory challenges–and a meditative walking Labyrinth. Also found at Hudson Crossing Park, the restored historic Dix Bridge allows foot and bike traffic from the park to access a section of the Champlain Canalway Trail, a path that follows the route of the canal, stretching from Lake Champlain into the Hudson Valley. Portions of the trail are complete with other sections slated for future development. Similarly, the 86-mile long Mohawk Hudson Hike Bike Trail is a work in progress, but allows bikers and hikers to enjoy river vistas along its path. The historic village and town of Waterford are at the confluence of the Hudson, Mohawk, and the Erie Canal. In fact, Waterford has staked its claim as the oldest continuously incorporated village in the country. The annual Waterford Tugboat Roundup is usually held the weekend after Labor Day. The event not only includes a variety of boats (including tugs, workboats, fireboats, barges, and dayboats), it also features music, fireworks, food, children’s activities and games, artists, and craft vendors. To learn more, visit www.tugboatroundup.com. Looking to cruise our local waterways? A variety of boat operators offer a scenic river tour experience on the Hudson including Mohawk Maiden Cruises in Schuylerville (www.mohawkmaidencruises.com), Dutch Apple Cruises and Tours of Albany (www.dutchapplecruises.com), and Captain JP Cruises out of Troy (www.captainjpcruise.com).
Beginning its eastward journey in central New York’s Lewis County, the 149-mile Mohawk River is the Hudson’s largest tributary, converging just north of Albany. Named for the Mohawk Nation of the Iroquois Confederacy, this river and its fertile banks have been important for agriculture, trade, and transportation since the Mohawk Valley was home to natives. The generally east-west path of the Mohawk River was integral in the planning and construction of the Erie Canal in the 1800s, and today, the Erie Canal-Mohawk River route, with its many scenic falls, is flanked by numerous nature preserves, parks, and trails. Lock 6 State Canal Park and Peebles Island State Park are both located near the intersection of the Erie Canal, Mohawk River, and the Hudson. Lock 6 State Canal Park is part of the “Flight of Locks” (also known as the Waterford Flight), the first group of locks along the Erie Canal. This sequence of locks bypasses picturesque Cohoes Falls and is the largest lift in the shortest distance of any lock system in the world: 165 feet in just 1.5 miles. The area includes park lands, a trail skirting the river, an observation deck, and nearby, a boat launch to this popular boating, skiing, and fishing area of the Mohawk. Peebles Island State Park, an island at the junction of the Mohawk and Hudson in the Cohoes-Waterford area, features views of the river, dam, and falls, picnic and fishing spots, boat launches, and several miles of wooded hiking-biking trails. In this same area, one can enjoy walking, jogging, or biking on the Old Champlain Canal Towpath, which ambles along the banks of the old canal route. This three-mile trail is flat and travels through woods and wetlands.
Choose your own path!
Whether you prefer to hike, bike, camp, fish, boat, swim, or just relax on the beach, the rivers and canals in the Capital Region offer something for just about everyone!