Celebrating the Champlain Canal: After 200 Years, Looking Back and Forward

Contributed by the NYS Canal Corporation and the Champlain Canalway Trail Working Group

This year, the historic Champlain Canal celebrates its bicentennial anniversary. Officially opened in September of 1823, the 60-mile-long canal ­– the second-longest in the New York State Canal system ­– connects Lake Champlain to the Hudson River and New York City. Adjacent to the waterway, and now part of the Empire State Trail, the Champlain Canalway Trail allows outdoor enthusiasts the opportunity to take in the area’s rich landscapes while walking, hiking, or cycling on sections of the canal’s original towpath.

The opening of the Champlain Canal allowed the region’s economy to flourish as residents and farmers were able to ship products inexpensively on the new waterway to bustling ports. Stone, iron, and agricultural products such as apples, butter, cheese, grain, and potatoes all moved aboard canal boats to be sold. In addition, the Champlain Canal corridor swiftly became home to a thriving shipbuilding industry. Craftsmen built three types of long, narrow, shallow-draft boats for canal service that were used during the early years of the canal: standard canal boats; sailing canal boats; and packets.

Today, not only is the Champlain Canal still utilized for commercial shipping of local products, including aggregate stone from the Adirondacks used for construction in the greater New York City region, but it is also home to recreational boating. The Champlain Canal is a main thoroughfare for Canadian boaters, connecting hundreds of miles of the Quebec Canals to the Atlantic Ocean and the St. Lawrence Seaway. The Champlain Canal is part of the popular “Mini Loop” or “Triangle Loop”, the 700-mile alternative to the “The Great Loop,” where vessels cruise north from the Atlantic Ocean through the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, Richelieu River, and Chambly Canal, southwest along the St. Lawrence River, the Rideau Canal, Lake Ontario, then south on the Oswego and east on Erie canals back to the Hudson.

Along the canal is the Champlain Canalway Trail, which extends from Waterford to Whitehall and welcomes walkers and cyclists of all abilities for a variety of outdoor recreational activities. While on the trail, visitors can experience historic canalside communities like Mechanicville, Stillwater, Schuylerville, and Fort Edward as they watch boaters and paddlers pass by. In addition, the Glens Falls Feeder Canal Trail allows for exploration of the historic Five Combines and the bustling downtown of Glens Falls.

Visitors may also enjoy the striking and expansive landscape of the Champlain Canalway Trail with ample points of interest along the way that highlight the area’s rich history and cultural heritage. The Champlain Canalway Trail also connects several important Bird Conversation Areas, allowing for visitors to enjoy birdwatching while walking along the path. 200 years after the original canal and towpath were constructed, they continue to support the local economy and this year, New York State looks forward to celebrating the bicentennial! The Champlain Canalway Trail Working Group (CCTWG) will be joined by many partner organizations to celebrate this milestone with a series of events. 

Waterford Canal Fest: May 20-21, 2023

On May 20-21, we will be at the Waterford Canal Fest commemorating the reopening of the Canal after a long winter’s nap.  Town Historian Russ Vandervoort will conduct a walking tour to Old Lock 5 (about 3 miles RT).  The CCTWG will lead a guided tour on the Champlain Canalway Trail (CCT) from Waterford to Upper Newtown Rd (11 mi RT). Be sure to bring your bike and helmet to ride.

National Trails Day Family Fun Day: June 3, 2023

On June 3, National Trails Day 2023, the celebration continues at Mullen Parkin Fort Edward at the trailhead of the CCT.  Many Washington County agencies will  stage an active Family Fun Day with games, attractions, fishing and more.  Historians will be around all day to share interesting stories about the area.  CCTWG will guide a ride from Fort Edward to Fort Ann (about 12 miles).  Be sure to bring your bike and helmet to be able to ride.

Both events will feature bike safety rodeos. Basic Bike maintenance and helmet fitting will be reviewed with each child.  Through a series of games children can hone their riding skills such as hand signaling and trail etiquette.  Look for the slowest rider wins  race.  Commemorative t-shirts will be available while supply lasts.

Looking forward to looking back and forward? We  look forward to seeing many of you at these events during which we look back at the history of the Champlain Canal and our area while encouraging future generations  to be more active and  interested in the Champlain Canalway Trail.


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