Oh Black Water, Keep on Rollin’

Black River Feeder Canal

July 21, 2020

Continuing my New York State adventures along the North Country Trail, I did further exploration of the Black River area in the southern Adirondacks. This river is very similar to Vermont’s Mad River in size and the fact that it runs north. It is however, far longer at 125 miles, flowing from North Lake to Lake Ontario. The river lives up to its name with a black coloration caused by the natural tannic acid present. In the early 19th century, the river was used to float timber out of the forest down stream to the mills. Further industrialization of the river occurred with the construction of the Black River Canal and the Black River/Erie Feeder Canal. Today’s adventure was a bike ride along the feeder canal tow path, now an important recreation corridor and segment of the North Country Trail.

Beginning my adventure in Forestport, I parked next to the historic dam (otherwise landlocked, many towns were named “port” during the canal era). This dam was built by hand with native limestone, impounding the Black River for the purpose of feeding water to the Black River Canal (1/3 of the water flowing north), and the Erie Canal (2/3 flowing south). This canal system is still providing water to the Erie Canal. The old tow path has been used as a roadway for many years since the abandonment of the working canal and is now closed to automotive travel, making it a nice walking and bicycling path. It is also used by snowmobiles in the winter, but I saw no sign of all terrain vehicles.

As I peddled at a comfortable pace adjacent to the slack, black water I imagined what it must have been like floating along at a 3 to 4 mile per hour pace along the tranquil channel. In many areas the water extends further into the landscape creating natural basins flush with blooming lily pads. Also imagined what it must have been like to construct the high walls that support the path and impound the water on this steep hillside. The topography dictates the course of the canal and path and it never straight. Graceful sweeping curves provide new vistas around every turn. The tow path being generally oriented in a north/south direction, and the tow path on the east side, I was constantly in the sun with few exceptions from some the large trees that over shadowed the path. Thankfully, bicycling you create your own breeze.

Earlier in the day, I rode ten miles of forest road in the Moose River Plains Forest near Inlet, NY so I was well exercised already. I was also expected at my sister’s camp for a reunion so I chose not to ride all the way to Boonville where the feeder canal meets the mainline Black River Canal. I determined that next visit, I will run that missed leg from Boonville and turned around. An out-and-back tour gives one the full appreciation of the views from each direction. I cannot overstate the serenity of the bucolic views and peaceful feeling I had while touring along the Black River Feeder Canal. This is a five-star section of the NCNST in my view.

July 22, 2020

This day’s adventure continued my exploration of the Black River but from a different perspective and vantage point – on the river. Sisters Laura, Susan and brother in law Bob and I kayaked the stretch of river above Kayuta Lake. The slack water river is wide and navigable for kayaks, canoes and small boats for a few miles upstream. We shared this corridor with several other kayaks, boats and family-filled pontoon rafts along the way. It is scenic with lagoons and estuaries around every turn. Large clusters of lily pads dominated the shallow area. Cruising along at the tranquil pace, my kayak bow making a faint trickle from the slight wake, I mused about things past, present, and contemplated the future. It is easy to let your mind drift along with you as you lazily ply through the water in a kayak. The sensation of being at water level enhances the mood. The calm black water reflected the mirror image of the riverside, blue sky and spotty clouds so perfectly that you could imaging being in an altered state paddling high in the sky looking at the upside down landscape below (you had to be there).

After paddling for a period of time beyond when one questions whether we should turn around, we arrived at the end of navigation where the river rises up through large boulders and rock outcrops. We took to our sandals and headed along the riverside path upstream. Once again after a period of time just beyond when we began to question turning around, we arrived at beautiful falls. Here is where I throughly enjoyed the cooling water of the Black River taking a nice dip in the pool below the falls. Having rested and cooled off, we returned to the kayaks. Funny how the path back did not seam as long. Now we were going to paddle in the direction of the river flow back to Kayuta Lake. None the less, it was a long slog and full day on the Black River. Returning to the camp, we relished in the adventure and spending such quality time together after a long Covid 19-related hiatus. Lights were out early as the next day was going to be a full day of trail work on the North Country Trail with my new mentor, Mary Coffin, NCT’s NYS trail maven.

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