Part II: New York Waterways

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: James T. Parks, Bruce Read

In 1808, while still mayor of New York City, De Witt Clinton began championing a grand vision: a system of canals providing the first all-water commercial shipping link from western New York and the Great Lakes to New York City, and from there to the rest of the world. At the time, many considered "Clinton's Ditch" to be a huge folly. Even President Thomas Jefferson, a fount of great visions himself, considered the idea of a 340-mile long, hand-dug canal from Albany to Buffalo to be "just short of madness." Nevertheless, in 1817, Clinton, now governor of New York, convinced the legislature to begin funding construction of the Erie Canal.

Still, given all of the negative press and sentiments of the times, the project took form and one of the greatest engineering marvels of its day, the Erie Canal, was completed in 1825, after eight years of incredibly torturous labor. The construction of other New York canals soon followed and within a few years, by 1840, New York City had surpassed Philadelphia as the nation's chief seaport. New York was well on its way to becoming the "Empire State." And though most canals in America have long since vanished from the landscape, the New York Canal System lives on, enduring in the 21st century as a powerful magnet for tourism and recreation.

Thursday: To Ticonderoga
After leaving the Eisenhower Locks in Massena, NY, we're ripping along US 11 east, following the general route of the historic Military Trail. Countries vying for control of the New World used many of the upstate New York waterways to conduct their military campaigns, and the relatively flat terrain between Massena, on the St. Lawrence River, and Lake Champlain provided the shortest overland route for armies portaging from one waterway to another.

Near the Canadian border, air temperatures remain cool. The Adirondack Mountains rise majestically to our south, but a line of ominous clouds trailing us eastward induces a slight alteration to our intended route once we arrive on the shore of Lake Champlain at Rouses Point, NY. Rather than immediately taking the route of the Lakes to Locks Passage south to Plattsburgh, NY, we cross over an arm of Lake Champlain on US 2 and follow it south onto Grand Isle, Vermont. The lake is visible on our right and left and the mountains dramatically frame both sides of the Champlain Valley.

Rain showers overtake us nonetheless, but they stop soon after we don our rain gear. We follow SR 314 to the Grand Isle Ferry and board it with another motorcyclist and several cars. During the 15-minute crossing to Plattsburgh, New York, my eyes scan the placid waters for any hint of the mythical sea monster "Champ," reputed to dwell within this deep glacial lake.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the July/August 2007 back issue.