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Square Wheels Cycling

Trails and Old Canals


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Last weekend the weather was warm and sunny but ride plans fizzled in deference to projects that had to be finished before cooler weather.  This weekend had a few hours for a ride so I headed out for a loop around the Mohawk River to take in some sections of recently opened bike trails I hadn’t yet ridden.

The car dash said the temperature was 35F at the bike path parking lot.  A fog had settled in because of the warmer river.  Since most of the ride followed bike paths or trails I wasn’t too concerned about being visible to drivers.

A group of Army ROTC cadets were on the bike path doing a 12 mile hike with full packs.  They were scattered all along the path, I imagine because they’d been given staggered starts.  I have to say even though they were all physically pushing themselves, they were uniformly polite and courteous as I went by.

The path at one point descended down onto an old railroad bed near the river.  The fog is just starting to burn off.

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Along the path, though, shrouded by the trees, the fog still hung on.  This section of the path is heavily used normally.  Today I shared it with only the ARMY ROTC cadets and a few walkers.

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And now, a true highlight of the ride!  My favorite bridge – the Thaddeus Kosciuszko Bridge!  Around here it’s usually called the Twin Bridges because most people can’t say ‘Thaddeus Kosciuszko’ let alone know who he was.  These two spans carry I-87 across the Mohawk River.

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The route, entirely by accident, ran past the Cohoes Falls.  The falls are about 70 feet high and about 600 feet wide.  The fog on the river and the rising mist partially obscured the falls, but created a scene that made the falls new even though I’d been here a dozen times.

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Just downriver from the falls are the Harmony Mills.  Water taken from the Mohawk River powered these factories.  This one building runs for blocks.  Another mill sits out of the picture to the left, another out of the picture to the right, and still more down the road.  These buildings were renovated into apartments and lofts – and beautifully restored.  Not far from here during the excavation for a mill building the Cohoes Mastodon was discovered.

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Now turning north to parallel the Hudson River, I picked up the Champlain Canal Trail.  This is Lock 4, with the old Champlain Canal stretching around the corner in the distance.

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The old canal and the Trail pass through Waterford where the Barge Canal begins its climb around the Cohoes Falls.  (Couldn’t New York come up with a better name than the ‘Barge Canal’?)  Here boats can head across the state to the Great Lakes or go downriver to New York City.

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The first lock in what’s called the Waterford Flight, a series of six locks that take the modern canal around the falls.

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A series of locks from the old Champlain Canal called the ‘Sidecut’ acts as a waste weir for the modern lock.  These locks used to be working locks that transported canal boats from the Hudson River to the Champlain Canal.  Compare the size of the locks…

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Today, the old Champlain Canal acts as a surge pool for the next lock up in the Waterford Flight.  In short, when that lock transits a boat down all the water in that lock has to go somewhere.  It’s released into the old canal.  This small dam maintains a constant water level between locks. 

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This quite ordinary and uninteresting block of concrete used to be a weigh lock.  The canal boat tolls were based on the weight of the cargo.  One method calculated weight by how much the water rose when the boat entered the lock.  The second actually put the canal boat on a huge scale and drained the water until the boat rested on the scale.  Once weighed, the canal authorities knew what toll to exact from the canal board captain.  Not exactly EasyPass…

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I followed the Champlain Canal Trail across some sections new to me, then turned west over the roads to pick up a new section of the Towpath Trail.  One road paralleled the old Erie Canal.  These boats were docked in an abandoned section of the old canal.  I wonder how many of the boat owners even know it.

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The new Towpath Trail section started under the opposite end of the TK Bridge shown earlier.  It was quite wide and smooth even though the surface was stone dust.

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This new section ended, and I picked up the ‘Bird Watch’ section.  An older section, I think they should have called it the ‘Root Watch’ section, better suited to a mountain bike.  I bounced about on my touring bike until the trail widened again.

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This is the Whipple Bridge – not the ‘Mr. Whipple’ of toilet paper fame, but Squire Whipple.  In addition to inventing new bridge designs Squire also patented a weigh lock for weighing canal boats.

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The old Erie Canal seen from the Whipple Bridge.  It looks like nothing special until you realize the canal you see was excavated by hand, and all that dirt was hauled away by horse and wagon.

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The Mohawk River at Lock 7 on the Barge Canal.  The lock is on the left, Goat Island with a small waterfall in the center, and the power plant on the right. 

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Back on the road, and nearing the end of the ride.  The modern bridge crosses the Mohawk River just upstream from where an Erie Canal aqueduct crossed.  Small portions of the aqueduct still stand, and in the summer the local urchins jump off them into the river.  The marina on the right uses a section of the old Erie Canal as a boat launch.

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Profile for today’s ride:

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