Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Touring the First Treadpool

     People watching is so endlessly fascinating because we come in such a variety of shapes, shades and sizes. It's also a little threatening to those of us (yeah, my hand is raised) who don't conform to some ideal standard of body type or style. My advice: just enjoy those around you in all their vibrant individuality and diversity. That, and become a student of geomorphology.
     That would be the science of landforms. Being aware of and trying to understand the processes that shape the earth's surface, its "look", can be every bit as engaging as focusing on the superficial appearance of some hapless person. Furthermore, those hills and valleys aren't going to feel self-conscious or inadequate. Gaze on them without guilt.
     The geomorphology surrounding the Battenkill River is a great place to begin. Its origins are where drainage from both the Green Mountains and the Taconics funnels at a steep gradient down into the Valley of Vermont. Think small streams with rapids and waterfalls. Then, below Manchester, it flows gently inclined for thirty plus miles, cutting across the trend of the mountains in a scenic gap. It's possible to float this entire stretch without a single portage. I did this years ago and dream of doing it again.
     If the headwaters are like a pitched roof and the valley section resembles a flowing nature trail, then you could think of the lower river as a staircase. From Center Falls down to the Hudson, dams form the risers and the pools behind them are the treads. Each of these "tread pools" is unique and fun to explore. In a recent post we visited the bottom of the stairs where the Battenkill joins the Hudson near Schuylerville. This time we'll step up one level to the pond above  the lower dam in Clarks Mills.
     Just north of where Co. 113 crosses the river turn onto Pulp Mill Lane. You're in the Town of Greenwich with Easton to the south. The H-V mill owns most of the land bordering the river and they've done a good job of providing access. Look for their signs and parking spots at various points. Note the houses along Pulp Mill Lane. Most have been modified somewhat but they are all basically the same. I've heard they were built by the paper mill years ago to house workers. Anyone know more about their history?

     You'll see a small pull-off in about a third of a mile or you can go a little further to where the lane stops at a gate. Either place is a good put-in. Beyond the gate is an old mill building and access to the next higher pool above the second Clarks Mills dam. Just poke around a little, read the signs and you'll figure it out.
     The first pool is small, only a mile or so in length, and can be paddled in less than an hour. You might want to do both pools in one visit by parking at the end of the lane and doing the short carry between them. Alternately, you can enjoy the lower section and its wildlife in slow motion. That's what we did on a recent late spring evening and there was nary a dull moment.
     Within a blink of launching we were watching a busy muskrat as he cruised the shoreline. Next up was a tiny green turtle (painted?) basking with just her head above water. Later we saw mid-size turtles on a floating log and were startled by a very large snapper that came up for air right next to our boat.
     Fish constantly break the surface and at one point we saw a big guy at least three feet long stir up a mud storm as he torpedoed thru the shallows. The bird life is overwhelming to someone as ornithologically challenged as myself. Expect to see ducks, geese herons kingfishers and sandpipers
near the water as well as cardinals, orioles and many others in the trees along shore.

     You can closely approach the base of the upper dam which I've heard has a tunnel thru it. There are also a series of piers that look like they may have carried a railroad at some point in the past. The shorelines are clothed in a rich variety of wetland plants, sedges and grasses, and trees and shrubs. Enough to keep any naturalist busy over multiple visits.

     After we circled the pond and were back on shore we watched a beaver out surveying his kingdom, swimming in lazy circles. I did a quick tally of the evening's sightings: mammals, birds, reptiles and fish but no amphibians. The bottom of the food chain was wisely playing hard to get. Then I noticed something move in the grass. A closer look revealed a tiny green leopard frog blending in perfectly. Be careful little buddy, it's a jungle out there.


  1. This is so great (and not far or inaccessible from here!), but what I really want to know is: what kind of fish was that? Some filthy trash-eating perch? Something delicious?

  2. Didn't get a good look it moved so fast, but long and narrow like a pike or pickerel. I believe you can eat fish here but below the lower dam and on into the Hudson it's catch and release only because of PCBs. I've heard it's good sport fishing where the Battenkill joins the Hudson, just don't keep any.