Sunday, August 14, 2016

Fort Found

     No one said storming a fort would be easy. Still, this was starting to get ridiculous. Upstream the river was blocked by a thick cable and buoys. Off my stern the current was sweeping over a dam and crashing onto the rocks below. To the right the bank was guarded by patches of poison ivy. Then it got worse. Much worse. There in the bow seat of the canoe, just a couple of feet away, sat a very unhappy wife.

     Unhappy but resourceful. She looked the situation over and thought that maybe, just maybe, we could slip under the cable right near shore. Inching slowly forward we each in our turn laid all the way back horizontal, imagined ourselves young and thin and squeezed beneath the barrier with a cat's whisker to spare.
     Sneaking beneath the cable was like Alice stepping through the looking glass. Just like that we were in a different world. The river above was calm, even serene. To our right a shale ledge hosted its own little rock garden. Perched on top of the bank were the back porches of village homes. People out enjoying the evening gave us a friendly wave. Ducks flew overhead and looking across the water a point of land beckoned. That was our destination.

Fort Miller hamlet from the river

     Our ill-advised launch had started in the hamlet of Fort Miller. We parked across from the Fire Department and carried thru Mill Park to the Hudson River. If you zip by on Rt. 4 you'll hardly know there is a Fort Miller. You have to turn off the highway, slow down and ideally give the car a rest. This is a place best appreciated on foot, from a bike or (maybe?!?) in a canoe.

     Think of ribbon candy with stripes running side by side. The Hudson is the biggest stripe with River Road, the Barge Canal, Rt. 4, what's left of the old Champlain Canal, and a long abandoned trolley line all paralleling it.

     In and around the hamlet you'll find historic homes, the classic Reformed Church, a tree shaded Riverside Cemetery and both well kept contemporary and old, but well preserved canal locks. There's also a ball field park on a former industrial site, an osprey nest or two and places to fish in the river. What you won't find in Fort Miller is a fort.

     Historical sources suggest that the site of the fort was actually on the west side of the river. Paddling across the Hudson we made a border crossing from Washington County into Saratoga County somewhere out in the middle. Then we approached a level, open peninsula that forced the water to flow in a lazy bend around it. For the last several years this has been used as a staging area for the PCB dredging project. Prior to that it was a farm field and long before that, the site of Fort Miller.

Gone but not forgotten - the site of Fort Miller

     The fort was built by an English Col. Miller in 1755. The purpose was to defend against French and Indian attack. It is thought that there was a small earth covered timber wall with a ditch in front. Having the river on three sides added to the locations security. I'm wondering if there has ever been an archeological dig here. Anybody out there know?
     The site is private property and there's certainly nothing left of the fort so it's best to tour from the water. On the upstream side of the peninsula Tuttle Brook flows into the river and it's possible to paddle a little ways up the creek. Several miles away, near its headwaters, this stream flows thru our farm. I've been hopping across it since I was a boy. Now days we have a small grassy area next to the brook where we spend some evenings watching birds, frogs, turtles and minnows.

Take a seat - my chair on Tuttle Brook

     On our paddle we saw a huge fish stir up the mud beneath our canoe. Probably a carp or catfish. There was also a variety of birds attracted by the diverse habitats of riverbank, overgrown field and lowland woods. Eagles, ospreys and all kinds of waterfowl are often seen here. Mostly we experienced a sense of peaceful serenity. This section of the river is an isolated pool between the Fort Miller hydro dam and another low dam at the upper end of Thompson Island. Boat traffic is diverted thru the canal and there are no launch sites so it's very quiet here. 

Fort Miller Hydro Dam

     I can't recommend putting in at Fort Miller - it's awkward and potentially dangerous. The best access may be along West River Road on the Saratoga County side. There is a small pull-off on a sweeping S bend with room for a car or two. This is mostly used as a fishing spot but it's easy to carry a canoe down to the water. Thompson Island splits the river into two channels and it's possible to go upstream a short distance to the dam on either side of the island. You can go downstream several miles until you encounter the warning cable and buoys above the Fort Miller hydro dam. 

     Hope you get to paddle here soon. Watch closely and you may see a variety of wildlife, the site of a long gone fort and maybe even a happy wife in a canoe.    


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