Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The X-C Files: To a T

     Fluff. According to Mr. Webster it's 'something inconsequential'. As in "That Wash Wild  blog is vapid fluff." But, this being the English language, there are other meanings. Such as, 'being light and soft or airy'. A perfect description of the snow we found on the Feeder Canal Towpath. It was like skiing on a cloud. A silky, slippery, effortless glide. 
     Snow like that is a rare and precious thing. Not to be wasted. Especially after the mid-January monsoon/heat wave that left the ground all but bare. Then came the surprise gift of a cold, gentle snowfall that dropped 6" of (you guessed it) fluff. I had to spend a day plowing but once that was done we had the chance to sneak away for a few hours. Decided to head to Hudson Falls and the Towpath. Finally, a good decision for a change!

     There's a place to park where the Feeder Canal crosses under Burgoyne Avenue. A plowed and sanded place to park. Unfortunately, the plowing and sanding continued on down the hill. That was the end of my dream of a swooping run in untouched powder. Replaced with a hug the sidelines/avoid the sand strategy. But it wasn't that bad and there was the amazing stonework of the old canal locks to distract me. The Feeder Canal was built in the 1820's with the purpose of bringing Hudson River water to the summit section of the Champlain Canal, which ran from Fort Edward to Whitehall. But Glens Falls businessmen saw the opportunity to export more than just water. With the construction of a series of locks the feeder was made navigable and for many years it saw bustling traffic as lumber, stone, lime and paper were shipped downstate.

     The feeder joins the Champlain Canal at a 'T' intersection some 100 feet lower in elevation than the parking area. In descending this slope the canal and towpath (and skiers) are dropping off a large, level plateau of deltaic and beach sands deposited in glacial Lake Albany 13,000 years ago. The lake eventually drained and what would become the Hudson River cut thru the sands, falling from the hard rock of the Adirondacks to the softer shales of the valley. Early settlers quickly recognized the waterpower potential. Dams and mills were built and the communities of Glens Falls, Hudson Falls and South Glens Falls developed on the sand plain.

Surficial Geology Map - the brown shaded area is the sand plain

     It took a staircase of water to get from the top to the bottom of the delta sands. The staircase consists of beautifully crafted locks that raised and lowered the canal boats step by level step ... no whitewater kayaking required. They are amazing structures and many people visit here simply to marvel at the engineering.

From the Feeder Canal Alliance Website

     On the left side of the Towpath is a 'structure' of another sort. The hulking hill enclosed in a chain link fence is the closed and capped Kingsbury landfill. It has a companion on the other side of the canal and somewhat screened by trees - the Fort Edward landfill. I don't know the history of these sites but I'm guessing they started as sandpits that had been excavated for fill. Once you've got a big hole, well, the garbage has to go somewhere. If the idea of skiing between two mounded dumps bothers you, try thinking of the Towpath as the cleavage between a pair of huge boobs. Works for me.

Google Earth shot of the Feeder Towpath snuggled between two capped landfills

     At the bottom of the hill is a bridge that crosses what looks to be an overgrown ditch. This is the old Champlain Canal and the Feeder joins it at the 'T' junction. Here you have a choice. To the right the Towpath leads to Fort Edward. We decided to go left following the old canal northward. It's perfectly level and with good snow it's easy to fall into a pleasing kick and glide rhythm.

     There were lots of animal tracks and some open water that hosted a few ducks. Off to the right are railroad tracks with the occasional passing train. Beyond the tracks is the modern Barge Canal, still dependent on the Feeder for water. Bond Creek is another source of canal water and this segment of the Towpath comes to an end at its banks. Time to turn around and be treated to a reddened Sun setting thru the trees.

     We saw just one other couple. They were walking their dogs and that is probably the trails most popular use. For a completely flat outing you can go out and back from Mullen Park in Fort Edward. The trail is so open and easy that it might be a good nighttime option with a little light from a headlamp or bright Moon. It's also a favorite spring birding walk featuring a nice mix of wetland, meadow and wooded/brushy habitat. The Towpath certainly isn't wilderness but it is a good model for accommodating historic preservation, recreation and natural beauty in a hard working, heavily used landscape. That suits me...to a T.  
Google Earth view of our route: the Towpath and Kingsbury landfill at bottom of image to the T, then north towards top with RR tracks and Barge Canal paralleling to upper right

     * Predictably, there was a warm up/melt down shortly after our trip. Snow conditions are ephemeral but the Towpath is always there. When the skis are taking some time off there's always walking, running or biking. Flexibility is the adjustable wrench in your winter activity toolbox.

     * Viewing Kendall McKernon's dream like photos of the Feeder Canal is the next best thing to being there (maybe even better!). You can see some of them here.

Photo from the web

     * The Feeder Canal Alliance is a great organization working to preserve and promote the waterway. Visit their site where you also order copies of Michael LaCross's booklets on the Feeder. 

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