Washington County's outdoor opportunities

Bill HiltsCall it fate, chance or destiny, it was no coincidence that we ended up in Washington County May 16-19 as part of a New York State Outdoor Writers Association spring function as a follow-up to hosting the state conference last fall. It was a perfect opportunity to renew relationships and establish new ones relative to the outdoor world of New York state. To this point, Washington County has never really been on our radar screen, but after a whirlwind visit, a return trip is a must somewhere down the road. As the saying goes, we barely scratched the surface.

While the drive to the Village of Cambridge was just under five and a half hours, located within an hour of Albany, don’t plan on getting anyplace quickly in this piece of the world. For starters, there are attractions around every corner or bend – and there a many of them. Most of the roads were through rural terrain as we meandered from activity to activity planned for the writers.

To give you a better perspective, I wanted to check out the Feeder Canal Parks and Trail that travels through one of the canal systems in the area. Roger Fulton, fellow NYSOWA member who has written about hiking and biking all over the state, recommended this relatively short path and his description was enticing to say the least. What was intriguing was the fact that this towpath contained a flight of five locks, wooden combines that help serve as a conduit from water in the Hudson River to the Champlain Canal. This seven-mile linear park offers a hiking and biking path, as well as opportunities for canoeing, kayaking and picnicking. It’s also an important part of our state history.

As we headed to Fort Edward and Hudson Falls to locate the trail, we found it wasn’t very well marked – at least from our standpoint as we gawked at the other local attractions and sites. As we drove through those villages, we spied a sign for Canal Lock No. 9. It seemed like a good place to start so we turned to head over to that lock to see if we could find the trail.

Time and time again we encounter “small world” situations that make us wonder whether things were really just meant to be. As we drove through the rural countryside with vistas of the Green Mountains in the distance from nearby Vermont, we never saw another sign for what I would guess would have been about 10 miles (but probably only a couple as the crow flies). When we were just about to give up, the “last bend” produced Lock No. 9. We made the right and drove off to the maintenance building a mile or so down the road.

“How can I help you?” asked George Devendorf, the jovial canal worker at his Lock No. 9 post.

“Looking for the Feeder Canal Trail,” I said. “Can you help?”

“Absolutely. You probably passed it and didn’t even realize it!”

He pulled out a canal map that sent us back from where we came, but making a left at the first traffic light. Before we took off, though, Devendorf proceeded to give us a lesson in history and the canal. By the time he was finished, including a few tangents about his love for the outdoors, we found that not only did he live in Newfane in Niagara County along 18 Mile Creek many years ago, he comes back to fish with local captain Bruce Blakelock of Lewiston for a Niagara River trip from time to time. In fact, when I handed him my card, he looked at it and stopped talking.

“We fished together several years ago,” said Devendorf. “You were taking pictures and helping him out on Lake Ontario out of Bruce’s lake boat. It’s sure a small world.”

Devendorf also knew the NYSOWA meeting organizer Dan Ladd, serving on a committee with him involving the local Big Buck Club chapter. And fellow outdoor writer Ed Noonan of Saratoga Springs is a good friend as well. George travels to Allegany County every fall to hunt whitetails with Noonan and a mutual friend.

The trail was great and the “flight of five” tie-in was wonderful, a perfect complement that involves the “flight of five” in Lockport that is currently being restored. The perfect icing on the cake, though, was the “small world” experiences that continue to amaze.

Categories: New York – Bill Hilts Jr

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