Welcome to the next episode in our 11-part account of Muddy Paddle's narrowboat trip through the Erie Canal and the Cayuga & Seneca Canal in western New York. The New York State Barge Canal system is in many ways a tributary of the Hudson River. It still connects the Great Lakes, the Finger Lakes, and Lake Champlain with the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Hudson River. Our contributing writer, Muddy Paddle, shares his experiences aboard the "Belle Mule." All the included illustrations are from his trip journal and sketchbooks.
Day 3 - Monday
Nineteenth century photographs of Seneca Lake often echo similar scenes along the Hudson River. The long lake is surrounded by steep hills and its assortment of steamboats and canalboats look pretty familiar. The lake was also studded by large villas reminiscent of those on the Hudson and lakeside resorts. Commerce on the lake included the movement of coal and agricultural produce north to the Erie Canal and passenger steamers and ferries transited and criss-crossed the lake much as they did along the Hudson.
I got up earlier than my mates and walked around the harbor at sunrise. There were a number of interesting and classic boats here including the excursion boat Seneca Legacy, the 1934 excursion boat Stroller, John Alden’s 1926 schooner Malabar VII and General Patton’s 1939 schooner When & If. I sketched vignettes of each and walked the shoreline in search of a souvenir. I recovered the neck of a green nineteenth century beer or soda bottle from a heap of dredge spoil as a talisman of Watkins Glen’s commercial past.
Brent and I prepared bacon, eggs and toast in the galley and got caught on video doing a happy dance in front of the range. After cleaning up, we prepared picnic lunches, strapped on backpacks, and hiked to Watkins Glen State Park, about a mile south of the village. The park is one of the gems of the New York State park system and receives guests from around the world, many of them on tour buses heading to or from Niagara Falls. We encountered visitors from China, India and the Philippines. The centerpiece of the park is a two-mile gorge with 19 waterfalls and a precarious trail built on ledges, over stone bridges, through tunnels and up an endless series of steps and staircases. The park was established by a journalist in 1863 and acquired by New York State in 1935. A biblical flood in 1935 raised the water 80 feet deep midway through the gorge and within a few feet of a surviving bridge. Most of the stone-lined trail and bridges post-date this appalling flood.
We reached the top of the gorge and had a pleasant picnic under the shade of a tree. It was 88 F. It was easier descending the gorge than climbing it, but it was a hot afternoon so we stopped for ice cream at the “Colonial” on Main Street. We returned to the boat and relaxed for about an hour.
We bought some wine on Main Street for friends and had dinner at an Italian restaurant a few blocks south of the lake. Overhearing the conversations, it was apparent that many of the diners here were connected with auto racing and the Gand Prix in particular.
After dinner we saw a micro-beer ad at the Chamber of Commerce. Shauna was determined to get some for our son but it was only sold in growlers at the brewery or at a liquor store south of the state park entrance. The brewery was closed so she took one of the bikes lashed to the cabin top and rode into the sunset. She arrived just after the store closed but somehow convinced an employee to let her in to purchase the beer anyway. She returned triumphantly an hour later with a bulging backpack!
We watched a comedy in the salon and enjoyed popcorn and chocolate. We called it a night at 11:00 PM and slept soundly on a calm and mild night.
Muddy Paddle grew up near the junction of the Hudson River and the Erie Canal. His deep interest in the canal goes back to childhood when a very elderly babysitter regaled him with stories about her childhood on the canal in the 1890s. Muddy spent his college years on the canal and spent many of his working years in a factory building overlooking the canal. Over the years he has traveled much of the canal system by boat and by bicycle.
Muddy Paddle's Erie Canal adventure will return next Friday! To read other adventures by Muddy Paddle, see: Muddy Paddle: Able Seaman, about Muddy Paddle's adventures on the replica Half Moon, and Muddy Paddle's Excellent Adventure on the Hudson, about his canoe trip down the Hudson River.
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