When complete, greenway will run from Plattsburgh to Redford
By Tim Rowland
If you Google “Saranac Trail,” forget it. Not even “Saranac River Trail” will get you past search results that include all the outdoor-adventure glam associated with the popular, touristy Saranac Lake and environs.
You have to get hyper-specific and type in “Saranac River Trail Greenway” to trigger the right electrons that will land you, virtually, in the city of Plattsburgh where an interesting trail network is materializing.
With the holidays at our throats, and needing to visit a grocery store that has more than one variety of canned olives, Beth and I traveled to Plattsburgh last week, did some shopping, and then met my brother Bruce who’s been keeping us apprised of the trail’s progress.
It does not lack for ambition, the Saranac River Trail Greenway. It, in concept, leaves the shores of Lake Champlain in the city and is planned to run for 27 miles along the river to Redford, well into the Adirondack Park.
For a heartbeat, it got us all starry-eyed in a “what could be” sense, thinking about a trail running the entire length of the river, connecting Plattsburgh with the splendid little riverwalk trail in the village of Saranac Lake. But the Greenway has quite enough on its plate as it is without putting any additional pressure on it.
It’s already terribly impressive what the Greenway has accomplished, considering all the urban rights of way, existing development and multiple hydro projects such trails need to dodge.
In October, a new section of the downtown trail officially opened across the street from the North Country Food Co-op, making it possible to walk on a bright and modern urban trail 1.3 miles from the ample city parking lot there out to Rugar Woods on the SUNY-Plattsburgh campus, where we scrambled down a bank to take a gander at the controversial Imperial Dam.
Environmentalists and salmon fishermen had hoped the dam would be removed, but it’s to be fixed up instead, with fish ladders available to salmon that are mechanically savvy enough to figure them out.
After that, we got in our car and drove to a parking lot on the other side of Route 22 from the Plattsburgh airport. From here, on what is known as the Treadwell Mills Connector Trail, we hiked upstream along the Saranac, beginning at the site where the remnants of the Indian Falls dam were removed.
The greenway in places consists of “braided” trails, which are parallel pathways designed to accommodate multiple outdoor constituencies. We walked upstream on a fairly narrow footpath at streamside, but had we been on bicycles we could have opted for a wider and smoother surface a little further to the south.
This, obviously, is not to be confused with wilderness hiking — cars, powerlines and hydro projects are your companions — but it is interesting hiking.
It vividly shows how heavily the city leaned on the river through the centuries for industry, electricity and food.
The Friends of the Saranac River Trail note in their history that factories producing cigars, beer and other goods “were powered by water diverted into a man-made flume that ran on the lake side of the river that was first built in the late 1820s, taking water down to what was known as Clark’s Landing. That flume was later covered, and a portion of Bridge Street ran over the top of it. Until 1903, that is, when according to the Plattsburgh Sentinel and Clinton County Farmer, the road above the flume collapsed, nearly swallowing Mrs. Sarah T. Gray.”
Whew, that was a close one. Well, fortunately, a real tragedy was avoided and the city learned a good lesson about the risks of trying to cover up flumes with travel corridors. That is, unless … you don’t suppose … they would be so stupid so as to …
“The flume was re-covered, and the road was fixed — for a while. Then in 1920, the road collapsed into the flume again, this time swallowing four pedestrians and killing two.”
In the short space of today’s Treadwell Connector trail, three dams were built on the Saranac, all within easy walking distance of each other: Indian Falls, Fredenburgh Falls and Treadwell Mills.
Indian and Fredenburgh are now gone, and Treadwell has its own fish ladder, making Imperial the last impediment to Atlantic salmon on the lower Saranac.
Taking the place of the Fredenburgh dam is an interesting hydro project consisting of a canal that feeds subterranean turbines before the flow returns to the river. This too is a pleasant stroll, with Lyon Mountain rising to the west, and families of geese lounging along the watercourse.
By the time we were done, we had racked up about five miles of easy hiking, impressed with what’s already been built and enthusiastic about future prospects.
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