For the most in depth experience on the Mohawk Towpath Byway, you have to slow down and take “it” one step at a time. I have long advocated that the best way to see the Byway is on a bicycle. Well, that’s close. But to really see the detail I now suggest you get off your bike and discover some of the real beauty, charming nooks, bits of history, and capricious nature. There’s over 26 miles to the Byway that pass through more than a dozen communities, several geologies, and innumerable stories.
No, I’m not suggesting that you do it all at once, but you can. On September 19, 2009, Larry Syzdek and I started at sunrise in Schenectady to hike the Byway. A dozen hardy souls joined up in their favorite community and did just a couple of miles or like Larry Syzdek and Ruth Olmsted did: half the Byway. The purpose of the trip is to bring attention to the Byway and to mark the Quadricentennial of the Henry Hudson exploration of this area.
I was surprised to see at least half dozen trail users on the Mohawk-Hudson Bikeway in Schenectady on a cool, early Saturday morning! There were a couple of commuters, a dog walker and a couple out for an early morning run. There were more on the trail as we traveled through Niskayuna. This section of the Byway is steeped in history. I want to return to the remote part of Niskayuna when the foliage is down to find the canal channel which lies between the Bikeway and the Mohawk River.
John Scherer and Richard Welkley joined us in Rexford. At this point we were about 30 minutes behind our planned itinerary, but we were making steady progress. The cup of tea from Stewart’s and the direct sun began to warm us to a comfortable existence. The views along the escarpment were excellent and we had much more time to appreciate them than we usually have in a vehicle.
Riverview Orchards was where we had our first break for additional carbohydrates and water. Stopping at a spot where you can purchase local produce and local fare should be a part of any trip on the Mohawk Towpath Byway. Even though about 40 minutes behind our itinerary we still were ahead of the busy weekend crowd of patrons. Temperatures were still cool, but ideal for walking.
When we arrived in Vischer Ferry three members of the Southern Saratoga Interact Club Emma Huneck, Kerry McDermott, and Jackie Suarez joined us. They did their semi-annual roadside cleanup on Riverview Road between the firehouse and the entrance to the Vischer Ferry Preserve. The club has adopted this mile and a half segment of the Byway. It is encouraging to see these young leaders taking an interest in their community. More over, there is a noticeable difference in the roadside along this segment compared to the adjacent segments. We really need to encourage more groups to do this.
Shephard’s Hey Farm is very near the halfway point along our walk. Here Larry tagged off to his wife Ruth Olmsted to continue. We crossed the town line and entered Halfmoon a short distance further east. The absence of traffic in the relatively rural Clifton Park and Halfmoon segments make this part of the Byway attractive to cyclists and pedestrian traffic. In addition the two towns have garnered a substantial Federal Highway Administration grant to connect the two towns by reconstructing the 1842 Erie Canal Towpath. This should provide an attractive alternative for bike and pedestrian traffic.
When we stopped for lunch at Crescent Park we were over an hour behind our planned itinerary. A light lunch was welcome, but there seemed to be an undercurrent of fear about sitting down, lest we not be able to get back afoot.
The Cohoes Crescent Road is the most challenging for pedestrians to negotiate. Lack of shoulders, vegetation over hanging the guide-rail, and high traffic counts at mid day are most noticeable. The newly resurfaced treatment near the route 9 intersection is encouraging. The working landscape is no deterrent to the opportunistic succession vegetation and wildlife that control the wetlands and historic canal wide waters and both sides of the highway here.
Ruth Olmsted and I were pleasantly surprised when my wife, Barb, joined us as we entered the City of Cohoes. This segment of the Byway is one of the more historically significant along the Byway. Many stories and cultures are interwoven in the fabric of this community. The city has taken great pride in maintaining and showing off its heritage.
As we turned north into Waterford we picked up the Lakes to Locks Passage, an All American Road. The two Byways overlap each other for a short distance here in Waterford. We chose the historic Champlain Canal Towpath Trail rather than the sidewalks along Saratoga Avenue. This section of the historic Champlain Canal is now a feeder canal that helps maintain the water level between Locks 2 and 3 on the present canal. The northern end of the trail emerges on Lock 2’s south side. Crossing over the catwalk atop the lock gates brings you to the Waterford Harbor Trail leading right to the promenade in front of the Visitor Center. Merle Doud a long time Byway advocate and the Village’s representative welcomed us three travelers when we arrived at the harbor and noted the significance of the Quadricentennial of the Henry Hudson Exploration.
With a mere 5 miles left to our day’s walk we were eager to be on our way. We were at least maintaining the pace set out in our itinerary, even though we remained an hour behind our plan. The walk up the hill on Fonda Road was not as difficult on foot as it was on bicycle in a recent outing. The deep lawns of the neighboring residences welcomed us to the Town of Waterford. But going west we missed the glimpses of the hills that mark the distant eastern edge of the Hudson Valley. The Church Hill Historic District made a welcome finale to our trek. The Crescent Park Trail may be a few steps out of the way, but it provides a less intimidating, safe crossing of the busy intersection on the north end of the Route 9 Bridge. Once again Crescent Park was a welcome destination.
I want to thank all those who made the trek possible. And particularly Ed Brown who documented the event in photographs. The pictures here came from Larry Syzdek’s camera, but more pictures, those by Ed Brown are posted on Flickr. I never thought the trek would take 11 hours. I am starting to grasp the challenges faced by those adventuresome characters who settled the West. And we didn’t experience any hostile natives, inclement or unpredictable weather, insufferable terrain, and we didn’t have to swim across the river. We had bridges.
I am reminded of a proverb supposedly of African origin, “To go fast, go alone. To go far, go together.” Thank you for joining me as we Walk the Byway.