After the British drove the French out of the fort and took control of Canada, the fort became important for the British in attempting to subdue the rebelling colonies. As the main access route into the heart of New York, the geographical center of the colonies, the capture of the fort without a fight in the first days of the rebellion by Ethan Allen and the Vermont Green Mountain boys was an important early victory in the struggle for independence. The large and numerous canon liberated from the fort were removed to the hills overlooking Boston causing the British to retreat to their ships without a fight. The canon, the strategic weapon of the times, were in very short supply in the colonies.
Lake Champlain, the "Great Lake" that gets no respect and was not included with the others, lies between the headwaters of the Hudson River and the St. Lawrence River. Its strategic location played a very important part in the colonial history of North America. Fought over by French and British and later American forces, the lake contains many 200 and 300 year old wrecks lying preserved in the cold fresh waters on the lake's bottom.
The lake shape is that of a string bean with the southern end overlapping the northern end of Lake George and the northern end emptying through a falls to the St. Lawrence River and its ocean access. First claimed by the French and defended by the large stone Fort Ticonderoga on the southern end of the lake, the commercially and militarily important lake was defended by the French against the British of colonial America.
Lake Champlain has five distinct and topographically isolated regions that act like little lakes within the greater lake.
South Lake runs from the mouth of the Pultney River to Crown Point/Chimney Point and includes two bays, South Bay and East Bay. The warm, narrow and shallow South Lake is choked in many area with aquatic plants, in large part non-native invasive species of water chestnut and Eurasian milfoil.
Broad Lake extends from the narrows at Crown Point to another narrow area at Ash Island. Here the lake is deep and the water stays cool throughout the summer.
Malletts Bay is on the southeastern side of a series of islands extending down the center of Lake Champlain from the north. The largest of these is Grand Isle. An abandoned railroad causeway severely restricts the water flow on the southern end of the bay. On the northern end of the bay is an auto causeway that has a similar effect.
Inland Sea lies directly to the east of the Champlain Islands north of Grand Isles. Including a passage between the long, narrow Alberg and North Hero islands.
Missiquoi Bay extends from the delta of the Missiquoi River into Quebec Canada. Shallow and warm and plagued by algal blooms in the late summer, its waters pass into the inland sea.
For kayakers and canoeists, the Lake Champlain Paddlers Trail extends along the 140 mile lake. The trail connects a series of parks and private islands and landing areas to create a trail the traverses the entire lake. Users of the private portions of the trail must belong to the Lake Champlain Committee, an organization that oversees and cares for the trail. Membership includes a guide to the trail.
If you do not plan to paddle the entire lake, or have land based support, there are many other access sites and camping facilities along the lake shore that can make a paddle of part or the entire lake possible. Most shoreline camping facilities are on the eastern shore in Vermont. New York state has several access sites and a few campgrounds. There are many camping sites in the Adirondack Park further inland.
The next morning, after exploring the lake shoreline, taking photos of a interesting yellow fungus, and checking out the boat launch area at the campground (fee), we went on to spend most of the day exploring Fort Ticonderoga, both the city and the fort. In the town, there is a nice small museum across from the town hall on the edge of a open park where the falls of the La Chute River empty the 200 foot higher Lake George into Lake Champlain. The short but steep La Chute River prevented direct access to Lake George from Lake Champlain, but the water power it provided made the area blossom with saw mills and grain mills. The portage around the falls served first Indian canoes and later trappers and freighters moving goods along the water route from the Hudson River, up Lake George, into Lake Champlain at Fort Ticonderoga and then up to the northern end of Lake Champlain and on into the St. Lawrence.
South of the town of Fort Ticonderoga is a mountain that spelled the eventual doom of the fort that lies beneath it. Originally determined to be too steep to get canon onto, the fort was abandoned when that assessment proved to be incorrect. From its heights, canon could reach the fort without the larger canon of the fort being able to return the fire. Mt. Defiance provides good views overlooking the fort, Lake Champlain and Lake George.
Signs of some new deterioration in the plazas and walls are apparent and efforts to stabilize the stone work are ongoing. However much of the fort is in excellent condition. The two story barracks is devoted to a first floor display of enlisted men's quarters and a second floor display of early settlement artifacts up through modern items of local significance. The barracks overlooks the court yard where the fife and drum corps march in from the front gate and perform various routines. To the north of the fort are the extensive garden areas where the soldiers grew vegetables during the summer and the deteriorating residence of the hotel/mansion.
From Fort Ticonderoga a ferry crosses the lake to the Vermont side. Located to the south of the ferry landing is one of the many launch ramps scattered along the lake. The short ride across the lake on the cable ferry takes only 10 minutes. From there it was only a few miles up to the center of our stay for the next three days, the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) state park. The nicely maintained park on the shores of the lake is only $14 as are all the Vermont parks.
The next day we drove up to the Button Bay state park along a beautiful, quiet country road. Flowers were in bloom all along the roadside and in the fields. The foliage was full and green from the unusually wet summer and the rains of the previous week. The greens of the gently rolling countryside were incredibly rich. We toured Button Bay and the very nice state park and pool located there. A boat ramp protected from north winds is accessible just outside the park in the curve of Button Bay. There is no fee to use the launch. We then went on to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. They have an eclectic assembly of interesting items, from paintings of historic events and places, to restored and preserved boats used on the lake, a lab where wrecks are studied and artifacts preserved, and a replica of the Philadelphia, a gunboat from the revolutionary war, complete with canon, that you can board and explore. They are completing an extensive program of mapping and documentation of the many historic wrecks found on the bottom of Lake Champlain. The introduction of the zebra mussel from the Black Sea by way of the Great Lakes created the need to quickly catalog these wrecks before they are covered by the nuisance invaders and damage the nearly perfectly preserved wooden boats with iron fastenings. The zebra mussels are a plague on the underwater structures such as water inlets and outlets. They are quickly covering all the hard surfaces to a depth of about 80 feet. For Lake Champlain, the battle is lost. It continues to be waged on the other fresh water lakes in the area, but i suspect that they are doomed as well. The mussel has already spread into the Mississippi and will travel up into the Missouri Please do your part to combat the spread of this non-native organism.
We continued on north to Kingsland State park. This park was acquired from a boy's summer camp operation and is being restored by the state. There is a kayak and canoe hand launch site here, but it is about 250 feet from the parking lot. Another nice feature of Vermont parks is that if you are camping at one park you may enter and use the day facilities of any other Vermont park without additional charge, so there is no need to move your camp site - very convenient. At Kingsland there are a number of hiking trails and picnic facilities as well as a small beach with roped off swimming area and changing building. We returned to the D.A.R. campground for the evening by way of Ferrisburg to check out a launch site i intended to use the next day. It is located about half way between Kingsland Bay and Ferrisburg. I also stopped at chimney Point to check out the launch ramp there at the end point of my trip. The lake is quite narrow and a steel girder bridge crosses here. The lake quickly widens again south of Chimney Point.
I returned the next day to paddle from the launch site back to Chimney Point across the lake from Crown Point, a 27 mile paddle. The launch site is about one mile up the river from the lake. The river itself would make a very nice paddle in its own right, especially if conditions on the lake where not good. The tidal marsh in the river was filled with familiar flora and fauna typical of fresh water marshes. There were heavy mats of submerged aquatic vegetation, like what we use to have in the Chesapeake Bay 40 years ago.
After the swim I continued on along the shore line, passing the large buoys that mark the dive sites of the sunken revolutionary naval vessels. The development along both shores was considerable, but the dense trees hid most of the buildings. The banks grew in height and the shore became a small strip of flat chips of rock forming a dark grey beach under the eroding cliff. I arrived off the D.A.R. where the only beach access is a very steep wooden stairway of about 40 feet. My timing was good enough to earn a photo from the shore.
I continued on to Button Bay where I stopped on the small island just south of the point for lunch, a rest and a swim. The island showed obvious signs of previous camps with a fire ring and nice open grassy areas underneath the large oak trees. It was a very pleasant place. I could not tell if this was private property or part of the Button Bay park.
I continued on south and was soon within site of the bridge to Crown Point. The landing at the ramp on Chimney Point came ninety minutes sooner than planned, so there was plenty of time to cross the bridge and visit the lighthouse monument in the park at Crown Point, built by the French as a tribute to Samuel Champlain with a statue by Rodin.. The museum at Chimney Point is only open Thursday through Sunday, so we were unable to see that. But the view from the top of the lighthouse was very good.
The next day we moved our camp from the D.A.R. state park to the North Hero State Park on the northernmost of the Champlain Islands. On the way we stopped at Middlebury College, a picnic area with a pretty falls, the first pioneer cabin in the area (Strong Cabin), and a walk at Kingspoint State Park, where there are some nice trails out along the shore of the lake and interesting fungi in the woods. The state park on North Hero Island is very low and is frequently flooded so you need to check if your site is above water.
The next day remain windy at 25+ knots. I considered doing a paddled between the islands in the long narrow bay, but decided on more car tours instead. It was beginning to look as if I would not get my planned tour of the Champlain Islands between Hero Island and the mainland on this trip. This day was spent pleasantly touring the shoreline, watching the very active wind surfer site at Sand Bar State Park and joining the tourist set at the summer home and performance ring for the famous Lippenzahner Stallions.
As I suspected, the next day proved to be as windy as the previous two. My plans to paddle onto the open waters between the Champlain Islands would mean a tough slog upwind for the return to Hero Island. I decided to paddle in the protected Missiquoi River that empties into the shallow bay and forms the northern most portion of the eastern side of the lake. Frequently plagued by blue green algal blooms in late summer, the strong west winds of the past three days drove the surface floating organisms onto the eastern shore. I launched from a ramp where the river first meets route 78 about 4.5 miles from the bay and paddled out the multichannel delta into the shallow reed covered bay. The delta is only a few hundred yards south of the Canadian border. The wind out in the bay was very strong, setting up a jumping array of white caps and small wind blown tumbling waves. I paddled out enough to confirm the wisdom of my changed plans, then retreated to the calm of another channel in the tree lined delta. I reversed course and paddled up river to the falls in the town of Swanton. A return to the ramp concluded my 17 mile paddle. The next day we drove back to Maryland, ending an enjoyable combination of car, cultural, historical and kayak trip.
When I returned to Maryland I washed my boat thoroughly - away from all natural water sources. I placed a dilute solution of bleach in the interior and washed that out after 2 hours. I then let the kayak dry for several days before using it again in Maryland waters. I did my part to keep those nasty little Zebra Mussel buggers up in Lake Champlain and away from the Chesapeake.