For thousands of years, Lake Champlain Basin's vast natural network of rivers, streams, ponds and lakes connected every inch of the watershed's 8,234 square miles (21,326 sq. km) of forests, fields, marshes, swamps and shores. The original inhabitants of the region used these blue highways as trade routes and many created seasonal settlements along river and lake shores.
Jump to the 18th and 19th centuries, the European settlers--that learned about these trade routes and natural resources--wanted to expand their ability to service growing communities like Burlington, and move lumber and other wood products, marble, granite, and farm products to market. To do this they opened the Champlain Canal in 1823, thus offering a major new trade route connecting Lake Champlain to New York City and beyond. To connect west to Buffalo, the Erie Canal was completed in 1825. To complete the northern route to Montreal, the Chamby Canal opened for business in 1843. In its heyday, this "commerce triangle" slashed the cost of shipping goods and created a busy and lucrative regional economy.
Today in the Champlain Valley, we rely on the canal system mostly for recreational use. Motor boats, sail boats and the occasional small excursion cruise boat rejoice in the seasonal ritual of the opening of the Champlain Canal in May. This year due to the extreme flooding and slowly receding high water throughout Vermont, New York and Quebec, the canal system is closed until May 23rd--delaying the return of many boaters to Lake Champlain. In fact, the raging water and delayed opening of the Champlain Canal is affecting the PCB dredging operation on the Hudson River.
So, we're feeling a little more isolated from the rest of the northeast these days. We know the waters will recede, the docks will go in and the boaters will return to the Burlington Waterfront in due course. In the meantime, we continue to be amazed at the Flood of 2011 and the far-reaching impacts it has had on our lives within the Lake Champlain Basin.
Photos: Historic Champlain Canal, (C) ECHO Collections; Hoehl Park and Navy Memorial at ECHO, (C) Julie Silverman