Misadventures on the Erie Canal – Day One

Written by Kayaker Chip on . Posted in The Erie Canal

So what does the start of the Erie Canal look like? Well, it was going to take me a couple extra miles of paddling the opposite direction to find out. Of course I did, in order to make it official!

New York State has a lot of information out on the web and in print, although most of it seems geared towards boats of the motorized variety. Docks and moorings sit high above the water where a motorboat can rope up and the crew can step from their vessel to dry land with ease, while a kayak stares on wondering how to get out. From the very few other accounts of people attempting a through paddle, some towns along the way they have tried be more paddler friendly but from all my research it’s something that I’m going to have to experience along the way for myself. I have been told there is some current and with my eastward direction of travel it should be favorable, although I’m guessing that with all the locks and gates in place even the flow of the natural waterways that the canal follows, has pretty much come to a stop. I am hoping to paddle about fifteen miles a day, it seems like a fair goal, allowing for a leisurely start and end to the day, plus time for lunch and stretch breaks. Hopefully I can do some exploring outside the boat too. That will all depend on how comfortable I feel leaving all of my belongings behind. I have a duffle bag and small backpack, to carry any essentials and thing I really wouldn’t want to lose, but still, I wouldn’t want to lose any of my belongings as it would quickly bring an end to the trip. I guess in some ways that makes an urban adventure a little more challenging than a pure wilderness one. If I’m feeling good and there is still enough light left in the day then I may want to do more, if I’m tired, it might be less. I’ll use the resources and just take each days as it comes, I guess it’s the one thing I haven’t tried to plan out in full detail.

Following the interactive NYS Canals Map, I turned on some extra layers to see what my options are for where to start? The “Tonawanda Wall” (Lat: 43.02127, Long: -78.87584) looks to be my closest option without having to backtrack too far. Getting there by vehicle wasn’t a problem. There is a small parking area and room to unload boats and gear, although it is just that, A WALL. Perhaps at different times the water level in Lake Erie and the Niagara River might be slightly different? Today it was a good eight feet down. There was an lower wooden dock structure built as an afterthought but maneuvering down a ladder with a 17ft kayak and a few hundred pounds of gear just didn’t seem like the best option. After a couple searches and scanning the map and I was off to try another spot, and another and yet another before finally finding a ramp that led right into the water where a kayaker could splash in for either a quick paddle or for a three week adventure. I moved my large duffle bag, dry bags, camera bag, water bladders and other items to the vehicle to the sandy ground. One more, maybe two checks of the cab just to be sure I had everything and then I undid the tie downs that were holding my kayak, Sally, in my Dad’s truck. I didn’t expect a gathering of family and friends holding signs and cheering to see me off, but I didn’t really plan on being dropped an left. Oh well, I had some packing to do and some lost time to make up if I was going to make my first set of locks twenty miles away before 6pm. As I paddled my way back to the beginning of the canal I encountered a few other double-bladed folks out enjoying the sunny weather, none were planning more than a few miles and were shocked to hear I had planned to make my way all the way across the state. One guy that I chatted with mentioned that while he owned a kayak, the one he was paddling today was just a rental from the shop around the corner. He said they had a nice space and I probably could have put in there. Well New York State doesn’t have them listed as a resource and a general search for kayak shops in the area doesn’t either. After making it to the Niagara River I would go back and have a look. Just before the river one passes an old swing bridge. Built in the 1890’s for the New York Central Railroad to connect Buffalo and the surrounding industries of North Tonawanda. The bridge is no longer in use today, so it sits sideways on its wooden structure in the creek/canal. Just beyond that is the beginning the canal and a large sign welcoming vessels, in both French and English. The water of the Niagara River has a noticeable roughness and current to it, but nothing that would make paddling in it difficult. Looking west and immediately in front of me is Tonawanda Island and beyond that Grand Island. Looking south I can see the twin trusses of the South Grand Island Bridges. Niagara Falls itself it some four miles north of here and out of view. I could still paddle two miles in its direction before encountering warning signs instructing me to turn back. Maybe another day, for now I want to get moving in the correct direction!

Just a short distance from the Niagara River, Ellicott Creek meets up with Tonawanda Creek, this is where the paddler from earlier indicated there was a dock. There was indeed a dock and, it is home to Waterbike & Boat Adventures. The owner indicated he leased the property from the town and has been there for many years, doing a search for kayaks he doesn’t come up, but if you were to specifically know that he rented water bikes as well as kayaks and stand up paddle boards, well then you might have some luck. There isn’t a parking lot, although the shoulder of the road seems to work, otherwise just across the street (Young) there is a parking lot with a Walgreens that might be suitable to drop off someone planning to paddle for the next three weeks. Next time I guess!