"In the field" railroad history adventures...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Vischer Ferry Nature & Historic Preserve

November 11th, 2013
Approximately 5 miles of hiking and riding

The morning was beautiful but cold so I ventured out to explore the Vischer Ferry Nature & Historic Preserve.

Clutes' Dry Dock

Coming westward on Riverview Road, the first spot of interest is Clutes' Dry Dock. The trails DID NOT look road bike friendly so I explored it by foot.

Incredibly, a dry dock for canal boat repair and a small village existed here until 1907. The dry dock area is now used for a canoe/kayak boat launch and the old canal looks enticing to explore via the water.

I hiked the dry dock area taking photos and then hiked westward on the tow path trail. It seemed to go on forever. 

I certainly will return next year with my fat-tired mountain bike and check out this two-mile-plus trail - it looks like an easy but fun ride!  :-)

Whipple Bridge - Main Entrance

I drove further westward and found the main entrance to the Preserve via Whipple Bridge.

The parking lot was completely full - this is a popular spot for those who know about it! The kiosks were very informative...

View of the Erie Canal from the bridge...

I rode in and wished again for my mountain bike as the trails weren't really appropriate for a road bike. I kept it slow the whole time and marveled at the sturdiness of the Secteur Bike I was riding!! It held up the whole time :-)
It is a fascinating place, alternating between marshy scrub and mossy forests. It kinda reminded me of the Bayou I visited while in Louisiana.

 Down by the river's edge I encountered deer tracks...
and then rode thru an mossy tree-lined area...

and came across this mysterious looking edifice: two orange poles - with a plaque...

I have no idea what it is. If any visitors know more about this, please comment below!  

The Trails

I strung together this movie based on a series of hand-held movie clips I took while riding to give a better idea of the trails and variety of trees and plants I encountered. The section of the park with all of the downed trees is probably the restricted area I inadvertantly rode thru (or skirted the edge of). [It is marked on the kiosk map as a restricted area where canal dredging spoils are deposited.]

view on YouTube >

Lock 19

The sun was shining nicely by the time I reached the old Canal Lock.
Watch a video of this spot...

Tow Path on out..
From there I headed straight back out  along the tow path. It was a bit rooty for the road bike but nothing popped :-). All along the way, vestiges of the old canal days crept out from under the brush: retaining walls, farmer's bridge abutments, etc.

This 1898 map indicates the farmer's roads that traversed the flat land.

The last stretch was especially charming as the sun came out again full blast and glistened off the water on both sides....

Watch the video of this section


This was definitely a trek with more history and nature than exercise and riding but nevertheless an interesting couple of hours for sure. I'll be back with fat tires and next time and plan on bombing (riding high speed) on all the trails!

Further Info about the Park

Vischer Ferry Nature & Historic Preserve >
NY Heritage Historic Photos >

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mohawk Hudson Rail Trail (Schenectady eastward...)

Sunday Nov 10th, 2013
11 miles (total: to and from)

The morning was cloudy and crappy but by early afternoon it got better. I headed down to Schenectady to do a section of the Mohawk Hudson Rail Trail (see below) that I hadn't done yet: eastward from Schenectady to Niskayuna.

I was planning on starting my trek from Schenectady Community College and ride thru the Stockade area and the industrial ruins of the former Alco factory spread but it was sprinkling so I decided instead to drive thru the Stockade area and start further east. I ended up parking right off Nott Street near Union College and started from there. Thankfully the weather had cleared.

Easy and flat, the paved trail goes by a couple of industrial spots and then it gets woodsy. Turns out you are riding in the old Erie Canal and you can see remnants of the tow paths on occasion on either side of the trail way. <Wrong! I checked the historical map and the canal is much closer to the river. Review the Historical Map > 

Railroad Ruins
Being a railroad history buff, when I saw a old railroad bridge abutment looming off to the side, I parked the bike and explored it. 

A rotting railroad tie at the top of the embankment confirmed it was railroad related and not canal related. It must have been the start of where a trestle began. Perhaps it was super marshy here and a trestle was needed to maintain downhill drainage. (?)

After my side adventure, I jumped back on the bike and continued on to Aqueduct. I stopped to take a photo from the railroad bridge over Balltown Road and continued on towards Niskayuna.

On to the Research Lab...
Soon signs appeared off to the left, warning of dangerous cliffs / no trespassing / etc. which, ironically tempted me to dismount and go exploring :-)  but I trekked on. After a few more minutes of riding, a fence and sign blocked where the railroad bed continued and the trail veered to the right up a large hill.

I managed to ride up the steep hill without a problem.  At the top, a small shed with benches and a picnic area were thoughtfully provided. 

The woods turned to scrub meadows and the sunshine had returned. I encountered a few walkers and dog walkers along the stretch and stopped to take a few photos for my now retired Dad. He worked at the GE Research Lab and I figured he would enjoy seeing his work place from a few new viewpoints. It can be seen glistening in the sunlight at the top of the hill. :-)
The trail merges along the road and at the top of the hill I took a photo of the main entrance into the Research Lab
The wind was ferocious so I opted to head back from this point. I bombed down the short hill but only reached 20 mph due to a wicked headwind.

On the way back thru the meadow area, I shot a handheld (one hand on the handlebar) video...
The video below shows (1) the trail where I first started just east of Schenectady and (2) the second part shows a snippet of the return from the GE lab right before I headed down the big hill.

Once in Aqueduct, I decided to veer down to the river and check out the old aqueduct ruins close up.

Here is the view down river  - the sun was shining but the wind was strong:

Riding back up to the rail trail via Aqueduct Road me me the opportunity to stop and take a photo of the arched bridge under the railroad. This is where the old Balltown Road went.

There was a a strong headwind the whole way back and it seemed to get dark much earlier but the rest of the trek back to the car was uneventful yet pleasant.

Further Info

Previous Mohawk Hudson Rail Trail Rides are posted on this blog
  • April 25, 2010 - Niskayuna to Cohoes Falls
  • April 30, 2011 - Schenectady to Rotterdam Junction

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Zim Smith Trail

Sat Nov. 9th, 2013 - Zim Smith Trail

-Ballston Spa to Clifton Park NY-

I was up visiting my parents this weekend which gave me the opportunity to ride a few of the local rail trails in the area.  On Saturday,  I headed up to Ballston Spa and rode the 9-mile Zim Smith Trail end to end.

After driving through a roadful of chickens and a large black cat, I parked at the end of Oak Street in Ballston Spa.
It was cold that day and I wore a winter headband under my helmet. The thin work gloves I pulled over my fingerless riding gloves were inadequate and I switch out to winter gloves when I stopped at Underpass Road.

The trail was flat and easy.  After paralleling the still active railroad tracks for a bit, it primarily skirted through marshy woodlands. Occasional manhole covers and the large pipe over the rocky stream at the Underpass Bridge area indicated there is a water line tied in with the route.

The trail passes an industrial area (Curtis Lumber, etc.) in a open field but once past East Line Road it becomes woodsy again.

I took a super-short hand-held video while riding thru Shenantaha Park. 

The creek has carved a deep ravine and interesting tributaries slice thru the hillsides by the trail as well.  It looks like an interesting place to explore and I hope to return here at a later date to walk down into the ravine and check the ruins of an old mill.  Park Details>>

I continued on and took another super-short hand-held video while approaching the underpass under the Northway.

A sign indicates a trail off to the side that heads up to the Luther Forest Tech Campus.

I soon cruised into Round Lake and stopped to take a photo of the village. This quaint gingerbread-adorned charming small town warrants further exploration on another visit -- but I wanted to press on due to time constraints.

Continuing on, below are a couple of photos from the railroad bridge over Route 9:

A visit to an historical topo map site later that day confirmed my suspicion that this was a double track.

The pavement soon turns to hard-packed gravel and--after passing a few scattered houses--the surroundings turn to marsh and a long narrow shallow pond is on the right.

The sunlight on the autumn brown trees and the glistening water was very beautiful at the time so I stopped to capture the moment.

I soon ended up at the trail end and took a pic of the Coons Crossing trailhead. 

I was starting to get dark (I was in a valley) so I headed back northward again.

All in all a pleasant easy scenic and historical filled ride!