Canal Park at Lock 4 of the Champlain Canal offers many delightful options to the nature lover seeking a fascinating place to explore. This park is located in Rensselaer County where the Hoosic River flows into the Hudson River's barge canal, and the two rivers present quite varied habitats, from moss-carpeted woodland trails along high shale banks to rich bottomlands where unusual plants grow to enormous size. And this year, near-drought conditions have created a third very interesting habitat: exposed river bottom, consisting either of water-carved rock or wide muddy flats. As it happens, I agreed to lead two group walks here recently, one this past Thursday for my friends in our Thursday Naturalists group, and the other to take place on September 6 for another group of naturalists from Schenectady. Since I cannot pause to take photos while leading a group, I took these photos when I previewed the trails last Wednesday.
Canal Park offers a large parking area right next to the lock, where porta-potties, picnic tables and grills offer picnicking conveniences to visitors. Some visitors stay by the lock to watch it operate to allow large or small water craft to navigate around the Hudson River's rapids. Our particular groups usually set off to explore the trails, often choosing to start on the shady woodland trail along the canal. As did I, on this preview walk.
As this woodland trail reaches the sunlit site where the Hoosic River joins the canal, I was surprised to see how low the water had fallen since I was last here in June. Back then, the water was flowing close to the trunk of that overleaning tree.
After a woodland walk along high banks, we descended to a flat area just where the Hoosic bends, delivering silt-rich floodwaters that encourage the plants that grow in this alluvial soil to reach prodigious size. These Ostrich Ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris), for example, grow nearly chest high, beneath towering Sycamores and Cottonwood trees.
Just downstream from the low floodplain site so full of wildflowers, the banks of the Hoosic rise steeply from the flat exposed river bottom. Those steep shale banks are home to some plants we rarely have access to, but which the lowered water level will allow us to approach this year.