Lake Champlain (French: lac Champlain) is a natural, freshwater lake in North America, located mainly within the borders of the United States (states of Vermont and New York) but partially situated across the US-Canada border in the Canadian province of Quebec.
Lake Champlain is situated in the Champlain Valley between the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Adirondack Mountains of New York, drained northward by the Richelieu River into the St. Lawrence River at Sorel-Tracy, Quebec (northeast of Montreal) and fed by Otter Creek, the Winooski, Missisquoi, and Lamoille Rivers in Vermont, and the Ausable, Chazy, Boquet, and Saranac Rivers in New York. Lake Champlain also receives water from Lake George via the La Chute River.
Lake Champlain is one of a large number of large lakes spread in an arc from Labrador
through the northern United States and into the Northwest Territories
of Canada. Although it is much smaller than the Great Lakes
, or Michigan
, Lake Champlain is a large body of fresh water. Approximately 1130 km² (435 square miles) in area, the lake is roughly 180 km (110 miles) long, and 19 km (12 miles) across at its widest point. The maximum depth is approximately 400 feet. The lake varies seasonally from about 95 to 100 feet above mean sea level
The Chazy Reef
, which has been called the oldest reef in the world, is huge, but most easily studied on Isle La Motte, a Vermont island on Lake Champlain. However, there are two even older reefs on the island, which are the subject of study by scientists.
The oldest reefs are around "The Head" of the south end of the island, slightly younger reefs are found at the Fisk Quarry and the youngest (the famous coral reefs) are located in fields to the north.Together, these three sites provide a unique narrative of events which took place over 450 million years ago in ocean in the Southern Hemisphere, long before the emergence of Lake Champlain - 20 thousand years ago.
The lake was named for the French explorer Samuel de Champlain
, who encountered it in 1609. While the ports of Burlington, Vermont
, Port Henry, New York
, and Plattsburgh, New York
are little used nowadays except by small craft, ferries and lake cruise ships, they had substantial commercial and military importance in the 18th and 19th century.
Colonial America and the Revolutionary War
times, Lake Champlain provided an easily traversed water (or, in winter, ice) passage between the Saint Lawrence
and the Hudson
Valleys. Boats and sledges were usually preferable to the unpaved and frequently mud-bound roads of the time. The northern tip of the lake at Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu
(St. John in colonial times) is a short distance from Montreal
. The southern tip at Whitehall
(Skenesborough in colonial times) is a short distance from Saratoga
, Glens Falls
, and Albany
, New York
Forts at Ticonderoga and Crown Point (Fort St. Frederic) controlled passage of the lake in colonial times. Important battles were fought at Ticonderoga in 1758 and 1777. Following a frenetic shipbuilding race through the Spring and Summer of 1776 by the British at the north end of the lake and the Americans at the south end, a significant naval engagement was fought on October 11 at the Battle of Valcour Island, which saw the destruction of the first US Navy vessel to carry the name Enterprise. While the battle was a tactical defeat for the Americans and the small fleet led by Benedict Arnold was almost entirely destroyed, it was a strategic victory. The British invasion was delayed long enough so that the approach of Winter prevented the fall of these forts until the following year, allowing the Continental Army to grow stronger and enabling the later victory at Saratoga.
War of 1812
The Battle of Lake Champlain
, also known as the Battle of Plattsburgh
, fought on September 11
, ended the final invasion of the northern states during the War of 1812
. Fought just prior to the signing of the Treaty of Ghent
, the American victory denied the British any leverage to demand exclusive control over the Great Lakes
and any territorial gains against the New England
Three US Naval ships have been named after this battle including the USS Lake Champlain (CV-39), the USS Lake Champlain (CG-57), and a cargo ship used during WW I.
Following the War of 1812, construction was begun on "Fort Blunder," an unnamed fortification built by the Americans at the northernmost end of Lake Champlain to protect against any further attacks from British Canada. Its nickname came from a surveying error: the initial phase of construction on the fort turned out to be taking place on a point three quarters of a mile north of the Canadian border. Once this error was spotted, construction was abandoned and many of the materials used in the aborted fort were scavenged by locals for use in their own homes and public buildings. The signing of the Webster-Ashburton Treaty in 1842 later adjusted the U.S. boundary northward to include the strategically important site of "Fort Blunder." Following this in 1844, work was commenced once again, replacing the remains of the 1812 era fort with a massive new 3rd system masonary fortification known as Fort Montgomery, portions of which still remain today.
In the early 19th century, the construction of the Champlain Canal connected Lake Champlain to the Hudson River system, allowing north-south commerce by water from New York City to Montreal and Atlantic Canada.
Lake Champlain briefly became the nation's sixth Great Lake on March 6, 1998, when President Clinton signed Senate Bill 927. This bill, which reauthorized the National Sea Grant Program, contained a line declaring Lake Champlain to be a Great Lake. Not coincidentally, this status allows neighboring states to apply for additional federal research and education funds allocated to these national resources. Following a small uproar, the Great Lake status was rescinded on March 24 (although Vermont universities continue to receive funds to monitor and study the lake).
One of the more enduring mysteries surrounding Lake Champlain is the legend of Champ. Reminiscent of the Loch Ness monster, Ogopogo and other phenomena of cryptozoology, Champ is purportedly a giant aquatic animal that makes the lake its home. Sightings have been sporadic over time. Regardless, locals and tourists have developed something of a fondness for the creature and its legend and representations of Champ can now be found on tee shirts, coffee mugs, and many other tourist souvenirs. The Vermont Lake Monsters, a minor-league baseball team, have a cartoonish version of Champ as their mascot.
A pollution prevention, control, and restoration plan for Lake Champlain was first endorsed in October 1996 by the governors of New York and Vermont and the regional administrators of the United States Environmental Protection Agency
. In April 2003, the plan was updated and Quebec signed onto it. The plan is being implemented by the Lake Champlain Basin Program
and its partners at the state, provincial, federal and local level. It is renowned as a model for interstate and international cooperation. It primary goals are to reduce phosphorus
inputs to Lake Champlain; reduce toxic contamination; minimize the risks to humans from water-related health hazards; and control the introduction, spread, and impact of nonnative nuisance species in order to preserve the integrity of the Lake Champlain ecosystem.
Agricultural and urban runoff from the watershed or drainage basin is the primary source of excess phosphorus which exacerbates algae blooms in Lake Champlain. The most problematic blooms have been cyanobacteria, commonly called blue-green algae, in the northeastern part of the Lake, primarily Missisquoi Bay.
In order to reduce phosphorus inputs to this part of the Lake, Vermont and Quebec agreed to reduce their inputs by 60% and 40%, respectively by an agreement signed in 2002. While agricultural sources (manure and fertilizers) are the primary sources of phosphorus (about 70%) in the Missisquoi basin, runoff from developed land and suburbs is estimated to contribute about 46% of the phosphorus runoff basin-wide to Lake Champlain and agricultural lands contributed about 38%.
In 2008, the US Environmental Protection Agency expressed concerns to the State of Vermont that the Lake's cleanup was not progressing fast enough to meet the original cleanup goal of 2016.. The State, however, cites its Clean and Clear Action Plan as a model that will see positive results for Lake Champlain.
Although there are pollution issues, Lake Champlain is safe for swimming, fishing, and boating, and it is considered a world-class fishery for salmonid species (Lake trout and Atlantic salmon) and bass. About 81 fish species live in the Lake and more than 300 bird species rely on it for habitat and as a migration route.
Through history there were four significant railroad crossings over the lake. Currently, only one such crossing remains.
- The "floating" rail trestle from Larabees Point, VT to Ticonderoga, NY. This crossing used a floating trestle that was abandoned in 1918 due to many accidents resulting in locomotives and rail cars being dumped in the lake. This crossing was operated by the Addison Branch of the Rutland Railroad.
- The Island Line Causeway. This marble rock landfill causeway stretched from Colchester, VT (on the mainland) three miles north and west to South Hero, VT. Two breaks in the causeway were spanned by a fixed iron trestle and a swing bridge that could be opened to allow nautical navigation. The Rutland Railroad (later Rutland Railway) operated trains over this causeway from 1901-1961. The Railway was officially abandoned in 1963, with tracks and trestles removed over the course of the ten years that followed. The marble causeway still remains, as does the fixed iron trestle that bridges the lesser of the two gaps. The swing bridge over the navigation channel was removed sometime in the early 1970s. The main three mile causeway is a recreation area, Colchester Park, for cyclists, runners, and anglers. Two smaller marble rock landfill causeways were also erected as part of this line that connected Grand Isle, VT to North Hero, VT and from North Hero to Alburgh, VT.
- The Rouses Point, NY rail trestle. This wooden trestle carried two railroads (the Rutland Railroad and the Central Vermont Railroad) over the lake adjacent and to the south of the US 2 vehicular bridge. This trestle carried rolling stock from sometime in the late 19th century until 1964. The iron swing bridge at the center (over the navigation channel) has been removed, but most of the wooden piles that carried the railroads still remain and can easily be seen looking south from the U.S. 2 bridge. The Rouses Point side of the bridge has been converted, in part, to an access pier associated with the local marina.
- The Swanton, VT, to East Alburg, Vermont rail trestle. This wooden trestle was built in the same manner as the Rouses Point trestle. It crosses the lake just south of Missisquoi Bay and the Canadian border, running directly south of the VT 78 highway causeway. This rail crossing carries the New England Central Railroad (part of the Canadian National Railway) and is still being used to this day.
The Alburgh Peninsula (also known as the Alburgh Tongue), extending south from the Quebec shore of the lake into Vermont, shares with Point Roberts, Washington
, and the Northwest Angle
as well as Province Point (see below) the distinction of being reachable by land from the rest of its state only via Canada
. However, unlike the other three cases, this is no longer of practical significance since highway bridges across the lake do provide access to the peninsula within the United States (from three directions, in fact). A few kilometres to the north-east of the town of East Alburgh, Vermont, however, the southernmost tip of a small promontory, Province Point, is cut through by the US-Canadian border.
Lake Champlain can be crossed by road at only two points, near the very far southern and northern reaches of the lake. In the south, it is crossed by road at only one southerly point, the Champlain Bridge
, connecting Chimney Point in Vermont with Crown Point, New York
To the north, US 2 runs from Rouses Point, New York to Grand Isle County, Vermont in the town of Alburgh, before continuing south along a chain of islands towards Burlington. To the east, Vermont Route 78 runs from an intersection with US 2 in Alburgh through East Alburgh to Swanton. The US 2-VT 78 route technically runs from the New York mainland to an extension of the mainland between two arms of the lake and then to the Vermont mainland, but it provides a rather direct route across the two main arms of the northern part of the lake.
North of Ticonderoga, NY
, the lake widens appreciably; ferry service is provided by the Lake Champlain Transportation Company
The most southerly crossing is the Fort Ticonderoga Ferry, connecting Ticonderoga, New York with Shoreham, Vermont just north of the historic fort.
The Swanton, VT
, to East Alburg, Vermont, rail trestle.
Lake Champlain has been connected to the Erie Canal
via the Champlain Canal
since the canal's official opening 1823-09-10
, the same day as the opening of the Erie Canal from Rochester
on Lake Ontario
. It connects to the St. Lawrence River
via the Richelieu River
, with the Chambly Canal
bypassing rapids on the river since 1843. Together with these waterways the lake is part of the Lakes to Locks Passage
(pop. 38,889, 2000 Census) is by far the largest city on the lake, having a larger population than the 2nd and 3rd most populated cities (Plattsburgh, New York, and Colchester, Vermont
, respectively) combined.
Lake Champlain contains roughly 80 islands, three of which comprise four entire Vermont
towns (most of Grand Isle County
). The largest islands:
There is a historic stone lighthouse located on Cumberland Head, which is privately owned.
On Isle La Motte, a recognizable pink lighthouse is located on the northern end.
On Point Au Roche, part of Beekmantown, New York, there is a privately owned, historic lighthouse.
Valcour Island, near the New York shore is home to Bluff Point Lighthouse, built in 1871. It was manned by a full time lightkeeper until 1930, making it one of the last lighthouses to be manned on the Lake.
There are many large parks in the Lake Champlain region of both Vermont
and New York
. Two notable ones on the New York side of the lake is Point Au Roche State Park
, which features many hiking and cross country skiing trails. A popular public beach is also located on park grounds. The Cumberland Bay State Park
is located on Cumberland Head
, featuring a campground, city beach, and sports fields.