FORT HUNTER – At first glance, the Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site doesn’t seem like much. A small, innocuous visitor’s center tucked in next to the Schoharie Creek, a couple of out buildings, a boat launch. Pretty, some good historical information and great for a summer afternoon visit.
But the site actually has so much to offer for people who want day trips, from the meandering towpaths along the Erie Canal, to a picnic and boat launch area complete with a small children’s playground and picnic tables to Yankee Hill where you listen to great music on a Thursday afternoon and barbecue while watching the boats pass by. There is also the visitor’s center where you can enjoy a trip back into time with an exhibit on the Erie Canal, dozens of programs and events, and a gift shop offering a unique items and local historical books.
“We are gearing up for the bicentennial celebration of the Erie Canal next year and we are excited – we have so much planned,” said Education Director David Brooks. “There is going to be a lot of excitement happening along the canal corridor and we are going to be a part of it.”
Schoharie Crossing became a state park in 1966 and in 1987, the visitor’s center was opened.
Within the site’s boundaries there are several structures that are from the three eras of the canal’s development.
The visitor’s center, which is located in a house that was part of a tenant farm, is located at the site of Fort Hunter and features the exhibit, “Little Short of Madness.”
“The name of the exhibit is taken from a Thomas Jefferson quote,” said Brooks, going on to explain that in 1809, George Forman and William Kirkpatrick visited Jefferson in Washington to discuss the Erie Canal and try to get financing.
“Thomas Jefferson reportedly said the plan was a little short of madness,” continued Brooks. “People did think it was madness.”
The exhibit features images from the early days of the canal, artifacts found on the site and a small gift shop, complete with replica bear teeth.
“The kids really enjoy those,” said Brooks.
Visitors can also have lunch at one of the few picnic tables at the center, which also has a view of the old aqueduct remains and the railroad tracks.
The Schoharie Crossing visitor’s center built on the location of 18th century Fort Hunter and the Lower Castle Mohawk village.
Over the years, there had been speculation where the fort actually stood, but it wasn’t confirmed until 2011 when Hurricane Irene blew through upstate New York and the creek flooded the banks. The flooding unearthed the corner block house foundation and side walls.
“It was our silver lining,” said Brooks, pointing out the signage with photographs showing what the area looked like when it was flooded and the foundation once the waters receded. “The [original] parking lot was torn up [in the flooding] and it revealed the foundation stones from one of the block houses.”
The flood also revealed artifacts, including metal buckles, smoking pipes and Native American stone tools, some of which are on display in the visitor’s center.
The site’s largest structure, the remains of the Schoharie Aqueduct, once carried the overflow water of the Erie Canal and into Schoharie Creek, is viewable from the visitor’s center.
A short drive away, the Schoharie Boat Launch Area offers a small playground for children, several picnic areas and interpretive signage.
Towpaths and hiking trails that meander through flower-covered fields, along side historic houses and through woods nestled next to the canal, connect the two areas and lead to Yankee Hill, about two miles east.
“People can bike on it, hike, we even have some people who ride their horses on the trail,” said Brooks. “They can see all kinds of birds, the occasional fox, all sorts of small wildlife.”
At Yankee Hill is Putman Lock Stand which houses another exhibit, this one on Erie Canal stores.
Yankee Hill offers quite a few picnic tables with barbecues and is situated next to the canal where families of geese can be seen and boats cruise past.
“There is really so much here,” said Brooks, adding that they are excited about a new exhibit they are working on for the visitor’s center.
“The new exhibit will be very visitor friendly and feature some new levels of technology,” said Brooks. “We are also very excited about our programs we offer – there are the story-telling events, a series of talks and lectures and our Thursday evening Putnam Porch music series in June.”
For more information on Schoharie Crossing Historical Site, visit its Facebook page, the website at nysparks.com/historic-sites/27/details.aspx, or call 829-7516.