Monday, August 29, 2011

Walking and flood gawking - Along the mighty muddy Mohawk

I was relatively untouched by yesterday's record-setting Tropical Storm Irene. I never lost power, phone, or internet. Only a few small branches came down in my yard. It wasn't much worse for me than an all-day summer thunderstorm. But I knew I'd been very lucky, and that there was a lot of water out there somewhere. So I headed for Cohoes Falls, where the flooded Mohawk River meets the flooded Hudson River, which would really be thundering today. I never got there. Construction on NY-7, along with other alternatives being either closed or very circuitous, led me to turn around and change plans. Strike one.

I remembered a couple of overlooks in the Schenectady Museum Preserve, now Mohawk River State Park. They looked out over Lock 7 and its dam, as we'd seen many times while skiing there in the winter. As in, when there's no foliage. No views today. I dropped down to the bike path at Lock 7, and saw many truckloads of dirt being trucked in. It turns out there's concern about the lock being breached, with major downstream consequences. Let's hope not. The water was very high, but I was upstream of the dam, and couldn't get any closer because of the ongoing construction. So I headed back to the car at the upper end of the preserve after an otherwise nice walk. Strike two.

On to Blatnick Park, a little further upstream. I climbed to the top of Mount Trashmore, the former Niskayuna landfill, and had a nice view out over the river, all the way to the Lock 7 dam at the far right. The river was high and muddy, but it was hard to tell from way up here just how high it really was.

On the far side of the river, at the other end of the dam from Lock 7, there's a power generating station, which has a nice overlook and viewing area. Could I get there? The Rexford Bridge was now reopened, so I gave it a shot. There was a circus atmosphere on and around the bridge, with people everywhere, cameras in hand. Traffic moved fairly smoothly across the bridge, and I continued on to the overlook.

Here, it was much more obvious just how much water was in the river. The dam is rarely submerged like this, and there are rocks below the dam now covered by the rushing water. And it was loud. Lots of people here too. Guess we all had the same idea. Lock 7 across the river looked to be nearly underwater.

On my way back to recross the Rexford Bridge, I pulled over along with several dozen others to look back on the bridge and the Schenectady Yacht Club from the top of the steep-walled gorge. Note the height of the water under the bridge, even worse than most spring floods.

After crossing the bridge, I headed into downtown Schenectady, not really expecting to see much along Erie Boulevard. But the entire brownfields area, now cleared of its decrepit buildings, was also under water. Another few feet and Erie Boulevard itself would been submerged. Sorry - no pictures in this stretch, but the local media have plenty.

Finally, I tried to head west to Lock 8, but found both the Rice Road and Campbell Road exits from I-890 closed, and the bike path under water. With NY-5S also closed ahead, and not wanting to cross again to the north side of the river, my only alternative was the Thruway back to Exit 25 from where I was at Exit 26. But first, I joined yet another crowd on the side of 890 where it overlooked Lock 8 below. Note the lock house at lower right. This is the highest I've ever seen the water here.

There are still lots of roads closed, and thousands remain without power. I feel even luckier now than I did before this little outing. It will be weeks before everything gets back to normal around here. And I won't be doing any more nice flat riverside bicycling anytime soon.

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