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Lake Champlain (French: lac Champlain) is a natural, freshwater lake in North America, located mainly within the borders of the United Statesmarker (states of Vermontmarker and New Yorkmarker) but partially situated across the Canada – United States border in the Canadianmarker province of Quebecmarker.

The New York portion of the Champlain Valley includes the eastern portions of Clinton Countymarker and Essex Countymarker. Most of this area is part of the Adirondack Park, offering tremendous views of the High Peaks region and many recreational opportunities in the park and along the relatively undeveloped coastline of Lake Champlain. The city of Plattsburghmarker is to the north and the historic village of Ticonderogamarker in the southern part of the region.

Geology and physiography

Landsat photo
The Champlain Valley is among the northernmost valleys considered part of the Great Appalachian Valley reaching from Quebec to Alabamamarker. The Champlain Valley is a physiographic section of the larger Saint Lawrence Valleymarker, which in turn is part of the larger Appalachianmarker physiographic division.


Lake Champlain is situated in the Lake Champlain Valley between the Green Mountains of Vermontmarker and the Adirondack Mountains of New Yorkmarker, drained northward by the long Richelieu River into the St. Lawrence Rivermarker at Sorel-Tracy, Quebecmarker northeast and downstream of Montrealmarker. It also receives the waters from the long Lake George so its basin collects waters from the northwestern slopes of the Green Mountains of Vermontmarker, the north and west slopes of the Berkshire Hillsmarker of Massachusettsmarker and the northern most eastern peaks of the Adirondack Mountains of New York Statemarker.

The lake is fed by Otter Creek, the Winooski, Missisquoimarker, and Lamoille Rivers in Vermont, and the Ausablemarker, Chazy, Boquetmarker, and Saranac Rivers in New York. Lake Champlain also receives water from Lake Georgemarker via the La Chute River.

It is connected to the Hudson River by the Champlain Canalmarker.


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 Territoriesmarker of Canada. Although it is smaller than the Great Lakesmarker of Ontariomarker, Eriemarker, Huronmarker, Superiormarker, or Michiganmarker, 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.

Natural history


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 Frenchmarker explorer Samuel de Champlain, who encountered it in 1609. While the ports of Burlington, Vermontmarker, Port Henry, New Yorkmarker, and Plattsburgh, New Yorkmarker 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 centuries. The local native name for this lake was Ondakina, meaning : The lake in between. (Source: A 2008-2009 VPT-PBS program on this subject.)

Colonial America and the Revolutionary War

In colonial times, Lake Champlain provided an easily traversed water (or, in winter, ice) passage between the Saint Lawrencemarker 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-Richelieumarker, Quebecmarker (St. John in colonial times) is a short distance from Montrealmarker. The southern tip at Whitehallmarker (Skenesborough in colonial times) is a short distance from Saratogamarker, Glens Fallsmarker, and Albanymarker, New Yorkmarker.

Forts at Ticonderogamarker and Crown Pointmarker (Fort St. Fredericmarker) controlled passage of the lake in colonial times. Important battles were fought at Ticonderoga in 1758 and 1775. 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 Islandmarker, 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 Plattsburghmarker, fought on September 11, 1814, 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 Lakesmarker and any territorial gains against the New Englandmarker states.

Three US Naval ships have been named after this battle including the USS Lake Champlain , the USS Lake Champain , and a cargo ship used during World War I.

Following the War of 1812, construction was begun on "Fort Blundermarker," 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 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 Third System masonry fortification known as Fort Montgomerymarker, portions of which still remain today.

Modern history

A 1902 photograph of Fort Henry at Lake Champlain.
In the early 19th century, the construction of the Champlain Canalmarker connected Lake Champlain to the Hudson River system, allowing north-south commerce by water from New York City to Montreal and Atlantic Canadamarker.

In 1909, 65,000 people celebrated the 300th anniversary of the discovery of the lake. Attending dignitaries included President William Howard Taft, along with representatives from France, Canada and the United Kingdom.

On February 19, 1932, boats were able to sail on Lake Champlain. No living person could remember the lake being free of ice during the winter up until then.

Lake Champlain briefly became the nation's sixth Great Lakemarker 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, Ogopogomarker 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 EPA (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 2002, the cleanup plan noted that the lake had the capacity to absorb of phosphorus each year. In 2009, a judge noted that were still flowing in annually. Sixty municipal and industrial sewage plants discharge processed waste from the Vermont side

In 2008, the EPA 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.

By 2008 there were six institutions monitoring lake water health: 1) In 2002 the Conservation Law Foundation appointed a "lakekeeper" who criticizes the state's pollution controls, 2) Friends of Missisquoi Bay was formed in 2003, 3) In 2007 the Vermont Natural Resources Council appoints a "Lake czar" who criticize weakness in the state's pollution control, 4) Vermont Water Resources Board hired a water quality expert in 2008 to write water quality standards and create wetland protection rules, 5) Clean and Clear, an agency of the Vermont state government established in 2004 and 6) the Nature Conservancy which focuses on biodiversity and ecosystem health.

Biologists have been trying to control lampreys in the lake since 1985 or earlier. Lampreys are native to the area but expanded until they were wounding nearly all Lake trout in 2006 and 70-80% of salmon. This had been reduced by pesticides in 2008 so that 35% of salmon were affected and 31% of lake trout. The goal was 15% of salmon and 25% of lake trout.


Lake Champlain.
Lake Champlain Ferry at Burlington.
Map showing the Lake Champlain-River Richelieu watershed.
Lake Champlain from Burlington Vermont.

Through history there were four significant railroad crossings over the lake. Currently, only one such crossing remains.
  • The "floating" rail trestle from Larabees Point, Vermontmarker to Ticonderoga, New Yorkmarker. 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, Vermontmarker (on the mainland) three miles north and west to South Hero, Vermontmarker. 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, Vermontmarker to North Hero, Vermontmarker and from North Hero to Alburgh , Vermont.
  • The Rouses Point, New Yorkmarker 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, Vermont, 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, and is still being used to this day.


Lake crossings

The Alburgh Peninsula (also known as the Alburgh Tongue), extending south from the Quebec shore of the lake into Vermont, shares with Point Roberts, Washingtonmarker, and the Northwest Anglemarker in Minnesotamarker as well as Province Point (see below) the distinction of being reachable by land from the rest of its state only via Canadamarker. 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.


There are two roadways across the lake, but only one is open as of October, 2009. The Champlain Bridgemarker across the southern part of the lake, connecting Chimney Pointmarker in Vermont with Crown Point, New Yorkmarker, was closed indefinitely due to structural problems that could lead to a collapse. The bridge was used by 4,000 drivers per day, and driving around the southern end of the lake adds two hours to the trip. The bridge has been determined to be beyond repair, and both states have agreed to work on a replacement as quickly as possible.

To the north, US 2 runs from Rouses Point, New Yorkmarker to Grand Isle County, Vermontmarker 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, New Yorkmarker, the lake widens appreciably; ferry service is provided by the Lake Champlain Transportation Company at:

The most southerly crossing is the Fort Ticonderogamarker Ferry, connecting Ticonderoga, New York with Shoreham, Vermontmarker 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 Canalmarker since the canal's official opening September 9, 1823, the same day as the opening of the Erie Canal from Rochestermarker on Lake Ontariomarker to Albanymarker. It connects to the St. Lawrence Rivermarker 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.


Major cities

Burlington, Vermontmarker (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 Yorkmarker, and Colchester, Vermontmarker, respectively) combined.


Lake Champlain contains roughly 80 islands, three of which comprise four entire Vermontmarker towns (most of Grand Isle Countymarker). The largest islands:



There are many large parks in the Lake Champlain region of both Vermontmarker and New Yorkmarker. Two notable ones on the New York side of the lake is Point Au Roche State Parkmarker, which features many hiking and cross country skiing trails. A popular public beach is also located on park grounds. The Cumberland Bay State Parkmarker is located on Cumberland Headmarker, featuring a campground, city beach, and sports fields.

See also


External links

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