New at Fort Ticonderoga
Boat cruises are a new feature this summer at Fort Ticonderoga. I can’t say that they are underrated, more undiscovered, as yet. Once the word gets out, we may have to book far in advance. I picked the perfect late summer day to hop on board and give this new experience a try. I was not disappointed. For this start-up year the boat is operating out of the NYS DEC’s Ticonderoga Boat Launch. Next year the Fort plans to construct its own dock on the Fort grounds. The NYS boat launch is just beyond the entrance to the Fort on NYS Route 74 and adjacent to the NY dock of the historic Fort Ticonderoga Cable Ferry. Though the parking lot held many boat trailers from an on-going fishing tournament, on the afternoon of my visit there was still plenty of parking.
I arrived a bit early to chat with the onboard interpreter of the day, Stuart Lilie. Stuart is the Senior Director of Interpretation at Fort Ticonderoga. He’s a wealth of knowledge - particularly as it pertains to the history of this Lake Champlain waterway and Fort Ticonderoga; as is all the interpretive staff at the Fort. We often find Stuart on the Fort grounds, clad in specific period military uniform, detailing the musket and firearms demonstrations. Other days he is speaking from the perspective of an 18th Century soldier stationed at the Fort, or in a variety of other interpretive roles. I have found all staff at Fort Ticonderoga to be the utmost professional adhering to precise authenticity, yet making me feel at ease as I get enlightened by their knowledge. By rotating their daily routines and duties, the visiting public is gifted with the ultimate collection of historical knowledge and consistency throughout the entire experience.
A Stately Vessel
On the afternoon of my cruise, I found Stuart in boating attire and did not recognize him at first. When I inquired about the Carillon, I mistakenly mispronounced and anglicized the name. The true French pronunciation sounds more like “carry-on”, with emphasis on the “on”; more musical and befitting a boat of this character. I admired the long, 60-foot vessel that was to tour us around the lake. Its graceful lines, wood detail and trim give it a definite stateliness and a historical appearance. Stuart explained that though the Carillon was built in 1990, it is a replica of an early 20th century runabout. It has a stable and dignified persona all its own without the sleek, modern fiberglass façade we often see today. The afternoon was warm and sunny so many of the large wooden side windows were secured open, however they can be lowered during cooler or inclement weather still allowing every passenger plenty of viewing opportunites. Seating is on deck chairs, also crafted of wood. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming and I was anxious to hop on and get moving, but my cruise was not until 2:00 pm. I had time for lunch at the America’s Fort Café and then hoped to catch a glimpse of the Carillon in motion as it glided over the water by the Fort. I headed for the Café. The tree-lined road into the Fort as it passes by the King’s Garden is absolutely enchanting and I wanted to linger, but I was also hungry and on a mission.
America’s Fort Cafe
Dining at Fort Ticonderoga is perhaps another undiscovered treat. I wonder how many visitors possibly pack a sandwich from home and overlook an opportunity to enjoy some of the America’s Fort Café’s creations. Whether you choose to have your lunch prepared “to go” so you can picnic on the grounds, or stay seated inside to take in the spectacular views from the wide café windows, you will find the menu selections - with names like Lord Howe, Fife and Drum Wrap, and The Mount Defiance - difficult to choose from. Items are always incredibly fresh, and local produce - often grown right on the Fort grounds, is used whenever possible. There are a wide variety of creative salads, regional wine and beer choices, a Kid’s Menu, and homemade pies and desserts to choose from.
On this particular day The Café selection appealed to me: chicken salad with dried cranberries and fresh vegetables on a ciabatta roll. The roll was perfectly soft-fresh with the crisper exterior, and the salad delicious. After lunch I headed to where the musket and firearms demonstrations are held each day hoping to snap a good picture of the Carillon on its return to the dock.
I was back at the boat launch punctually, anxious to board for the 2:00 pm cruise. Stuart and the Captain set up the sturdy boarding steps and offered a hand where needed. Once we were all settled the Captain shared the necessary safety information, sounded the horn, and we were off heading north first, toward Three Mile Point.
I’ve often owned boats throughout my life and have spent a fair amount of time on the water, yet as I pull away from land out onto the lake I am always excited and delighted with the experience. It’s a different world from traveling about on land. In a way it’s a reversal of sorts. From the land you look out over the water and often watch the boats glide by; from a boat it’s the opposite - the landscape floats by as you are washed in a lake-scented breeze. The surface of Lake Champlain is the lowest elevation point within the Adirondack Park. From the lower, level lake surface it is easier to distinguish the contours of the landscape. Stuart gave us our bearings as he pointed out key features along the horizon and shoreline. It was apparent that some of the landscape features probably hadn’t changed much from the mid-1700s, others, no doubt, had changed radically. Through his spoken guidance we could envision bateaux hidden in the coves, soldiers camping on the hill, Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold plotting their advance on the Fort in May of 1775. The shoreline, surrounding hills, and waterway assume a different personality when you imagine soldiers, ships, and cannon fire occurring right in this very location.
Of course the scenery was fantastic. I could only imagine how spectacular it would become soon with the autumn colors reflecting on the water. As we headed south passing the Fort, we noted the high rock-faced bluff, almost directly beneath the Fort and screened from its view. It was obvious this had served as a good hiding place for stealthy advances. Rounding the peninsula, you could appreciate the definite advantages of being on the summits of Mount Independence and Mount Defiance.
Between these mountains we turned north heading back to the dock. As if on cue, a large bald eagle swooped over the top of the Carillon. What perfect timing and symbolism! During the tour, which lasts about 90 minutes, we had covered years of early American history and closely examined the significant role Lake Champlain and the surrounding landscape played in our struggle for liberty. A bald eagle guest appearance was completely appropriate. Fort Ticonderoga overlooks no authentic detail!
Boat cruises aboard the Carillon are available at 10:00 am, 12:00 and 2:00 pm, Thursday through Sunday through Columbus Day Weekend during this 2015 season. The Carillon can also be chartered for your own group or special occasion. Enjoy an unforgettable “on the water” experience. Contact Fort Ticonderoga at 518-585-2821 for more information or to book your reservation. Remember, Fort Ticonderoga has teamed with Amtrak's Adirondack Line (NYC to Montreal) and the Best Western Ticonderoga Inn & Suites this season. Arrive at the Ticonderoga Amtrak Station by train (right next to the entrance to Fort Ticonderoga and the NYS DEC boat launch where the Carillon is docked this year) and you will be shuttled to your lodging.