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COLUMN: Trenton Falls trails open May 20-21

Norm Landis, Special to the Daily Sentinel
Posted 5/1/23

With maybe a foot of snow covering the Trenton Falls trails earlier this month, they looked a little different than on other visits.

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COLUMN: Trenton Falls trails open May 20-21


BARNEVELD — With maybe a foot of snow covering the Trenton Falls trails earlier this month, they looked a little different than on other visits, but some water was pouring down West Canada Creek and the three 1927 turbines were turning out electricity for about 20,000 homes.

The trails are unique in that they are only open to the public two weekends a year, so mark May 20 and 21 on your calendar so you don’t miss out this spring. Town officials arrange for volunteers to monitor the trails (“Please stay on this side of the fence,” “Did you know that ….”, that sort of thing).

When opened in 2004 after about 100 years of the power plant area being off limits, the trails were open two weekends in the spring and two in the fall, but the need for volunteers has cut that back to one weekend twice a year. Contact the Trenton Town Hall if you’re interested in helping.

Originally, visitors could go all the way to the base of the 60-foot-high dam, but rockslides blocked that section of the main stonedust trail, so now the accessible part is a little shorter, with only a tiny corner of the dam visible from the viewing area on the closest wood mulch side trail.

Almost a secret

While the main trail was not plowed this month, it was possible to visit the scenic overlook, which is almost a secret. Brookfield Power, the town and money from a pipeline combined to create the concrete pad with a fence along the edge so that those with canes, walkers or wheelchair users can get out in the fresh air and enjoy at least one of the five scenic falls along that stretch. So bring those folks when you come in May, and tell the people at the gate that you need to drive up. The spot seems to be little known, as one volunteer notes that during his half-day shift monitoring that spot, less than a handful of people visited (two once and four another weekend).

If you’re on the trail, try to slow the youngsters down and not just dash to see the falls, or you and they will be missing out. Signs tell about the hydroelectric operation, the geology and about the history of the area. U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward hosted foreign diplomats here in 1863 to convince them their countries should side with the north, with its agriculture and industry in the Civil War.

Standing on a big concrete pad over the pipeline and looking south, that’s not your typical water tower. It has water in it up to the same height as the water above the dam, but it’s a surge tank. If something ever happened to the turbines in the power house out of sight down over the bank, the water rushing down the pipe would need to be slowed down.

There are even openings so that if too much water rushed in, it could spray out around the top, although officials don’t think that’s ever happened.

The out-of-sight power house down over the bank also has turbines from 1900, retired in place and on the historic register as the oldest high-head vertical turbines, notes operations manager Rick Hysler.

Did you know?

While you’re standing on that concrete over the pipeline, look north up the hill and you’ll see several more, but not at every section. Why? Well, you may have turned on the water in a garden hose and seen it straighten out. That’s a half or three-quarters inch of water. Here you are standing atop a 14-foot diameter pipe, so think how much water pressure is trying to go straight, except the concrete is holding down wherever the pipe changes direction.

Before Seward was here in 1863, the area had a hotel and was a tourist attraction, with artists going down into the gorge to paint the falls or to picnic. They were aided by a stone path with the blasting paid for by Joseph Bonaparte (Napoleon’s brother) in 1808.

After heading up the trail past the supports for the old 12-foot pipe, the current trail ends at the fossil information board.

Getting there

In the Town of Trenton, from Mapledale, take Route 28S easterly for three-quarters of a mile, turn left onto Trenton Falls Road, which takes you right to the trails in about a mile.

While you’re looking at the map of how to get there, notice that Trenton Falls is the third place where electricity is being made from the same water. There’s the Jarvis (named for the Mohawk Valley astronaut) power plant at Hinkley Dam, then another at Prospect before Trenton Falls. A couple more smaller plants are located downstream.

Norm Landis, who retired from the Daily Sentinel in 2017 after more than 38 years in the newsroom, got a preview of the Trenton Falls trails to announce their opening in 2004. He returned for a peek recently.


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