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A Visit to Trenton Falls in Barneveld, NY

The Mohawk Indians called it “Kauy-a-hoo-ra,” or Leaping Water. Trenton Falls leaps no more, but it is still a grand site to see. We visited in October, at the height of Upstate’s brilliant autumn season. This area is the property of Brookfield Power, and the location of the hydroelectric power facilities in the Town of Trenton.

Trenton Falls ScenicTrails Welcome

High Falls 1

When we pulled in the lot, attendants with bright green vests greeted us to take count of our passengers and direct us to parking. The parking lot was very full, even though we’d arrived relatively early, at 10am.

At the entrance to the trails were a few tents. Methodists were having a bake sale in one. In the other, the West Canada Riverkeepers, a new organization to protect the creek, were taking signatures for a petition. I was informed that the Mohawk Valley Water Authority wants to take control of West Canada Creek. Is there no end to this power-grabbing in this county? The media release they passed out was extremely interesting. One section reads:

Hinckley, Black Creek, and the river below Prospect Pond are lower than during the drought of 1964 which has been on record as a more severe drought than what we are in now. So we are left with another question: Where is all the water?

Their website has some stunning pictures. Where indeed is all our water going? Hasn’t Oneida County’s population dropped?

I signed the petition and we continued walking. There were a few mulch trails in the small clump of wooded property at one side. Not too much to see. Some interesting ferns, birch. It was still very nice. The pungent smell of dried Maple leaves filled my nose with delight. Chirping chickadees peppered the cedar trees. We love chickadees, so we paused to enjoy their little antics.

Down the Wooded Trail

Climbing a Rock

The rock strata is very impressive. It has its own form of beauty. God is a great designer.

Exploring Wall

A stone dust trail leads visitors up a hillside, alongside the enormous water pipes that have captured the creek’s flow. Every once in a while we heard tapping in the pipes. We questioned one of the attendants about it. He said it was the sound of the water heating up inside the steel pipes, when the sun shines on the metal. The pipes are completely filled with water. The pipes carry the water down the hill and then into a power station bunker, where the rushing water spins a turbine. This turbine can generate enough electricity to power the city of Utica, the attendant said.

Pipeline Pipers

Pipeline Up

Pipeline Line UP

How HyPower Works sign

Long ago, when the white men figured out how to use the creek’s water for electricity generation, the pipes were made of wood, not steel. We saw old photos of the wooden pipes, and they were amazing! Long planks of wood were connected together (rather like a barrel on its side) and the sections rested on large concrete “ribs.” The wooden sections were long gone, but the concrete ribs remain.

Rib Ruins

They were such strange-looking things, like the remains of an ancient castle. Scraggly sumac and other wild brush have wrapped their trunks in and around the ribs. The ribs were heavily pitted from a century of rainfall. They just begged us to explore them. We had to resist the temptation; signs blared “For your own safety, do not leave the designated trails.” Scary signs warning of poison ivy also maligned our curiosity.

The Wooden Pipeline Ribs

In the Ribs

Steel Hooks in Strata

The walk was pleasant, even if it was so regimentally structured. I suppose it could have been worse– they could have had us visitors all walk lock-step, single file. As it was, the trail was nice, and sometimes strenuous. But the day was very hot– 81 degrees Fahrenheit, more like a July afternoon than October! As we wiped great beads of perspiration from our faces and complained of the heat, a large flock of geese flew overhead in their familiar “v” pattern. They honked away as they made their way southward. As we watched the geese go, we decided we’d better enjoy these last few days of such a late Indian summer. Cabin fever was on its way soon…

The creek is notably dry. New York has had a very dry summer with little rainfall, so the creek barely trickled. It is shocking to remember that just last summer, Upstate suffered three debilitating floods. There was a tremendous amount of water gushing over those rocks. This water was responsible for a good deal of the flooding in the Mohawk Valley downstream.

The Falls is beautiful. Oh on such a hot day we longed to hop into that cool glassy water.

High Falls sign

Trenton Falls 1

Gorge Hillside

So very beautiful.

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

Trenton Falls has a rich history. The story behind Trenton Falls is the typical Leatherstocking homespun, romantic 18th century adventure story. It was a delight to read. Keesler also discusses his own visit to the Falls, and explains the gory details of why the Falls became closed to visitors.

We got to the end of the trail and came to the dam.

HydroElec Dam

At the Tower

The creekbed looked surreal, so dry and bizarre like something out of Planet of the Apes. Piles of crusty sheets of shale are clumped together, as if a giant had shaken his cubes of salt on his stone table. They looked so out of place that we asked an attendant about them.

Strata Stairs

Debris Field

Incredible Debris Field

The attendant told us that these rocks had been moved out of place and down the creek by the powerful waters from last year’s flood. Remarkable! I took photos from a long distance and zoomed in. So those sheets of shale you see are large enough to hold the kids and I comfortably. They are enormous rocks.

I see why Trenton Falls is only open at designated times of the year. The Falls are breathtakingly beautiful, but also dangerous for explorers. I wish we could have walked down to the creek bed and onto those beautiful slabs of shale, but I understand why the power company restricts such access.

Since the creek is no longer “Leaping Water,” I wonder what the Mohawks would call it now?

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About the Author

I've been traveling throughout New York State since I got the travel bug after touring the Herkimer Home on a school field trip as a youngster. We've been blogging about our travels since 2006 and have visited over half of New York's 62 counties so far.

Comments (15)

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  1. [...] We had to resist them. We did putter up north a little bit more, though, to the Hinckley Reservoir. When I visited last year, we were at the brink of a water emergency. The NYS Canal Corp had (oopsie!) drained too much from the reservoir and water levels were dangerously low. Hinckley Reservoir provides the Mohawk Valley with its drinking water, as well as helps to generate hydroelectric power. It’s also a popular place for fishing and boating, and of course provides water for the Canal System, which is important to the State’s tourism industry. Mismanagement is causing numerous troubles. The governor has established a panel of advisors to study the issues at hand. If you’re interested in reading more about the hydroelectric capabiltities of the West Canada Creek, or want to see some photos of the breathtaking Trenton Falls, read this post of our trip here. [...]

  2. Mark says:

    I grew up around here. We used to brave the freezing waters to see who would be the first to go swimming.

    Many a beautiful NY lass has sunbathed on the rocks.

  3. Paul Christie says:

    Great photo’s – picture perfect, My Father was born there and never seen the falls. His brother told a story that his feet got so cold fishing, he couldn’t feel that he had spraind his ankle on the slippery rocks.
    My great grandmother worked at The Moore’s Hotel and walked the stairs that led to the water, walking along the sides of the waters cascades. Not many have ever seen these falls before they were open to the public, your pictures were great.

    THANKS

  4. Thank you for mentioning West Canada Riverkeepers. Great website. Kath

  5. audrey lehman says:

    I grew up in Barneveld in the 60′s 70′s. I remember a lot of the Holland Patent High School kids hiking up to the falls and jumping off the cliffs. I only went a few times but I remember it being quite a difficult journey to get the area where the kids like to jump from the cliffs. I was searching for info on a few of the accidents that occurred there in the late 70′s. I remember severals boys were drowned but I cannot remember the details of the accident. I have not visited the area in many years but remember how beautiful it was and how sad that its beauty did not always bely is dangers. Your pictures brought back many memories.

  6. Deborah says:

    Trenton Falls is where I spent every summer of my young adult
    life. Many 90 degree days I would lay on the rocks out in front
    until I go so hot that I couldnt stand it any longer…. I would then dive into the icy water, it was like being baptized over and over every time I dove in…..I miss that place so much.

  7. matt says:

    I grew up in ilion in the 70′s we used to drive there about once a week in the summer to swim, To this day those are some of my foundest memories as a kid. It’s a shame that no more generations will have those memories,somtimes I wish they would stop protecting us from ourselfs and let us take resposebileties for our own actions, but I guess it’s driven by lawsuit concerns. but anyway those falls and pools were fantastic
    Matt B.

  8. Bill says:

    I grew up in Barneveld (50s/60s) and it was routine for my brothers and friends and I to say “Let’s go to the Falls”. There were no fences, attendants or restrictions in those days. The only restrictions were our own sense of ‘daring’. My fondness for the falls and the area run deep. Thanks

  9. Darryl Case says:

    Everyone seems to be talking about memories. If we don’t do something fast about the exploitation of the West Canada Creek by Brookfield Power the river will be sterile. The never ending running of the stream at peak flow will scoure all the mayflies, caddis and stoneflies to extinction. They are almost at that point now. They do not care if Hinkley Reservoir run’s dry (and it almost has and will again). At the present time the Mohawk is a foot above flood stage and the New York Locks are closed. Do they care or even consider this. No! They will be running 750cfs (which means over a 1000) all night and tommorrow they will run 1200 all day (which means 1800). They are not from here and are expoiting the river’s and forest’s worldwide for their own greed to the glee of their investor’s. They are a very environmentally concious company. They claim to have a billion dollar’s of asset’s and spent 4 million on questionable environmental project’s. U do the math. Call your congressman and demand action.

  10. Lisa says:

    My husband and I went to Trenton Falls in August when they were open. To our dismay when we got there we were told they were closing due to the rain. It was the first time they had ever closed when they were suppose to be open we were told. Of course, that is our luck. We were told to come back in October. So anxiously we waited until this past weekend. Fortunately, we have had rainy weather and the falls are raging right now. It was well worth the wait. The falls are so gorgeous that we are hoping to go back again next weekend. We were also told that they are looking for volunteers to assist next year. If they do not get enough volunteers they may not be able to open. So please volunteer your time if you can. It would be a shame this NY treasure could not be viewed by the public due to lack of volunteers.

  11. Mark Money says:

    Very nice pictures. Really brings back alot of memories of growing up with such a beautiful backyard to play in

  12. Lynn Trammell says:

    I lived in Rome, NY as a military wife in 1977-1979 and the highlight of my life in NY was visiting Trenton Falls and the gorge. On summer days we would lie in the water at the base and enjoy the sun and cool water. We often hiked up the gorge to view all the waterfalls all the way to the “top.” This was scenic beauty at its finest. It was serene, beautiful, inspiring, soothing – and much, much more. I loved that place. I have not been back, but have always wanted to visit that place again. I’m saddened that it is now fenced and you have guides to walk you around. We all had so much fun there – it was a gathering place for many of the military folks – we picniced, hiked and swam there.

    I’m happy to see these photos – it’s a place that can’t be forgotten and I’m fortunate to have been able to enjoy it’s beauty. It’s truly one of God’s treasures put on this earth!

  13. Pete Wakefield says:

    The cover painting of the Oct 12,2011 issue of JAMA shows the old Hotel Barbershop, owner, painter(Thomas Hicks), and minstrel quartet furnishing the music — circa 1866. Too bad they had to tear up the beautiful falls, but I guess that was progress.

    Thanks for the nice write up on the internet.

    Pete Wakefied

  14. Peter Hurley says:

    I lived and grew up in Trenton Falls through my teens. I remember Mark Money who made a post here already. The Falls, as we called it, is set deep in my mind as one of the best places a kid could grow up. Fond FOND memories. All of us guys and a few girls too use to hike into the Gorge upstream to swim and hang out. But the big calling was jumping off the First Falls, the 15th photo in this series. We called it the Running 60……. meaning you had to run off the 60 foot cliff to clear an outcropping below at water’s edge. Major thrill. The Second Falls, 16th photo, heading upstream from the First, was the calm hang out spot with a little cliff jumping but a pain to climb. When the water level was up the waterfalls produced a large room/cave behind itself that you could walk into and hang out. Very cool place. The Third Falls, second photo in the series, was a little too much work to get to and there was little to be had there. More nudists sought out the Third and also the Forth Falls which is not shown. During my years at The Falls, the Gorge was patrolled to a degree and we had been chased out more than a few times. Also, during the 70′s while I lived there, there was a HUGE wooden pipe that spouted out massive amounts of water through cracks and holes. It would throw off rainbows when the sun was right. And during winter all that water would freeze into huge ice sheet cascading down the 250 cliffs which turned various colors of reds, blues, yellows and browns. If you were really daring, you could walk the frozen ice mounds on the pipe, which I only had done a few times. It was real freaky as the fall would have killed a person. I really miss Trenton Falls, especially the fishing downstream.

  15. nancy says:

    My friends and I went to the falls to cool off back in the 80′s. We hiked down the gorge and went swimming, not realizing how dark it was getting. When we finished, we started hiking back only to realize that at night time–we couldn’t see a thing. We had to climb the pitch black gorge wall in front of us, tried making torches out of bug spray and our socks on a stick–with no success…anyway, we were lucky because about 50 ft. to the right was a huge drop off where we could have fallen to the rocks below. Anyway, 25 years later, still here to reminice about it. I loved going down there.