Beaches Boats and Bicycles

A new, leaner version of tourism evolved, suited to families traveling independently in the family car. This population boomed at mid-century as soldiers returning from service abroad got on with their lives.  Expansion of  “The Barracks” into a modern Air Force Base gave this region a captive audience of young families eager for summer entertainments.

The preferred destination for anyone who did own an automobile, in summer, was the beach.  During the 1920s, styles for women’s bathing suits evolved to make swimming considerably easier.  The shores of Cumberland Bay attracted more and more people, many of whom arrived in their cars. The beach turned into a thoroughly chaotic parking lot on summer weekends.  The City established a public beach in 1928, imposing some order on the parking situation and making it into a beach for people.  Just a few years later, with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the state of New York reclaimed a swampy stretch of shoreline on the adjacent parcel for Cumberland Bay State Park.

Just north of Cumberland Head, Point au Roche reaches out into the lake to form Treadwell Bay.  A perennial navigation hazard, the point sheltered a commercial dock from strong south winds until the railroad sucked away the traffic.  By the mid 20thcentury, it had become a haven for summer recreation beloved by local families, American and Canadian tourists alike.  In 1952, Harry Neverett operated a campsite and swimming area known as St. Armand’s Beach.  A decade later, two local businessmen, Robert Duley and Norman Dame, developed the adjacent property into “Fantasy Kingdom  This attraction joined a string of theme parks  stretching from Lake George Village north into Quebec.  It featured a Giant’s Castle, houses for Three Little Pigs, and Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship, down at the beach.  In 1975, New York State established a State Park here with twelve miles of multiuse trails and 2.5 miles of bicycle trails.

Late nineteenth century tourists came to the region eager to get out on the water, but they seldom owned the boats that would get them there.  They could arrange for excursions on small, steam-powered launches, or paddle about in canoes owned by the resort hotels.  Most private rental properties included use of a canoe or rowboat.  The American Canoe Association had raised public awareness of the joys of paddling by hosting annual regattas on Lake Champlain in the early 1890s, but the boom in small craft ownership was still half a century in the future.

Post – war prosperity, combined with a revolution in boat-building materials. fueled an explosion in pleasure boating to match the appetite of Baby-boomer families.  Aluminum, fiberglass and plastic all helped lower the cost of fishing boats, powerboats and sailboats.  Plattsburgh Sailing Club started up just after World War II to serve the growing popularity of Cumberland Bay as a racing venue.  The club closed in 1969 and reorganized as the Valcour Sailing Club.  They have been organizing a full schedule sailing races since then and playing a central role in the city’s Mayor’s Cup as it grew from an afternoon event in 1978 to a week-long city-wide festival.  Further north, the Point au Fer Sailing Club hosts just five races each summer, catering to Canadian sailors who enjoy punctuating their cruising schedule with a few friendly races.  Most large regattas attract boats from Mallet’s Bay and Burlington as well.

In winter, nobody needs a boat to go fishing, as long as the bays freeze over.  Lake Champlain attracts ice fishermen from far and near.  By mid winter, ice shanty “villages” appear at Rouses Point, Isle la Motte, Deep Bay at Point Au Roche State Park, Plattsburgh Bay and Valcour Island. 

A second bicycle craze swept the region a hundred years after the first one.  In the mid 1990s, the Clinton County Chamber of Commerce hosted a meeting that began the planning for Lake Champlain Bikeways.  Within a few years, a designated bicycle route circumnavigated the Lake and shorter, thematic loops offered cyclists access to the countryside along secondary roads.  Seven of these lead cyclist through broad fields affording grand views of the Green Mountains to the east and the northern Adirondacks to the west.  A city bike path skirts the lake from the Plattsburgh beach to the southern edge of the Base campus, and another takes hikers and cyclists along the banks of the Saranac River.

the best travel advice comes from the people who live here
Andrew Alberti

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