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Getting a Feel for the Finger Lakes and Champlain, Not a Great Lake but Still Nice

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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Barbara Klein.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember. This week on our program, we tell you about Lake Champlain and the Finger Lakes in the northeastern United States.


BARBARA KLEIN: Lake Champlain borders two states, New York and Vermont, and Quebec, Canada. Many people like to vacation at this freshwater lake. They enjoy sailing and fishing, water skiing, swimming, or just sitting at the water’s edge, daydreaming. The waters can look so still and blue, like a painting, though they can also become rough with waves when the wind blows.


Much of the area around Lake Champlain has a country feeling. Nearby are woods where people can hike. In the fall, visitors can watch the sugar maple trees surrender their colorful autumn leaves.

Many animals and birds live around Lake Champlain. Road signs warn drivers to watch out for moose, big animals that can walk into the road.

Visitors at the lake also keep their eyes open for "Champ." Champ is like an American Nessie, the sea monster that supposedly lives in Loch Ness in Scotland.

BARBARA KLEIN: Over the years there have been reports of some thing in Lake Champlain. A nineteen seventy-seven photograph only fed the mystery. In the distance it shows what appears to be a large creature in the water.

Champ can also be found helping the local economy by appearing on souvenirs like T-shirts and coffee cups.


STEVE EMBER: Lake Champlain is a long, narrow body of water. The lake is one hundred ninety-three kilometers long and nineteen kilometers at its widest. It reaches a depth of one hundred twenty-two meters.

The lake flows north from Whitehall, New York. Over the Canadian border it makes its way into the Richelieu (RISH-ah-loo) River in Quebec. The Richelieu joins the Saint Lawrence River which feeds into the Atlantic Ocean at the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.

Lake Champlain lies in a valley between the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Adirondack Mountains of New York.

A number of communities are near Lake Champlain. The largest is Burlington, a city of thirty-eight thousand people in Vermont.

BARBARA KLEIN: Lake Champlain has more than seventy islands. One island in Vermont, Isle La Motte, is known for its prehistoric geological formations. The Chazy (SHAY-zee) Reef on the island contains coral, like a reef in a warm, tropical ocean.

Scientists say this is because when the Chazy Reef began to form hundreds of millions of years ago, it was in the southern half of the world. Then the plates that form the surface of the Earth began to move around and gave the reef a new home.


STEVE EMBER: Lake Champlain is named for the French explorer Samuel de Champlain who first saw it in sixteen-oh-nine.

In the seventeen hundreds, the Champlain Valley became a battleground in the French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years' War. French troops in Canada built a fort to control passage to the lake as a defense against British troops moving north. The French named it Fort Carillon. But in seventeen fifty-nine, the British took control of the fort and renamed it Ticonderoga.

Troops from the English colonies that would become the United States supported the British army in the war. But later, during the American Revolution, colonial troops fought against the British at Fort Ticonderoga.

And later still, during the War of Eighteen Twelve, the Americans defeated the British in the Battle of Lake Champlain. The defeat not only ended British demands for territory in New England. It also put an end to British hopes of controlling the Great Lakes area.

BARBARA KLEIN: The Great Lakes are Michigan, Erie, Huron, Superior and Ontario. Champlain is smaller than any of them. But in March of nineteen ninety-eight, it joined the list -- Congress declared Champlain the sixth Great Lake.

This was because of efforts by Patrick Leahy, a senator who has represented Vermont for more than thirty years. Senator Leahy was trying to get research money for Lake Champlain from the National Sea Grant Program. This program operates under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The program pays for water research at universities that border either the oceans or the Great Lakes. So Senator Leahy got the words "Great Lakes including Lake Champlain" into the bill.

Many people in Midwestern states that border the Great Lakes were not at all happy. John Glenn, the former astronaut who was then a senator from Ohio, put it this way: "I know the Great Lakes. I’ve traveled the Great Lakes. And Lake Champlain is not one of the Great Lakes."

STEVE EMBER: Still, there are similarities. Lake Champlain has wildlife and rock formations that are similar to or even the same as the Great Lakes. All six were formed from the same huge piece of ice. And all six flow into the Saint Lawrence River in Canada.

Lake Champlain also has the same kinds of environmental problems, including pollution and nonnative sea life, as the Great Lakes.

BARBARA KLEIN: For people in the Champlain area, having it declared a Great Lake was great news. They saw it as a chance to get more help for the lake’s problems, and more national attention for the area.

But the measure that declared Lake Champlain a Great Lake lasted less than three weeks. The angry reaction from the Midwestern states succeeded in killing it. Vermont, however, still won the right for its researchers to ask for money under the National Sea Grant Program.


STEVE EMBER: In central New York state, there are five lakes that look like fingers on a map. Their names come from American Indian culture. Seneca. Cayuga (ky-YOU-gah). Keuka (KYOO-ka). Canandaigua (can-an-DAY-gwa), and Skaneateles (skan-ee-AT-lis).

These are the five major Finger Lakes. Cayuga Lake is the longest among them. But Seneca Lake is the biggest and the deepest, at almost two hundred meters.

Compare that to the nine-meter depth of Honeoye (HUN-ee-oy) Lake. Honeoye is among what are considered the six minor Finger Lakes in central and western New York. The others are Owasco, Otisco, Canadice, (KAN-ah-dice), Hemlock and Conesus (kon-EE-sus).

BARBARA KLEIN: Most of the eleven lakes contain cold water fisheries like trout as well as bass and other warm water fishing.

The Finger Lakes area is home to industries and large cities like Syracuse and Rochester. But there are still many farms. And the area has a large number of grape vineyards and wine producers.

STEVE EMBER:Several colleges and universities are in the Finger Lakes area. They include Ithaca College, Colgate University and Cornell University.

Cornell honors Cayuga Lake in its school song, which begins: "Far above Cayuga’s waters / With its waves of blue / Stands our noble alma mater / Glorious to view.”


BARBARA KLEIN: The first people to view the beauty of the Finger Lakes were the Indians. The Iroquois believed that the Great Spirit formed the lakes. The Great Spirit was closely linked with nature.

STEVE EMBER:Science tells us that a large body of ice moved across the land. The last glacier covered large areas of what is now the northeastern United States about twenty thousand years ago. The glacier moved south and then north again.

In doing so, it moved through many river valleys. It made the valleys deeper and wider than they were before. Then the ice started melting and moved north again. The glacier left huge amounts of soil and rocks in what scientists call the Valley Heads Moraine. A moraine is a landform created by all the material carried and left by a glacier.

BARBARA KLEIN: The Valley Heads Moraine prevented old rivers from flowing south, as they had before. This left the valleys filled with water. And this is how scientists say the Finger Lakes came to be.


STEVE EMBER: Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Steve Ember.

BARBARA KLEIN: And I’m Barbara Klein. Transcripts and MP3s of our programs can be downloaded at Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.