Friends of Black River embark on map project

A group fishes on the Black River near the dam in Dexter in 2014. Watertown Daily Times

LOWVILLE — To highlight the historical sites along the Black River, Friends of the Black River have been gathering information and mapping the waterway. The group, organized through the Tug Hill Commission, includes Commission staff and members of the communities along the Black River in Lewis County and the Carthage area.

During the past year, the group has been working on the Black River Historical Floating Museum with an interactive map. The idea is for people to access the map through their phone or tablet to learn more about each site as they float down the river or from access points such a boat launches.

Over the summer, Ethan Pease, working with the Commission through the Fort Drum internship program, gathered historical information about the river. In part he utilized the book “Castorland Journal,” a travel narrative by French investors looking to develop areas of present-day Lewis and Jefferson counties. The book was translated by Colgate University professor John E. Gallucci.

“Think of the journal as a leather-bound Lewis-and-Clark-style account of a perilous trip of first encounters, with land formations sketched out,” said Carla Fowler, community development specialist for the Tug Hill Commission, the lead facilitator for the group.

In his research, Mr. Pease found references to the Native American Mississauga nation, from southern Ontario, Canada, which is believed to have come to the Castorland tract during the winter.

Mickey Dietrich, Tug Hill Commission circuit rider for the River Area Council of Governments, RACOG, reported during November meetings that more than 200 historical sites have been cataloged and that the Black River from Lowville to Castorland has been mapped.

There are plans to map from Castorland to Carthage once weather permits, and eventually from Carthage to Deferiet. Mr. Dietrich said the mapping will include the historical sites as well as navigation hazards. He said GYMO, of Watertown, has offered to help in the mapping process and a representative of the company is a member of the community action group.

Ms. Fowler said the project originally started as an idea of how to make people more aware of what the Black River has to offer.

“Kind of building off the navigation hazards mapping that RACOG did,” she said, “some people had expressed interest in having some sort of Black River group, because of all the different projects and potential projects happening along the river.”

Another offshoot of the project is to bring people into the communities along the Black River. The interactive map may also link to those villages and towns and attractions within those communities.

This all fits in with the Black River Blueway Trail Plan, initiated in 2007.

“The plan includes inventories of cultural, recreational and other resources along the river and a plan for marketing the river along thematic interests,” Ms. Fowler said. “There have been projects throughout the years since then to implement the plan, such as removal of some navigation hazards, marketing and event coordination, river cleanup, boat launch improvement, park development and signage. The Black River Blueway project is now morphed into a multi-pronged Black River Initiative that combines the complementary Black River Scenic Byway and Black River Watershed projects with Blueway efforts.”

According to Ms. Fowler, one of the original recommendations from the 2007 Blueway plan was to “create a management partnership to implement projects and marketing.”

“The broader Black River Initiative project speaks to that with over 800 stakeholders on the distribution list, there is still a need for on-the-ground leadership in exploring and prioritizing projects to showcase Black River communities,” she said. “The current Friends group was formed out of pure interest in corralling ideas and interest for projects promoting the river in RACOG communities with the purpose of choosing one or two to run with. There are many great projects happening everywhere, but this group wanted to contribute in their own way by learning about the significance of the river connecting their towns and villages.”

Ms. Fowler and Mr. Dietrich help facilitate the groups’ meetings and offer technical support when needed.

The group includes Heidi Lehmann from the village of Castorland; Pete Walsemann, retired Carthage Central School teacher and Black River camp owner; and Tim Widrick from the village of Lowville.

“The project leaders — Heidi Lehmann, Pete Walseman, Tim Widrick, Matt Cervini and the GYMO crew — are all passionate about the river’s history and recreational promise,” Ms. Fowler said. “Heidi brings her interest in the ‘Castorland Journal.’ Pete knows the river well and added the concept of a floating museum — as in virtual, you learn about it as you pass by. A lot of the sites no longer are visible, but the group is learning about different historical events, burial sites, old settlements, and other places of significance along the way.”

Anyone interested in joining the Friends of the Black River or who has historical information about sites along the river may contact Ms. Fowler at

“If someone wants to offer up other skills — photography of the river and sites, website design — that would also be helpful,” she said. “Basically, anyone who has an interest in this project and Black River would be a good addition. The more hands helping, make lighter work for everyone. There also may be some research that needs to be done.”

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