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What Is Lake Champlain?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 08 April 2014
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Lake Champlain is a large inland body of water that sits primarily in the U.S. states of New York and Vermont, but crosses also into Quebec, Canada’s Southeastern-most province. The lake is nearly 125 miles (about 201 km) long, and is fed at either end by freshwater river estuaries. At its widest point, in the Green Mountain region of Vermont, Lake Champlain measures just over 14 miles (about 23 km). Lake Champlain is ecologically as well as culturally significant to the communities that surround it.

As far as U.S. and Canadian lakes go, Champlain is not the largest, but it is one of the most important, at least where fresh water is concerned. The lake and its estuaries provide drinking water to many of the numerous communities that sit along its shores. Wildlife and mountain ecological systems depend on the water, too, and the lake is also a major influence on regional weather patterns.

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Lake Champlain sits within what is known as the “Great Appalachian Valley,” a mountain range that extends through most of the eastern side of North America. At its north end, Lake Champlain drains into Quebec’s Richelieu River. To the south, the waters flow into eight different mountain waterways, four in Vermont and four in New York. The lake is also connected to New York’s Hudson River via the man-made Champlain Canal, a project pioneered in the 1800s as a means of improving maritime traffic and encouraging the import of goods from New England into New York City.

Shipping and exploration was once a major part of Lake Champlain culture. Some of the earliest explorers to set foot in what is now New England navigated the lake as a means of traversing territory more quickly. The watershed also played a pivotal role in many of the early battles fought on the land, notably the war of 1812 and the American Revolution.

When sea freight was at its height in the early 1900s, the lake also saw a great deal of commercial traffic. Ships from Europe would dock in southern New York and Quebec’s Gulf of St. Lawrence, then load their freight onto barges for quick travel to points up and down the waterway. The lake began to lose favor with cargo shippers in the mid-1970s, as trucking rose in popularity and efficiency.

Today, Lake Champlain’s waterways are primarily traveled by recreational craft. Shores are home to a number of resorts and lakeside homes, and pleasure boating, whether for an afternoon or a week-long cruise, is very popular. The summer months see a host of water sports and shore-side recreation. Some portions of the lake freeze in the winter, which makes it attractive for ice skaters, snow-shoers, and ice fishers, among other winter sport enthusiasts.

Situated as it is in the mountains, the lake and surrounding Champlain Valley area is also a popular destination for hiking, camping, and other seasonal activities. It is a tourist destination for outdoor lovers from all over the world. Lake Champlain’s shores are home to two state parks in New York, various regional recreation facilities in Vermont, and a Canadian World Heritage Site.

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