In an area of the country that boasts over 3,000 lakes and ponds, as well as 30,000 miles of rivers and streams, it’s safe to say that water is pretty abundant in the Adirondacks. Famous rivers like the Hudson are certainly known to New Yorkers and world travelers. But here in the Whiteface Region, one river connects communities and defines the area.
To the fishermen, the Ausable River is a fly fishing paradise. To the casual explorer, High Falls Gorge, where the Ausable crashes down waterfalls, is a breathtaking way to get close to such beautiful power. To families, Lake Everest, a wide section of the river, is a place to play on a sandy beach and enjoy the summer. To conservationists, the river is a place where we can help restore the natural order of things. To many fish and invertebrates, this is home.
The Ausable River is many things to many different people, but one thing is certain: its importance in the region should not be underestimated. Here are five cool facts you may not have known about the Ausable.
Fact #1: Go with the flow
The Ausable River is the second steepest river in New York! Starting high in the High Peaks, some 4000-feet above sea level, the Ausable plummets down waterfalls and through gorges. From Monument Falls to the breathtaking drops at High Falls Gorge, there are multiple places along the river where you can experience some of the steepness firsthand in the Whiteface Region!
Fact #2: Feeling fine and sandy
“Au sable” in French means “of the sand,” so when Samuel de Champlain first explored this region in 1609, he chose that as the river’s name. The sands he was talking about were in the mouth of the river, where it empties into Lake Champlain. But a place in the Whiteface Region where the sands can be enjoyed is the Lake Everest Beach in Wilmington. The calm waters at the beach were formed by a dam that widened the river. You can explore a more gentle side of the Ausable here, a sharp contrast to the dramatic waterfalls at High Falls Gorge.
Fact #3: Ice, ice jam
An ice jam is when ice accumulates at a given location in a river and water flow is restricted. Issues arise when warmer weather melts ice and river waters swell. Ice jams don’t occur every single year, but they are fairly common on the Ausable since it’s generally a wide, slow-moving river. (19th century industry helped make the river this way and things tend to get stuck easier when there is not as much movement.) When the jams release, a surge of water is created and sends the water and ice downstream, which can, unfortunately, create flooding in the communities that line the river. Ice jams may have a devastating effect on homes sometimes, but one welcoming place along the river goes by the name Ice Jam Inn in Upper Jay, and travelers can enjoy a great meal or night's sleep here.
Fact #4: Nothing fishy here
Okay, okay. We all know Ausable River brook trout caught on fly rods are the goal, the ultimate prize. But did you know that there are more than 60 species of fish that live in the Ausable watershed? They live in the river itself, lakes, ponds, small streams – sometimes even in small trickles of water. From pearl dace to brook trout, tessellated darters to brown bullhead, there are so many varieties of fish species here. You might not see the small minnows often, but you can certainly fly fish for trout! The most popular places to fish are along the West Branch, where there is ample public access.
Fact #5: Rome wasn’t undammed in a day
Less than 2-miles upstream from Au Sable Forks once sat the Rome Dam. Originally constructed in the early 1890s, the dam provided water and mechanical power for J&J Rogers Company’s pulp mill. The company ceased operations in 1971, and the dam had not been maintained since then. The Rome Dam was removed in 2018, thanks to efforts from the Ausable River Association, because it had become structurally unsound following Hurricane Irene in 2011. After many, many months of research and work, the dam was removed and the river allowed to revert to a more natural state.
With such a wide watershed, the Ausable River has plenty of other fun facts to uncover along the way. Did you know that the only covered bridge in northern New York spans the East Branch Ausable River in Jay? And did you know that Whiteface Mountain uses water from the river to make snow for the ski resort?
You don’t have to sit back and only read cool facts on a screen! Visit the Ausable River in the Whiteface Region for yourself. There are relaxing motels, restaurants serving tasty dishes, and tons of outdoor activities to round out your trip, some even along the river! The river is a defining feature in the communities here. Cast a line, enjoy a view, or refine your photography skills. Either way, the Ausable River is just a step away here in the Whiteface Region.