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Quadricentennial: big celebration for a big region

August 11, 2006

PLATTSBURGH — Mammoth plans to celebrate the discoveries of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River are now in the works, as organizers look at what kinds of activities will best suit the occasion.

The Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Commission, a group of officials stretching from Rouses Point to New York City, has begun working on a strategic plan to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of the travels of both Samuel de Champlain and Henry Hudson and also the accomplishments of Robert Fulton.

"Lots of people have come forward with ideas," said Clinton County Legislator Celine Paquette, who is vice chair for the commission, noting that the group has been meeting for about three years already.

"Now, legislation calls for outreach/community meetings to gather more ideas from the public. We'll talk about how far we've come, but we will also solicit ideas for upcoming projects."

The group has also been looking at the tercentennial celebration in honor of de Champlain's discovery of the lake for ideas to use during the 400-year commemoration.

"One of our goals is to have a legacy project, something that will remain once the commemoration has ended," Paquette said. "In 1909, they had the monuments to Champlain at Cumberland Bay and Crown Point.

"We want to leave that kind of legacy recognizing what was accomplished in 2009."

In 1909, the celebration focused on Lake Champlain, including visits to the North Country from President William H. Taft.

This decade, the project is much more complicated because it does include recognition of Hudson's discovery of the river that now bears his name, as well as the 200th anniversary of the voyage of Robert Fulton, the first man to use steam navigation on a commercial basis.

"We're dealing with a large area from New York Harbor to Rouses Point," Paquette said. "Having everyone on the same page makes it a little difficult. There's been a lot of planning, a lot of discussion."

Several committees have been formed to look at such issues as historic sites, programs and events, activities and education and sponsorship support.

"I find that people from this area are very invested in this project," Paquette said. "We like our lake, and a lot of people in this region are interested in our history. We are all eager to have something special."

Paquette recently met with the CHART committee, a group of local history enthusiasts promoting the Lakes to Locks regional history concept.

"I talked about the legislation (signed in 2002 by Gov. George Pataki to create the commission) and identified the membership for them," she said. "It was a very nice opportunity to talk with them about this project."

Although specific dates have not yet been identified, Paquette said the local public meetings should begin by late August or early September. Media announcements will be made as soon as the dates and locations are known, she said.

Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer, sailed onto Lake Champlain in July 1609, a year after he had founded the city of Quebec. A month later, Henry Hudson, an Englishman serving the Netherlands, sailed into New York Bay in the Half Moon and traveled up river to a point just below where Albany now stands.

Those two separate encounters would eventually open one of the most significant waterways in the New World, setting the stage for a variety of historical events over the next four centuries.

In 1807, Fulton navigated the Hudson River from New York to Albany in the steamboat Clermont, inaugurating steam navigation on a commercial basis.

Vermont and Quebec are also involved with preparations for the commemoration, and the New York group has been working closely with both to ensure uniform success.