What kind of place is the Champlain Valley?

Sarah Harris interviews people at the Plattsburgh City Beach. Photo: Tomeka Weatherspoon, Mountain Lake PBS.

Sarah Harris interviews people at the Plattsburgh City Beach. Photo: Tomeka Weatherspoon, Mountain Lake PBS

I cover the Champlain Valley, so I cross back and forth between Vermont and New York a lot. Sometimes the places blur together and I don’t even notice I’ve crossed the state line. But other times – in the islands, in Port Henry and Whitehall, in Charlotte and Shelburne – I notice a real difference, and the sides of the lake seem like two very separate places.

So I’m driving around the lake this week. I started with Addison County, Vermont on Monday. On Tuesday, I went to Plattsburgh and stopped at the municipal beach. Wednesday, I started in Essex, New York, and wandered south. Thursday, I headed north, to Swanton, St. Albans, and the islands. And today, I’ll head north to Quebec, and come home through Rouses Point.

I’m asking people a question I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. I want to know whether they think of the Champlain Valley as one place, or whether they identify more with the political units (Vermont, New York and Quebec), or whether identity is fragmented even further, into towns. I want to see if there’s tension between the three places, and if there is, to explore it.

It strikes me that the closer people are to the lake, and if they have an easy way to get across, they’re more interested in the other side. And the closer people are to the border, the more they think about Quebec.

I’m curious to hear what you think. How do you define the Champlain Valley? Is there a big difference between Vermont and New York? What about our neighbors to the north?

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6 Comments on “What kind of place is the Champlain Valley?”

  1. Bob Falesch says:

    I guess I fall into the “fragmented” camp. I’m a city guy, so I tend look to the towns to provide what I seek. I think everyone would claim that NY and Vermont are so different one could barely even hazard a state-to-state comparison. What’s most interesting to me is to compare local towns to, say, Burlington, which is, if only nominally, a North Country city. I’m on the St.Lawrence (Ogdensburg), so it’s less natural for me to think of anything south of Tupper Lake or Lake Placid as part of “North Country”. When thinking about our neighbors to the north, this means to me Ottawa and Montreal (now there’s fodder for all kinds of comparison!), but also Brockville to which I travel periodically for a discussion group. For me, Ottawa is the nearest large city. Syracuse is more than twice that distance, Rochester three times. But I think you’re getting at how we might define the character of sub-regions. To be honest, since moving here I haven’t afforded myself enough opportunity to dig that deeply. My bad. Looking forward to other comments…

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  2. Bob Falesch says:

    Forgot to mention that the pic is what first drew me into this posting. I was wondering how tired your arms get after a couple minutes. That mic is probably heavier than the recorder in the other hand, and to boot, that elbow is resting on the table. I have a hyper-cardioid mic I would not want to hold like that for very long!

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  3. Alan Gregory says:

    For three years in the late 1980s, my late wife and I lived in a duplex in on-base housing on Plattsburgh Air Force Base. Our half of the house gave us lots of nice views of Lake Champlain just below the bluff on which the residence sat. Looking out at the water and Crab Island, as I often did, spurred many thoughts about place and time. My wife was a native of West Rutland, Vt., so being able to see Vermont across the water was important for her. But event then I had the gut feeling that life and place on the Plattsburgh side was very different than what I often found over yonder after another ferry ride. I just spent two days/nights in Plattsburgh and was stricken by how much Cornelia Street in particular has changed with more cars, more pavement, and less feeling of “place,” as in “special place.” So, yes, I do feel that while there is a real Champlain Valley, the feeling of “place” differs greatly depending on where one is within that valley.

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  4. Lake Champlainer says:

    I grew up on Lake Champlain, on the New York side. Basically Vermont has a better economy, a hipper arts class, and more scenic terrain. I don’t know why, but there is so much blight on the New York side. Homes that you can’t believe people live in, but do. Downtown Plattsburgh has improved tremendously since I was a kid (and City Hall Place was a string of very scary biker bars), but at the same time I feel like most of downtown still needs a good pressure washing.

    The level of Hardcore Conservatism on the northern New York side is really really high. Many of these people see Vermont as unlivable liberal hellscape. For example I regularly hear that if you are a landlord in Vermont it is extremely difficult to evict people, even if they aren’t paying rent, or stories about a guy who can’t expand the footprint of his house because it was retroactively declared wetlands. There are people who do scary drugs like heroin in Vermont! Also the perception is that people from Vermont are rich, and Burlington is a ridiculously expensive place to live.

    The biggest issues in shaping Champlain Valley culture is the Ferry. It costs $30+ to go from Plattsburgh to Burlington, unless you want to add over an hour in the car. When people have family in the hospital in Burlington for long term stays this adds a ridiculous expense. Besides the economic damage the Ferry causes, it makes the two cities far more separate than they should be. You would be stunned at the number of people who have never been to the other side of the lake, or been once or twice.

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  5. Walker says:

    The ferry costs $9.50 for the Driver & Vehicle if its less than 19 feet long. Add one adult passenger and its $13.25. You must be talking round trip with a full car to get over $30.

    It would be nice if they would give people a break on a round trip.

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  6. Marlo Stanfield says:

    I haven’t been everywhere in the Champlain Valley but I have been through a lot of it, on both sides. I never felt like the New York and Vermont sides were particularly similar. The New York side always seemed more run down. Places like Moriah especially have that sort of gritty, ex-industrial, fallen on hard times feel that a lot of Upstate New York does. The Vermont side has that quaint rural New England feel, it feels more like other parts of rural Vermont and Massachusetts than it does like the New York side. I know these descriptions are feeling-heavy and light on specifics, but I think you get the point.

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