Black River Recreational Trail – Watertown To Black River, New York: A Brief Excursion Into The Middle Ordovician Black River Group

If you’re in the Watertown – Black River area of western upstate New York and feel like a quick hike – and make that one with some easily accessible geology, then look for the Black River Trail. The New York State Park’s Black River Recreation Trail is located adjacent to the picturesque Black River which flows through a part of the middle Ordovician Black River Group. The trail is 3.5 miles in length and runs along an abandoned portion of the NY Central Railroad corridor between Watertown and the village of Black River. More information on directions to the trailhead is available at: http://blackriverny.com/place/black-river-trail/.

The Black River has historically been a regional hydropower source. Consequently, in addition to interesting geology, you’ll see infrastructure that is the result of the river’s energy-related history. Brookfield Renewable Energy has a hydropower plant on the north side of the river, near the northern trailhead. Abandoned paper mill structures are on Poors Island, southeast of the village of Black River. To see this part of the Black River, extend the hike by continuing right out of the Black River Trail’s parking lot along Route 3, turn left onto Remington Street, again turn left at the stop sign, and at the bottom of the hill (before crossing the bridge) turn right onto Poors Island.

The Black River has historically been a source of hydropower.
The Black River has historically been a source of hydropower.

The middle Ordovician Black River Group that outcrops along the Black River Trail contains mainly carbonate rocks. Black River Group rocks in this area are separated into two formations – the Lowville and the Chaumont. The Lowville Formation is a medium-light to light gray, generally thinly bedded, micritic limestone. The Chaumont Formation overlies the Lowville Formation and contains more massively bedded limestone and basal chert. Water cascades over the limestone beds at several places along the river, making the hike an extremely scenic experience!

Black River Group rocks host several small waterfalls along the Black River Trail.
Black River Group rocks host several small waterfalls along the Black River Trail.

For those of you who are more interested in the geology, here’s a couple references that I found helpful:

1. Uplift of the Tug Hill Plateau in northern New York State, 2010, by Wallach and Rheault – available at Research Gate: Tug Hill Uplift

2. Johnsen, J.H. 1971. The limestones (Middle Ordovician) of Jefferson
County, New York. New York State Museum and Science
Service, Map and Chart Series No. 13.

3. New York State Geological map kml: NY State Geology kml