Discover New York State ...attractions, dining, lodging, products

The Chemung River Connects Us by Jim Pfiffer

As rivers go, the 45-mile Chemung River in southern New York and northern Pennsylvania is short, but long on connections.

The river connects three counties, two states and four other rivers. It begins in Painted Post, where the Cohocton, Canisteo and Tioga rivers connect. From there, the Chemung flows through Steuben and Chemung counties before connecting with the east branch of the Susquehanna River in Athens, Pa. The river waters eventually end up in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean more than 350 miles away. That means you can put a canoe in the Chemung River and paddle it anywhere in the world. That’s a global connection.

Better still, the river connects us with nature and reminds us of the importance of caring for our waterways and environment.

The Chemung River winds through a beautiful valley with steep slate cliffs gouged out more than 10,000 years ago during the last ice age. The river meanders past meadows, woods, farms, golf courses and small towns and villages. The river is enjoyed for recreation, education and a connection with nature. Thanks to nonprofit groups, like the Chemung River Friends in Elmira, N.Y., the public is better enjoying and protecting the river.

The river is relatively safe and easy to paddle, with few rapids or steep drop-offs. The shallow river flows slow and low during summer months. But it’s accessible through 10 boat launches and plenty of dirt roads and paths leading to the water. The number of launches makes it easy to take a paddle trip of a few hours to a few days. Plenty of river islands make great places for primitive camping under the stars.

Riverside trails and flat-topped grassy flood levees make for great hiking and dog-walking trips. Geocaching, nature photography and bird watching are popular – especially with the growing population of bald eagles and ospreys nesting on the river. All this is enjoyed amid the scenic backdrop of river vistas.

The Chemung River has some of the cleanest water in the Chesapeake Watershed. Fishing is excellent, with anglers catching walleye, bass, pike and tiger Muskie. Other animals, like beavers, mink, fox, white-tailed deer and many water fowl, call the river home.

Today, communities and residents along the Chemung River remain connected to the waterway because it provides public drinking water for nearly half of the people who live in the Chemung River Basin. That drinking water is eventually recycled back into the river. The folks who rely on the Chemung River for water actually have the river flowing through them. You can’t get much more of a personal connection than that.

The Chemung River and its tributaries connect the community to its heritage and history – going back to prehistoric times. “Chemung” is an Iroquois word meaning "big horn" or " horn in the water," so named when Indians found a mastodon tusk buried in river silt near present-day Chemung.

Native Americans lived, hunted, fished and traveled the river. The fertile river silt land was excellent for growing corn, squash, apples and tobacco.

During the Civil War, a prison camp, for captured Confederate soldiers, was built along the Chemung in Elmira. The river flooded and left the camp and its 4,000 prisoner’s ankle-deep in muddy water.

Because the river seeks the path of least resistance – along a gradually sloping valley floor – its banks were used as Indian paths that evolved into wagon trails, canal tow paths, railroads and today’s highways. Today, recreation and nature trails are being built along some of those same ancient trails. The City of Elmira, with about 29,000 residents, is the largest municipality on the river. The river connects us to our heritage and ancestors who settled the cities, towns and villages along the waterway, when it was their main source of food, water, transportation and commerce.

Like all rivers, the Chemung and its tributaries flood and cause property damage. A system of grass levees, concrete flood walls and the Tioga, Hammond and Cowanesque dams, in Tioga County, Pa., help reduce flooding. But the river’s beauty, clean water, and recreational and educational opportunities, more than make up for the occasional flooding. Paddling the river connects you with nature where land, air and water come together. The fragrance of wildflowers, the sight of a red-tailed hawk circling the steep cliffs overhead, and the hypnotic sound of a flowing river soothe and relax. Best of all, use of the river is free, open 24/7 and you don’t need reservations.

So make a connection with nature, yourself and other river lovers by visiting and enjoying the Chemung River. Come on in. The water is fine.

Where the Chemung River flows: It begins in Painted Post in Steuben County, NY and flows 45 miles to the southeast corner of Chemung County, where it empties into the Susquehanna River just south of the New York and Pennsylvania border. An extensive network of streams feed into the Chemung River drainage system, including Bentley Creek, Seeley Creek, Sing Sing Creek, Hoffman Creek, Beecher Creek, Hendy Creek, Jackson Creek, Cayuta Creek, WynCoop Creek, Baldwin Creek, and Newtown Creek. ...more>>

Home MoreNYS Search Contact

Discover New York State at discovernys.com