Friday, April 10, 2009

East Branch Reservoir, NY (with photos)

I'm fortunate to live in a nice place, specifically a large suburb about 45 minutes north of New York City...perhaps you could say it's right on the edge of being rural.  The next town up from me starts the "farm country" in this area.  Lots of trees, rolling hills, etc...

Although it certainly is nice and I'm definitely not complaining, I wouldn't exactly call it a "photographer's paradise".  I often find myself lacking inspiration when I photograph my immediate home area because I see it every day and it has become somewhat commonplace over the years.  I'm sure many photographers might feel the same way about their home town, except of course if you live near a picturesque location that offers continual inspiration.  

Inspiration is easy to find when I travel out of my home area to other places that I don't see every day.  The exception to this feeling is when unique photographic circumstances present themselves close to home.  Then my mind explodes!  Such was the case this weekend...

There is a large reservoir near our house called the East Branch Reservoir that's down about 50 feet (or more) from it's normal water level this spring due to drought conditions and some bridge work that the surrounding towns are doing that necessitated that they lower our water level.  The full story can be found at this link.  The reservoir was formed when the towns of Southeast Center and Milltown were flooded over, sacrificed in the name of progress.

Fifty feet is a lot!  Because of these conditions, almost the whole reservoir is empty and features that are normally below water have been exposed for the first time in decades.  It's a very uncommon event, and you guessed it, one that was well worth grabbing the camera for.

You can hike all over this enormous space where there is typically only water...It's almost like being in an alien landscape.  Submerged waterlogged trees are exposed and dried out.  There are old stone walls all over that used to mark farms before the area was flooded for the reservoir.  Dead fish, furniture, golf balls, fishing lures, etc.  It's all here to explore.

Some of the stone walls are massive.  I would like to research the history of Southeast Center and Milltown to understand what was here before the towns were flooded.  It's very interesting.  Especially all of the walls.  I mean...they're big!  You can see roads that have been marked and lined with boulders.  Old bridge foundations.  Even the stone foundations of homes, barns, etc.

I spent three hours photographing and hiking with my family inside the reservoir on two occasions already, and plan to go back for more before they fill the reservoir back up.  It's an oddly peaceful place to walk around.  Very quiet.  It's like exploring a huge piece of the past right in my own back yard.

The moral of the story is.....Never give up on your own town!  It might not be the most stunningly, overtly photogenic place in the world on a typical day, but there are special times when it will expose itself and call you back.  Take advantage of those opportunities and enjoy it while they last!  Take some pictures!

Click the image below to see some pictures from inside the East Branch Reservoir...


  1. John, great pictures to show the scale. There's a web site out there somewhere that's dedicated to discussing towns that have been flooded all over the US to serve other purposes. If I can find it I'll come back and put it here.

  2. Cool stuff. What town is this in? You didn't say.

  3. I bet this killed things for the fishermen! :-)