Revitalization of New York State along the Erie Canal
Living in Rochester where canal towns like Fairport and Pittsford flourish and throngs of people use the Erie Canalway Trail daily, I wondered why we needed revitalization of the canal system. After spending eleven days with 5 other hearty souls, bicycling for 420 miles along the canal from Buffalo to Albany, now I know. We stopped at each small town in its path to talk with local officials, politicians, and volunteers. What we found was New York State desperately needs, and is in the process of achieving, a transformation.
Long ago, many towns turned their backs to the canal as transportation shifted from the canal to trains and trucks. But now these same towns are refocusing on the canal as a way to prosper through tourism. The vision is to achieve a recreation-way similar in effect to the canals of Europe but with a decidedly New York State flair. Boating is part of the vision but also a biking and hiking path that can be used by residents as well as tourists. Eventually the Erie Canalway Trail will reach the entire length from Tonawanda (near Buffalo) to Waterford (near Albany). Currently 40% of the Canalway Trail is completed. When completed, it will at times parallel the current Erie Canal and at times it will follow the previous, now abandoned Erie Canal.
The new development activity along the canal is astounding. Holley has recently put in dockage, a gazebo, picnic tables, and a path to their beautiful waterfall. In Little Falls we biked on a fresh segment of the Erie Canalway Trail recently thrashed through the woods by an Americorps group. Amsterdam was in the process of building a boat launch. St. Johnsville had developed a small RV camping area near their waterfront, complete with a picnic pavilion, restrooms, shower, and laundry.
Every town was either in the process of renovating their waterfront area or had developed plans to do so soon. In addition, they were actively developing a segment of the Erie Canalway Trail or were mapping potential routes. The next few years will see a major revitalization of towns along the Erie Canal. Consulting from state and federal groups such as NYS Canal Corp., and NY Parks and Conservation Corp. and National Park Service Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program and federal and state funding programs such as HUD and ISTEA, often support their efforts. But, the changes are designed and implemented locally to preserve the character of each community.
The result will be both a tourist attraction and a recreational asset for residents. As people boat the waters on all manner of watercraft and enjoy the Erie Canalway Trail on foot, bicycle, or rollerblades, theyll stop to enjoy local historic attractions, eat at the restaurants, stay at the Bed and Breakfasts, re-supply at grocery stores and improve the economy of the area in the process. It was heartening to see New York State residents take pride in their area and work together to develop this gem in our own backyards.
Anyone wishing to assist in the development of the Canalway Trail should send their name, address, and phone number to David Adler, NY Parks and Conservation Association, 35 Maiden Lane, Albany, NY 12207, or call 518-434-1583.
Sue Freeman is author of Take Your Bike! Family Rides in the Rochester Area, a
book about safe off-road biking trails including the Erie Canalway Trail