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From the April 2008 Conservationist

Erie Canalway Trail in Spencerport

Follow in History's Wake

Discover the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor

By Jean Mackay

Whether you explore 15 miles or 500, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor connects history and nature with outdoor pursuits from boating to biking to birding. Here, we'll introduce you to some of its treasures, through images by amateur photographers from across the state who were among the winners of the 2007 Erie Canalway Photo Contest.

Erie Canalway Trail, Spencerport. Walking the Erie Canalway Trail offers glimpses of what walking across the state with a canal boat in tow might have been like. The trail is open to hikers, joggers, and bicyclists, as well as cross-country skiers in winter.

Lock 33, Minden. Dug by muscle and sweat, and later enlarged with machinery, the Erie Canal and the growth it attracted fundamentally altered the landscapes of New York. Yet nature is reclaiming abandoned sections of the original canal. Columbines and ferns grow from stone lock walls, while canal wetlands provide excellent habitat for songbirds, dragonflies and amphibians.

Erie Canal, Little Falls. The Mohawk Valley is one of the most picturesque sections of the canal. Maintaining high water quality all along the corridor is key to a vibrant future for the region, where water resources are shared by many users. The river supports people and agriculture and is also the basis for recreation, tourism, and sport fishing, while also providing valuable habitat for aquatic plants and animals.

Kayakers, Pittsford. What better way to explore the NYS Canal System than on the water itself? On-water activities include cruising, rowing, canoeing, kayaking, motorboating, and fishing. The New York State Canal Corporation operates the canal from early May to early November.

Nine Mile Creek Aqueduct, Camillus. New York's canal system was a nationally and internationally significant work of engineering. Eighteen aqueducts, including this one over Nine Mile Creek in Camillus, carried the canal over rivers and ravines. These and other canal relicts, including old locks and bridges, are part of the allure of a visit to the Canalway Corridor.

Rome. Cyclists can explore the Canalway Corridor for a few hours or several days on the 380-mile Erie Canalway Trail which follows both active and historic sections of the Erie Canal. Trail maps are available from the NYS Canal Corporation and a more detailed cycling guide is published by Parks & Trails New York. PTNY also hosts an eight-day, 400-mile bicycle tour from Buffalo to Albany each July. Visit www.ptny.org for more information.

Great Egret, Little Falls. The quiet waters of today's canal are perfect places for birders to explore, offering premier birdwatching sites for wading birds, waterfowl, and songbirds.

Call For Entries

The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor invites amateur and professional photographers to participate in its 2008 Erie Canalway Photo Contest. Prints and digital images are accepted and winning entries will appear in the Erie Canalway 2009 Calendar. Deadline for entries is September 15, 2008. Details are posted online at: www.eriecanal.gov

The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor- connecting history and nature with outdoor pursuits.

In 2000, the U.S. Congress recognized the Erie Canal's significance to our nation by establishing the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. The corridor, one of 37 national heritage areas, stretches 524 miles across upstate New York, from Buffalo to Albany and north along the Champlain Canal to Whitehall. Charged with interpreting, preserving, and celebrating our nation's heritage for the benefit of today's residents and future generations, it threads through 234 diverse communities connected by a waterway that changed the landscape of our state, our nation and history.

The Erie Canal put New York on the map as the Empire State-a leader in population, industry, and economic strength.

Completed in 1825, the original Erie Canal traversed 363 miles from Albany to Buffalo, the longest artificial waterway and the greatest public works project in North America. The canal put New York on the map as the Empire State-the leader in population, industry, and economic strength. It transformed New York City into the nation's principal seaport and opened the interior of North America to settlement.

Fueled by its success, the canal was enlarged beginning in 1835. As a result, the canal could accommodate heavier loads. Originally 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide, the canal was expanded to 7 feet deep and 70 feet wide.

In 1903, the NYS Barge Canal System upgraded the Erie, along with the Champlain, Oswego, and Cayuga-Seneca canals, with some significant differences in routing and technology. Built for self-propelled vessels rather than horse-or mule-drawn boats, the barge canal enlarged land-cut sections in the western portion of the state, while moving the eastern portion of the canal to the "canalized" Mohawk and Hudson rivers. Today the Erie, Champlain, Oswego, and Cayuga-Seneca canals remain in service as America's oldest continuously operating canal system.

For further reading, see Conservationist February 2003.

Jean Mackay is director of communications and outreach for the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.

Photo: Kathy Eichorn