Nov 15, 2010 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
For many area bicyclists and walkers, the Erie Canalway Trail begins and ends at the Erie Canal Park in Camillus.
What was once the Erie Canal in is now Erie Boulevard, and as a result, the biggest gap in the statewide trail is the stretch between Camillus and Dewitt.
Trail supporters are hoping to close that gap.
Russ Andrews, who represents Syracuse on the Canalway Trails Association New York Board, says that before that can happen, the rest of the trail must be connected. Difficulties and expenses in connecting Camillus to Dewitt include obtaining an easement from Honeywell and finding a path through downtown Syracuse. A clear-cut path has yet to be navigated.
“Until it becomes the gaping tooth in the smile that is the trail, there won’t be enough political and public pressure to get it done,” Andrews said.
CTANY, an all-volunteer organization, and Parks and Trails New York held a press conference Tuesday Nov. 9 at the Erie Canal Park to announce their first annual status report on the progress of “Closing the Gaps.” The 360-mile trail from Albany to Buffalo is about 75 percent complete as an off-road path, and Camillus to Syracuse is one of six major gaps cited in the report.
While no new trail construction took place in 2010, progress was made on funding in three places.
In Wayne County, the Board of Supervisors agreed to match a $1 million State Department of Transportation grant to connect Newark to Lyons. Construction is expected to begin within the next two years.
Funds from the New York Transportation Bond Act, approved in 2005, were finally released after two years of pushing by CTANY and Parks and Trails New York. A portion of these funds will go to connecting the gap in Rome, where construction is expected to begin in about two years.
Earlier this year, the state’s Office of Parks and Recreation and Historic Preservation purchased an abandoned railroad corridor from CSX that will eventually allow most of the Amsterdam to Rotterdam Junction gap to be closed.
The report cited various ongoing challenges to completing the trail, including lack of funding, no defined route in areas like Syracuse where the canal and towpath have been lost to other development, the need to acquire right of ways, physical obstacles and lack of local support.
The cost of closing these gaps is estimated at $50 million, but trail supporters say the investment would more than pay off. The idea to have a statewide Canalway Trail has been around for nearly 40 years.
“It’s not a small job that we’re looking at, but when the Canalway Trail is completed, it will be the longest intra-state trail in the nation,” said Alan Vincent, president of CTANY.
According to CTANY’s report, once connected, the trail could draw 100,000 multi-day bicycle tourists annually and contribute $120 million a year to the upstate economy. The trail is already a long-distance attraction, attracting 500 people each July to Canalway Trail Trek bicycle tour from Buffalo to Albany. As of this July’s tour, bikers have come from all 50 states to ride.
“This group believes that the Erie Canalway Trail in particular has what it takes to become a truly global bicycle tourism destination, but in order to achieve that, it’s got to be a complete trail,” said PTNY Project Director Wally Elton. “People aren’t going to come great distances to ride pieces of it. They’re interested in the whole thing.”
Trail supporters added that connecting the trail would bring the recreational and health benefits of the trail enjoyed by residents of Camillus to more communities. It could also lead to the creation of rest stops, repair stops and tour stops along the way.
The estimated $50 million does not factor in the Syracuse to Camillus gap, nor does it include the cost of maintenance; statewide; as in Camillus, the trail is kept up by dedicated volunteers alone.
The trail varies between paved and the stone dust sections (as found in Camillus) and CATNY plans to close the gaps with the less expensive stone dust, which provides “a good hard surface for biking,” Elton said.
A parallel trail
Frances Gotcsik, Director of Programs for PTNY, pointed out that just as the opening of the Erie Canal fostered development in the communities it touched, so has the building of the Canalway Trail.
“Everyone wanted to get a piece of the action and be as successful as all those Erie Canalway communities were becoming,” Gotcsik said.
Marlene Bissell, who represents the Champlain portion of the Canalway Trail, has seen this at work in Saratoga and Washington counties. She recently assisted in securing a $3 million grant to rehabilitate the abandoned Dix Bridge, which crosses the Hudson River, as part of the trail.
“The only reason that [funding] came in was because we were able to look at it in the context of … this little tiny piece as part of a statewide trail,” she said.
New York State Senator Kirsten Gillibrand met with PTNY and the NYS Canal Corporation in September to convene a roundtable discussion to considers way to complete the trail from Utica eastward. According to the report, the response from municipal, county and state officials as well as business and not-for-profit sectors was positive, and Gillibrand plans to hold addition sessions in the Central and Western New York along the canal corridor.
“Closing the Gaps: A Progress Report on the Erie Canalway Trail” can be read in its entirety on the Parks & Trails New York website, ptny.org.