Riders make their way along the Erie Canal
By Jason Gabak
After years of proposals and discussions, work began on the Erie Canal in 1817.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the canal that would come to be a major attribute to New York, making travel and commerce more efficient from one end of the state to the other.
It also marks the 45th anniversary of the Erie Canal Park in Camillus.
Wednesday afternoon more than 650 bike riders passed through the Camillus Park on their way to Syracuse as part of the Cycle the Erie Canal tour.
This bicycle tour, which is celebrating its 19th year, draws riders from all over the world to put themselves to the challenge to pedal from Buffalo all the way to Albany while taking in the sites of the canal along some 400 miles of trails.
The Erie Canalway Trail, which is now 80 percent complete and will, by 2020, be completed as part of the statewide 750-mile Empire State Trail. A recent study shows that the Erie Canalway Trail annually receives close to 1.6 million visits and generates an economic impact of $253 million.
“The 19th annual Cycle the Erie Canal tour is a wonderful way to celebrate the beginning of the Erie Canal Bicentennial and explore Upstate New York. Plus, it’s fun, healthy, and good for the economy,” says Parks & Trails New York Executive Director Robin Dropkin. “We have cyclists aged 3 to 83 from 36 states and several Canadian provinces, as well as Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, and they all get to experience what makes the Erie Canal and Upstate New York so special.”
Liz Beebe of the Camillus Erie Canal Park said the park and it volunteers were excited to welcome so many people to see the park.
As riders came in they were greeted by welcome signs and ringing bells.
While they were in the park, along with food, water and a well deserved rest, riders could also tour the Sims store and explore the trails.
Beebe said the canal and the Camillus park are important sites and preserve an important part of New York’s history.
An event like the ride helps shine a light on this particular attraction and gives participants a new perspective on the canal.
“It is quite amazing,” Beebe said. “The ride started years ago with just a handful of people and now you see so many people doing g the ride from Buffalo to Albany. I think it is great so many people are able to do this and see the canal.”
Among those taking part in the ride were friends Chuck Morgan of Maryland and Larry English of Connecticut.
The friends said they each recently celebrated milestone birthdays, turning 77 and 79.
“I have a house in the Finger Lakes,” Morgan said. “I’ve heard about this and I just thought it was something we should do and this was the right time to do it.”
Both Morgan and English said they were enjoying the ride and were impressed to see the way the canal has been preserved especially in places like Camillus.
“It is great,” English said. “It is great to visit places like Camillus and get to see what they have done here.”
Also making the trek was Barbara Butterworth from Long Island.
While she hails from New York, Butterworth said until now she has not had the chance to really see the canal, but that was part of the appeal of the ride.
“It is beautiful in Upstate New York,” Butterworth said. “There is incredible scenery and incredible people. This is something where you never know who you are going to meet or who you are going to ride next to. It is a great experience.”