Call for input on the Erie Canal

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BoatUS has put out a call for boating interests in New York to become engaged in a program called “Reimagining the Erie Canal.”

The program was initiated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and is being organized and conducted by the Rockefeller Group. The goal is to “identify new uses” of this historic waterway. The process includes a series of public stakeholder meetings, the first of which was held July 11 in Schenectady. The Albany Times Union reported that some boaters voiced concerns that their needs are being ignored.

In the Times Union report, a longtime canal enthusiast wondered why a video shown at the meeting largely ignored the most obvious use of the canal: powerboating. “If they are not in the pictures, they are not in the reimagination,” said boat owner Ted Bochenek.

“Any boater who uses the canal should speak up now or attend an event if they can,” says BoatUS manager of government affairs David Kennedy. “While the state has previously invested in the canal’s future with more recreational boating amenities, such as safe harbors to tie up for the night, we want to ensure that recreational boating is not minimized in the current decision-making process.”

I recall making a couple of cruises along the Erie Canal from the western end of Lake Erie at Buffalo as far as the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. It was a unique trip. At some points we were higher than the surrounding land. At others, boaters warned us that local police in cars would flag us if we exceeded the speed limits.

Many boaters regularly use the canal. Snowbirds transit from the Great Lakes to the East Coast each fall and return again in the spring. Others navigate the canal as part of the Great Loop. The canal serves recreational boating in a major way, so it’s important that boaters’ voices be heard as the future of the waterway is considered.

BoatUS is asking its nearly 38,000 members in New York to attend a stakeholder meeting or post a comment at the Reimagine the Canal website. A second meeting was held last night in Lockport and three others are scheduled:

  • July 16, 6-8 p.m., SUNY Brockport Cooper Hall
  • July 23, 6-8 p.m., SUNY ESF Gateway Center, Syracuse
  • July 30, 6-8 p.m., SUNY Polytechnic Institute Campus Center, Utica

At the Schenectady meeting, the Times Union reported that local boaters, tourism boosters, business leaders, hikers and bicyclists offered ideas for improving the canal experience. Examples included installing signage that would show visitors where local museums or restaurants are located. Several boaters noted that Capital Region residents have a relatively high level of access to the canal, with numerous launch ramps and dockage. That’s not necessarily true along the entire canal, as cruising west takes boaters through some fairly undeveloped areas.

Additional facilities is something boaters and dealers in upstate should advocate for at stakeholder meetings. Other suggestions could center on the shortening of the canal system’s operating season and hours of operation.

New York State ranks third in the nation for boating economic activity, with an $8.4 billion annual impact. The state has more than 440,000 registered boats, and the canal, which opened in 1825, still plays an important role in the quality of life for upstate New Yorkers.

Dealers should be sure customers are aware of the Reimagining the Erie Canal program and make their voices heard. The Rockefeller Group says all suggestions will be considered.

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