2020 a Big Year for Erie Canalway Trail
As we look forward to the exciting possibilities brought on by a new year, we can’t help but reflect back on 2020 as a source of inspiration.
Despite the challenging reality and difficult lifestyle changes that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 proved to be a year of resiliency and camaraderie along the Erie Canalway Trail. Residents had to shift their lifestyles from a world dominated by shopping, sporting events, fitness centers, dining, and breweries to a world where Zoom and outdoor recreation served as the primary outlets for social interaction and activity. Residents working from home and those remaining in the field providing essential services flocked to nearby parks and local trails to feel connected in a socially distanced world.
2020 saw a surge of activity along the Canalway Trail system. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, construction resumed to fill in critical caps along the Erie Canalway Trail. The level of interest from volunteer groups hit an all-time high; individuals hoping to remain active and give back to their communities resulted in self-motivated Canal Clean Sweep activities. Those seeking adventure and respite from a stressful year completed the 360-mile journey onthe Erie Canalway Trail between Albany and Buffalo, and hundreds of riders participated in a virtual Cycle the Erie Canal event on the corridor. It's not surprising that 2020 Canalway Trail count data reveals that hundreds of thousands of trail visits occurred at locations across the system.
Work along the Empire State Trail/Erie Canalway Trail was deemed essential. Despite challenges posed by COVID-19, one of the most challenging gaps in the Erie Canalway Trail was closed, as the state marked the completion of major construction on a new pedestrian bridge over Interstate 481 and key sections of the trail in the Town of Dewitt outside of Syracuse in Onondaga County. In addition, the Albany South-End Connector opened to the public, providing a seamless off-road connection between the Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail and the Erie Canalway Trail.
Even though 2020 was an unusual year, our volunteers carried on with grace and determination. With most indoor activities limited, the role of a trail steward proved to be a unique outlet, and volunteer activities continued at a good pace in 2020.
The City of Rochester's Southwest Neighborhood Service Center provided trash bags and gloves to the Rotary Club of Rochester-Southwest, allowing them to carry out a clean-up event despite the cancellation of Canal Clean Sweep. The Cambria Troop 8 Eagle Scout Project, along with help from the Lockport Trail Keepers, helped spruce up their local area through the creation of three art exhibits. The Friends of the Mohawk Hudson Bike-Hike Trail and CREATE Community Studios implemented the second annual “Color the Canal” initiative to beautify the Erie Canalway Trail near Schenectady. The Pack and Troop 25, one of PTNY’s newest Adopt-A-Trail groups, made its first cleanup walk along a new stretch of trail from Fort Herkimer to Lock E18.
Riding end-to-end on the Erie Canalway Trail may have looked a little different this year, but that didn’t deter over 100 adventurous riders and walkers from becoming End-to-Enders.For the majority of End-to-Enders, COVID-19 restrictions proved to be the impetus they needed to hit the trail running—or cycling. For Amy, an End-to-Ender from Nassau, New York, COVID-19 cancelled her vacation plans so she finally had the chance to ride the trail, a goal that had been on her mind for years. This was the case for other End-to-Enders, too. Kevin and Ann Marie from Rochester completed the trail in 14 separate outings, made possible by the flexibility of working from home.
After careful consideration, and out of concern for the health and safety of our riders, volunteers, and the many communities the tour passes through, PTNY sadly made the decision to cancel the Cycle the Erie Canal bike tour in 2020. While it was a hard decision to make, it turned out to be the right one. Hundreds of riders were still able to join PTNY for the first virtual Cycle the Erie Canal celebration from Sunday, July 12 through Sunday, July 19. Those who participated experienced the wealth of history, scenery and camaraderie that the tour embodies in a virtual, interactive and fun manner. Highlights included the famous “flight of five” locks in Lockport and enjoying a journey through a modern lock by boat, cycling over the restored Nine Mile Creek Aqueduct, and discovering what it’s like to sleep in a Revolutionary-era fort. Through photographs, videos, games and daily route maps, everyone was able to easily participate in the Cycle the Erie Canal virtual celebration.
As we brace ourselves for a long winter, we are confident that 2021 will bring with it a high level of engagement among our dedicated volunteers, plus a slew of new visitors who want to explore the state via the Empire State Trail/Erie Canalway Trail, and will embrace a new outlook on life that focuses less on material things and more on health, self-sufficiency, and positivity.