Talking Trails and Ales in Utica

As part of the ongoing Erie Canal Bicentennial celebration, the NYS Canal Corporation co-hosted a forum, with Mohawk Valley Community College, on New York’s growing craft beer industry and links to the Canal and Canalway Trail. The event was held in Utica on October 30.

SUNY/Erie Canal Bicentennial Forum focused on hops and the growing craft beer industry and what role the Erie Canal played in this industry historically and what opportunities there are to link them together today.

(Fun fact: in the 1800s, Central NY was the biggest hop growing area in the country, and its starting to make a comeback with hop yards popping up again all over New York State!)

According to a Parks & Trails New York study, 1.6 million visitors come to the Erie Canalway Trail every year spending over $250 million during their visit, 32% of which is on food and beverage. That’s about $80 million each year!

Jamie Kowalczk from Madison County Planning and the Old Erie Canal Community Working Group participated in the event, and shared several ways in which businesses can tap into the growing “trails and ales” scene on the Erie Canalway Trail and other NYS trails:

1) Supporting and getting involved with efforts to physically link to the Erie Canalway Trail. Many of our communities are working on community trail systems that link the ECT to their downtown such as the Creek Walk Trail in Chittenango, Butternut Creek Trail in DeWitt, and the Oneida Rail Trail in Oneida.

2) Use the Erie Canalway Trail for events and promotions. Examples include hosting a weekly run/bike club that gets people out on the trail but starts and ends at your business. Chittenango Rotary just hosted a successful 5k/15k in the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park as another example. Don’t want to create your own event? Tap into the many ones already going on around the Canal like the annual state-wide Cycle the Erie ride or more locally Tour the Towpath or the Old Erie Canal Boat Float. The point is, we have this wonderful recreational asset running through our communities, that you are allowed and invited to be creative and use!

3) Brand around the Erie Canal and your local history! Telling the story of your community and branding around your history is an opportunity to make your business and your community a unique experience, like no place else! For example, Saranac Brewery just released their Erie Canal Bicentennial Ale. Empire Brewing Company got involved with the 2017 World Canal Conference and made a special ‘Canal Ale’ for the event!

Jamie remarked, “This event was a great opportunity to talk about how our Old Erie Canal Community Work Group is using the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park to bring visitors to all of our businesses including our growing craft beer scene such as at the soon-to-be-reopened Erie Canal Brewing Company in Canastota.”

Of course, beer wasn’t the only menu item for the forum. Jamie pointed out that since food and drink go hand and hand, the variety and accessibility of restaurants in communities along the trail is an important consideration. In fact, the proximity of a restaurant or tavern often determines whether visitors will stop in one community vs. continuing to the next town. Beyond food and drink, visitors are looking for an authentic experience and unique places to stop. In some respects, the growth in the craft beer scene, with its focus on local ingredients and branding around the history and story of the area, is another aspect of this desire for authenticity. Trailside communities can enlist local museums and attractions in creating memorable experiences for trail users.

The Erie Canalway Trail is a one of a kind asset that connects us to recreation, history and to each other, as events associated with the Erie Canal Bicentennial continue to demonstrate.

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