Reconnecting People with Waterways a Key Theme at 2018 World Canals Conference

Nearly 400 delegates from inland waterways around the world convened in Athlone, Ireland from September 10-12 for the 2018 World Canals Conference. The three-day event included informative presentations, networking, and study tours, which shed light on the similarity of opportunities and challenges facing inland waterways worldwide. Among the key themes: the incredible opportunities to reconnect people with once industrial waterways.

Attendees from the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and NYS Canal System found parallels and connections with our counterparts in Ireland, Germany, Scotland, France, and elsewhere. Whether addressing environmental sustainability, nature conservation, community revitalization, or tourism, speaker after speaker talked about the benefits of connecting people with water. Indeed, canals worldwide are being managed to:

  • enhance health through physical activity;
  • recreate natural habitats that nurture wildlife and people;
  • provide accessible adventures to people with physical challenges;
  • rejuvenate cities and towns;
  • build social connections and a strong sense of community; and
  • support employment opportunities and economic development.

Trends along the NYS Canal System are right in step though, arguably, the sheer length and size of our own canal network adds a dimension of complexity rivaled only by China.

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We also noted a general trend toward increased trail and paddle-sport recreation. That’s good news as we prepare to fully launch the NYS Canalway Water Trail and undertake a new Canalway Challenge recreational initiative in 2019. Initiatives such as the European Union’s Get Wet and Ireland’s Blueways provide excellent resources and ideas for ways to advance paddling here.

New York’s canals and inland waterways are prime assets. They represent opportunities for restoration, water sports, the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, and the rejuvenation of cities. The World Canals Conference provided both information and inspiration to help us continue this vital work.

Get Wet Toolkit:

Ireland’s Blueways:

Inland Waterways International:

Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor:

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