Seven years ago the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum created the concept of “Tuesdays on the Towpath,” an annual recreational bike ride series. The rides cover primarily the “Long Level” section within the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park. The easy-paced rides are guided and typically include a speaker who illuminates the history, ecology, future plans and other topics along the route. The rides have evolved with support from the Old Erie Canal Community Working Group (OECCWG*), and from Camillus to Rome. Approximately nine cities, towns and villages have played an active role in this popular series.
Eventually, the rides expanded to other Central New York communities, reaching as many as 12 rides one summer. The evening rides were frequently followed with a dinner in the local community, thus lending truth to the New York State slogan, “Bicycles Bring Business.”
In the past 2 years a welcome addition to these rides has occurred. Members from Advocates, Inc. have been constant attendees. Advocates is a non-profit organization that pairs mentors with those who have special needs on a one-to-one basis. Advocates coordinates more than 1,000 employees in Central NY with a like number of special needs individuals, and has local offices in Liverpool and Fayetteville.
A recent ride beginning in Fayetteville was attended by 15 cyclists, six of whom were from Advocates. The ride was so successful that an additional ride was added at the end of the season’s published schedule.
What has made these rides so appealing to the Advocates? One person begins by describing the mentors as “dedicated to helping others.” The mentees have a limited opportunity to get out into our communities, and as a result, are especially enthusiastic when that opportunity is presented. Another mentor commented that the mentees “truly enjoy the history and tours.” Additionally, riding with a group allows them to be involved with a cross-section of our community and participate in the same endeavor at the same level. A mentor commented that they “want to be treated as equal with others,” and the rides achieve just that. At the end of a ride they are all very appreciative to the leader for his or her time and involvement.
The Erie Canalway Trail, as the Towpath is known, is designated as a multi-use trail. At least one of these uses has a profound effect on the participants.
*For more of the many activities developed and orchestrated by the OECCWG, see the Old Erie Canal of CNY Facebook page or visit their website at: www.TourTheTowpath.com.
The author appreciates the assistance of Jamie Kowalczk of the Madison County Planning Dept.