The Erie Canal is something New Yorkers and beyond so often take for granted. A revolutionary feat of engineering built by the generations before us, the Canal connected the east to the west, opening the state to trade routes across the nation. The communities built along the banks of the Canal could thrive with their economies based around the knowledge, goods and people who traveled across New York State.
In part to celebrate this history, but also with an eye toward the best way to utilize the canal for the next 100 years, in 2020 Governor Andrew M. Cuomo released an ambitious plan to reimagine how the Erie Canal and Canal system could be revitalized for the 21st century. The plan sought to identify potential new uses for the Erie Canal that would improve the quality of life for New Yorkers and find new opportunities for recreation and tourism. The plan also called for assessing several environmental concerns, including how management of the Canal system could mitigate impacts from flooding and ice jams to improve resiliency.
In March, the New York Power Authority and Canal Corporation Board of Trustees were provided an update on the successful launch of the first phase of Reimagine the Canals projects in 2020. Following Governor Cuomo’s ambitious directive, NYPA and the Canal Corporation are investing $300 million over five years to reimagine and revitalize the state’s iconic Canal system. This initiative is in addition to NYPA’s annual $140 million investment into the Canal’s continued maintenance, operation, and infrastructure.
In its first year, Reimagine the Canals launched a pilot program to mitigate ice jams and improve resiliency along the Erie Canal and Mohawk River in Schenectady County; successfully redeployed canal water management gates to extend the fishing season and improve the renowned angling experience in Western New York; began design work on the Brockport Loop Pedestrian Bridge that will connect SUNY Brockport to the Empire State Trail in Monroe County; and worked with Madison County to select a developer to create a unique pocket neighborhood in Canastota.
In addition, the design of a new whitewater course in Cayuga, the illumination of iconic canal infrastructure, and the redevelopment of the historic Guy Park Manor in Amsterdam into a hospitality destination continue to advance as part of Reimagine.
One of the biggest highlights of 2020 came at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the New York State Canal Corporation, through Reimagine the Canals, promoted six hubs of canal and trail activity and celebrated local canalside businesses across Upstate New York. Nearly 3,000 people participated in this program, which offered four free outdoor excursions by kayak and/or bike in Schenectady, Chittenango, Seneca Falls, and Rochester – allowing visitors to exercise both mind and body while still practicing safe social distancing.
In the coming months, Reimagine the Canals will be identifying additional investments that will drive tourism and local outdoor recreation along the length of the Canal, and researching projects that will improve resiliency and sustainability. Reimagine the Canals seeks to make the Canal system an economic driver for these communities through recreation, tourism and new developments. The program is not only the best way to maximize the value of this critical piece of New York’s history, but to collectively celebrate our history.