400 Miles, 400 Smiles

23 Cycle the Erie Canal tours have been completed and this one may could win the “most appreciated” award out of the more than two decades worth of tours Parks & Trails New York (PTNY) has hosted. After taking a year off in 2020 because of COVID-19, PTNY staff made a challenging decision in the spring of 2021 to proceed with the 23rd annual tour at a limited level. The abundant compliments and positive attitudes of riders from 39 states (and Israel) this year suggested an air of gratitude from the 400 riders, volunteers, and staff – ranging in age from 12 to 88.

This year’s pedal was still 400 fabulous miles, still 8 days packed with adventure, yet had some new features and locations to address some of the few restrictions that remained in place.

The bike corral outside of Rome’s Fort Stanwix

BIKE CORRAL AT FORT STANWIX/ VERONA BEACH STATE PARK

A unique scene unfolded in Rome, NY at the end of Day 5 as bicycles were carefully placed in designated sections that were then corralled into Ft. Stanwix National Monument (traditionally where the Day 5 overnight location occurs) by over 20 staff and volunteers for safe overnight storage. Riders were shuttled to a new overnight location for the tour: to the shady, lakeside beauty of Verona Beach State Park. After a 50-mile pedal from Syracuse to Rome, cyclists greatly appreciated dipping into the refreshing waters of Oneida Lake then heading into the lively vacation town of Sylvan Beach for dinner.

Overnight at Fairport’s Center Park

NEW CAMPING LOCATIONS IN FAIRPORT AND SENECA FALLS

This year’s participants also experienced two other new camping locations that have not been a traditional part of the tour in past years. Instead of camping on the usual school grounds at the end of Day 2, riders were treated to the open green fields and indoor pool facilities of Center Park—a municipal park in the canalside town of Fairport just southeast of Rochester.

The recreation and parks commission of the historic Finger Lakes town of Seneca Falls opened one of their locations, Vince’s Park, for our participants to camp after a 51-mile pedal from Fairport. Hungry cyclists descended upon the town that evening to patron the many restaurants and pubs, fueling up so they could reach the monumental halfway point just west of Syracuse the next day.

MORE TRAIL, LESS ROAD

One of the most common compliments emanating throughout the finish line in Albany was the remarkable amount of new trail they encountered throughout the ride. Returning riders (about 30% of participants this year) referred mostly to the new sections near Ilion and Syracuse where they recalled from past years how anxious they would get along the shoulders of what was then on-road routes. The smooth pavement and worry-free trail was an absolute joy for the cyclists of all levels of experience.

The new sections of trail had been completed as part of the state’s historic investment in creating the Empire State Trail. In total, more than 50 new miles of Erie Canalway Trail have opened as part of the completion of this momentous project – and all to the highest design standards found in the state. The fresh pavement, trailhead improvements, and safe crossings at roadways made an incredible improvement in the quality of the experience for the riders – many of the riders who had ridden on a previous edition of the tour commented on the improvements to the trail as a whole – noting that each year, the ride gets even better.

PTNY Board Member Rob Basch speaks with a local news outlet at a rest area

COMMUNITIES AND MEDIA

From local organizations to Amish families, from radio to television, diverse communities and media outlets from Buffalo to Albany came out to welcome and acknowledge the riders pedaling through their area. The St. Johnsville Chamber of Commerce placed welcome signs at the trailhead to encourage riders to pop into their small Montgomery County village where they had the pleasure of speaking with and recharging cyclists towards the end of their sixth day on the trail. Amish families who set up stands along the route offering baked goods and lemonade benefitted from the sweet tooth many riders possess.

Dozens of cyclists, volunteers, and staff gained their Fifteen Minutes of Fame from the frequent video cameras, photographers, and microphones of numerous media outlets that recorded the event throughout the 8 days. Some of these snippets can be viewed in the In the News section of our website

Riders reaching the halfway point of the historic Erie Canal were greeted with cheers from local volunteers. Photo courtesy of Frank Forte Photography.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Cycle the Erie Canal planners are already looking forward to 2022 with hopes that any of the limitations faced in 2021 will be lifted and we will return to the ride that has made this event a destination for thousands of riders over the past two decades. Stay updated on the latest announcements by joining our Cycle the Erie Canal Tour email list.

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