Bicentennial Rides

2017 not only marks the 200th anniversary of Erie Canal construction. It’s also the 200th birthday of the bicycle, invented in Germany. Celebrate both by cycling these bicentennial routes on the Erie Canalway Trail:

  • Cycle from Rome to Syracuse in the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park. Start in Rome and you’ll be at ground zero for canal construction. Dignitaries turned the first shovel of soil in Rome on July 4, 1817. Why Rome? To ensure early success, workers started first on the easiest, most level section. Canal surveyors laid out the “Long Level” extending in both directions from Rome. This 66-mile section, from Frankfort in the east to the outskirts of Syracuse to the west, was completed without a single lock. You’ll see a number of aqueducts and bridges as you ride along the old canal—and it will be just as level for cycling as it was for canal construction 200 years ago.
  • Cycle in the Capital Region and visit Cohoes Falls. The steep climb out of the Hudson Valley around Cohoes Falls at the eastern end of the canal was one of the biggest obstacles to canal construction. Engineers designed 18 locks in Cohoes to climb 165 feet of elevation and circumvent this barrier to westward navigation. View the 75-foot cataract from Falls View Park and look for the remains of the stone locks that operated here in the 1800s adjacent to the parking area for the park. Follow the trail west for a scenic ride along the Mohawk River/Erie Canal.
  • Cycle from Lockport along the Erie Canal in Western New York. In June 1825 one of the final sections of the Erie Canal was completed in Lockport. The Lockport Flight of Five was a staircase of five locks that solved the challenge of helping boats climb the 60-foot Niagara Escarpment. Start your trip at the locks and visit the nearby Erie Canal Discovery Center, which showcases the building of the famous Flight of Five. Cycle east from Lockport; the trail is adjacent to the longest section of the canal that still follows its original path and retains its historic relationship to the communities and landscapes along its banks. You’ll discover historic Main Streets, lift bridges, farm fields, and 20th century locks alongside historic lock ruins, canal engineering marvels, and cobblestone and local sandstone buildings.
  • Go End-to-End. Cycle from Buffalo to Albany and, like thousands of canallers before you, connect Lake Erie with the Hudson River. When you do, you’ll get a sense of the Erie Canal’s impact as the longest artificial waterway and the greatest public works project in North America.The canal gave rise to villages, towns, and cities, opened the interior of North America to settlement, and put New York on the map as the Empire State.

There’s a lot to celebrate in 2017! Head to the Canalway Trail and let the fun begin!

The First End-to-Enders

As both the bicycle and the Erie Canal celebrate their bicentennial this year, we thought it would be fun to highlight one of the earliest bicycle trips taken along the Erie Canal 120 years ago. Earlier this year, Dave Patterson of Missoula, Montana found a detailed travel log of his grandfather’s bicycle trip during the summer of 1897 between Albany and Buffalo and shared it with Parks & Trails New York. “From Albany to Buffalo: An Account of a Pleasant Wheeling Tour Across New York State” describes in detail the sights, route, amenities, and difficulties of the earliest known end-to-end trip along the Erie Canal. To the thousands who have followed in their tracks since then, the experience holds some familiarity.

Austin Patterson and his riding companion Frank Chew left Albany in the early evening of June 21, 1897, with the goal of reaching Buffalo in less than two weeks. Almost immediately, they experienced mechanical issues. Undeterred, they “made a good start on the fine cycle path that extends, with but one poor stretch, clear to Schenectady.” Aside from battling an uncooperative chain, Austin lost a pedal and his tool bag somewhere on the dark trail between Albany and Schenectady. As anyone who knows about the perils of early bicycle touring can attest, these mechanical issues didn’t stop after the first day. Austin faced everything from a stubbornly persistent flat to a crash involving another rider from Utica near Clyde.

Edison Hotel, Schenectady

Schenectady’s Edison Hotel (via Schenectady Daily Gazette)

Similar to today’s experience, Austin and Frank encountered accommodations that varied from the “fine” Edison Hotel in Schenectady (“our money was plenty then,” Austin writes) to the 25-cent-a-night Franklin House in Amsterdam, where Austin writes that he “lost sleep that night on account of mosquitoes or – something.” People living along the route also opened their homes to the touring cyclists, including one memorable host in Clyde, Henry Barton. Austin writes that for only 75 cents, they stayed in a “neat room with a double bed…and in the morning, enjoyed a plentiful country breakfast with amiable Henry B., his large wife, pretty dark-eyed daughter, and bright-faced boy.”

The similarities start to disappear, though, as soon as you read about the food they ate along the way. Now when most touring cyclists seek out a hearty meal to refuel, they eat granola bars, fruit, and carbohydrate-loaded meals like bread and pasta. Almost every day, Austin and Frank subsisted on pastries, cakes, candy, and milk. On June 29, Austin writes that “we reached Palmyra a little after 2 PM. Our dinner had been entirely of cherries, so we got some cake and ice cream to back it up.”

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Austin Patterson’s itinerary from the first documented End-to-End bicycle trip along the Erie Canal in 1897.

Another difference between End-to-End touring in 1897 and 2017 is the route between Buffalo and Albany. While the Erie Canalway Trail did not exist as a 360-mile off-road route in 1897, Austin and Frank did take advantage of a variety of off-road paths. Outside Utica they encountered a “fine cinder path built by local wheelmen.” These private paths appeared across the country during the late 19th and early 20th centuries to provide cyclists with a smooth place to ride in an era when paved roads were just starting to make their debut. They usually required club membership or a toll to take advantage of the privilege of riding on the equivalent of a modern-day multi-use path. “In spite of the many placards hinting that those who did not help pay need not ride, we sailed along with easy consciences, believing that as visiting wheelmen we were entitled to all the privileges of guests,” Austin wrote. Other separated paths existed between Albany and Schenectady, in the Mohawk Valley between Little Falls and Herkimer, and an early-day rail-with-trail between the railroad tracks through Mohawk, Ilion, and Frankfort. Today, much of the Erie Canalway Trail uses the abandoned towpath, with cyclists, hikers, runners, and dog-walkers sharing the historic path. In 1897, during the Erie Canal’s heyday, cyclists using the towpath had to contend with a different definition of multi-use. Austin writes that despite taking advantage of a better riding surface than the adjacent roads, “we had to be on our guard against being thrown into the canal by the mule-ropes.”

The most relatable experience Austin documents comes at the end of his trip, 11 days after he left Albany: “the last fourteen-and-a-half miles were asphalt and over this I rode down into the heart of the city of Buffalo—the goal attained at last.”

Click here to read Austin Patterson’s “From Albany to Buffalo. An Account of a Pleasant Wheeling Tour Across New York State”

Do you have an Erie Canalway Trail End-to-End story to share? Visit our website to register as an End-to-Ender and tell us about your journey.

CUSE Cycle Hits the Trail

Have you noticed the new bike share docks and bikes at Onondaga Lake Park? You may have seen several bright white bikes with orange tires docked next to each other in the Willow Bay parking lot. If you have, you’ve been introduced to CUSE Cycle, a new bike sharing system on East and West Shore Trails that parallel the shoreline.

CUSE Cycle is the brainchild of Dave McKie and McKie Sports, a sporting goods store on State Fair Boulevard in Syracuse. While the shop focuses on hockey equipment, they’ve also rented bike and rollerblades out of a garage at Wegman’s Landing on the east shore of Onondaga Lake for 20 years. In 2016, owner Dave McKie unveiled a new two-wheeled service, CUSE Cycle. Modeled on the CitiBike system in NYC, CUSE Cycle allows users to use their smart phone to rent a bike for a day or week, or to purchase an annual membership. Daily and weekly users have access to the bike for 24 hours, but must check into a dock every 30 minutes or they will be charged a fee. Annual members can use the bike any time for up to an hour each use, and are charged less for going over the time limit.

CUSE Cycle chose an equipment vendor, Republic Bikes, known for both quality of product and technological innovations that keep costs down and save energy. Each CUSE bike is outfitted with a solar panel and Bluetooth wireless technology to power and facilitate rental, docking, and tracking. They are sturdy and easy to use, with regular maintenance performed by McKie Sports.

2016 served as a trial run for the service on Onondaga Lake. 15 bikes and three docking stations were put in service on September 1, and operated until October 18. Each dock had eight parking slots to avoid overcrowding. Dave McKie reported that most users were happy with the service, and that several members purchased annual memberships which will allow them to use the service until next September. There were some technical issues, and difficulties experienced by some users with the smart phone app prompted installation of additional signage and information at the docking stations.cusecyclemap

In 2017, CUSE Cycle will expand to 20 bikes and four stations. Luckily for Erie Canalway Trail fans, the new station will be located in the parking area for the Lakeview Ampitheater and the NYS Fairgrounds, relatively close to the trailhead at Reed Webster Park/Warner’s Road. Depending on weather, bikes and stations should be installed in March or April.

Welcome to the Canal Corridor CUSE Cycle!

Cycle the Erie Canal – Better Than Ever!

The 2015 edition of PTNY’s Cycle the Erie Canal was a huge success, with approximately 600 riders making their way across the state on the historic Erie Canalway Trail.

In addition to the record-breaking number of persons participating, this year’s ride also featured a new return shuttle to Buffalo and enhanced menu options at the tent cities along the route. Of course, cyclists were treated to the eclectic mix of trailside attractions, community welcome stations, tours, and nightly entertainment that has come to define the yearly ride. All in all, this year’s CTEC was the best yet!

Enjoy pictures from the ride, and from the finish line celebration in Albany on Sunday, July 19th. You can also find day-by-day coverage of the ride and more great pictures from Lori Van Buren, at the Times Union.

What a ride…

What a finish!

Inaugural Tour the Towpath Showcases Old Erie Canal Trail Section

The 36 miles of Erie Canalway Trail that run through Old Erie Canal State Park are some of the most picturesque along the entire state-wide route. A new event, Tour the Towpath, showcases these scenic stretches and the historic communities that they connect on a one- or two-day supported ride.

On Friday July 31, the inaugural Tour the Towpath, kicked  off on the Old Erie Canal State Park section of the Erie Canalway Trail between Rome and Dewitt. Along this  historic Long Level section of the original Erie Canal, in use between 1825 and 1917, cyclists ride on the original towpath, in the hoofprints of the trail’s intended users.

Organizers of the Tour the Towpath report that more than 50 riders took part in the first-time event. Participants were able to choose between a two-day ride, leaving from Rome on Friday and arriving in Dewitt on Saturday, and a one-day option leaving from Rome on Saturday. Riders’ ages ranged from a green six years old to a “young at heart” 87. Lots of families hit the trail together, with two-day riders over-nighting in Canastota, where free tours of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, the Great Swamp Conservancy, and the Canastota Canal Town Museum were offered. Add a band and a movie on the lawn at the campsite and you had plenty of happy campers.

One-day riders weren’t left out, either. These participants dispensed with the formality of an overnight, and instead rode the entire 36 miles from Rome to DeWitt on Saturday. They must have been anxious to catch up with the two-day riders who left Friday, as both groups rolled into Dewitt as the community’s 47th Annual Canal Fest was in full swing.

Enjoy the pictures below, and congratulations to all the event organizers on what is expected to become a new summer tradition on the Old Erie Canal!

Karen’s Ice Cream and Produce – a must-stop on the ECT

IMG_6310Inventive ice cream flavors, such as Caramel Cheesecake Cookie and Cappuccino Crunch,  and healthy, fresh produce make Karen’s Ice Cream and Produce in Fort Hunter a must-stop on the Erie Canalway Trail. Located right off the trail, across Route 5s where the Mohawk River and Schoharie Creek meet, Karen’s serves up homemade treats including specialty ice cream, delicious pies and burgers and fries.

IMG_6311 The popular eatery is truly a family operation with siblings doing everything from managing the restaurant, to advertising, to working the fields for fresh produce.  Karen’s has long been a favorite of Cycling the Erie Canal riders, with cyclists finding inventive ways to take whole pies on their bikes to enjoy the tasty treats later that night.

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