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.”

AustinPatterson-itinerary

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.

Erie Canalway Trail delivers big

The Erie Canalway is making a difference and PTNY’s new study has the data to prove it. The first comprehensive study of the Erie Canalway Trail, recently released by Parks & Trails New York (PTNY), found that the Erie Canalway Trail (ECT) experiences more than 1.58 million visits per year. Spending by ECT visitors generates approximately $253 million in economic impact and $28.5 million in taxes and supports 3,440 jobs in the local economies within the trail corridor. The study was commissioned by PTNY and funded in-part by the New York State Canal Corporation and the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.

According to the study, it is overnight stays that have the greatest impact on visitor spending. While overnight visitors to the ECT constitute only 18.25% of the total volume of visits, they generate 84% of overall spending, primarily for lodging and bars and restaurants.

The study also includes surveys of more than 500 trail users which reveal much about the demographics and preferences of Erie Canalway Trail visitors that can be of value for future marketing efforts. Typical users of the ECT are employed members of Generation X (ages 30-49) who live within five miles of the trail. They have at least a college degree and a household income equal to or slightly above the state’s 2012 median household income of $57,683. They spend on average $26.37 per person per visit.

Responses from trail visitors also confirmed that the ECT is an important contributor to the health and quality of life of those who live near it. More than half of those surveyed use the trail at least once a week for 30-60 minutes, most for health and fitness. Almost everyone surveyed said the trail had a positive effect on their well-being.

Information from the 22% of those surveyed who specifically identified themselves as vacationers provided additional data that tourism promotion agencies, chambers of commerce and local businesses can use to better target that market segment. Especially important is the finding that 96% of vacationers said the ECT was a strong factor in their decision to visit or stay in the area and it was the bicycling and the natural scenery that attracted them most. Typical ECT vacationers spend on average $939 per person per visit and stay at least three nights in a hotel or motel. 

PTNY will use the study to support its “Close the Gaps Campaign,” as a benchmark for future economic impact studies and to inform its soon-to-be launched multi-faceted Erie Canalway Trail marketing program aimed at adventure travelers and national and international cyclists. PTNY also hopes that the positive economic results will instill government, business, and tourism officials with the confidence to invest in additional ECT marketing, promotion, economic development, and trail enhancement efforts. 

Read the full report here.

PTNY releases 2013 Who’s on the Trail Report

Who's-on-the-trail

In a  continuing trend from recent years, walkers were again the dominant users of the Canalway Trail. According to the  2013 Who’s on the Trail Report, 47 percent of trail users in Brockport and Albion were walkers, while cyclists made up another 40 percent.  Estimates of annual usage for the four count locations in these two western New York villages varied from a low of approximately 31,000 visits at the Albion Canal Park to 72,000 visits at the Main Street Bridge in Brockport.

Most cyclists (96 percent) rode traditional bicycles, but recumbent cycles, tricycles, hand-powered cycles and bikes with children in seats or trailers were also observed. About 51 percent of all cyclists were wearing helmets, which is just above the national average of 50 percent.

whos on the trail fig 1

Understanding the volume and nature of trail use is critical in deciding how best to maintain, enhance and promote the Canalway Trail System. It is the hope of both the New York State Canal Corporation and Parks & Trails New York that annual trail count data will justify current and future levels of support for the trail, encourage local involvement in its enhancement and promotion, and provide a base from which to evaluate its impact on the local economy of  Canalway Trail counties, cities, villages, and towns.

Check out the full report for more information!