Stirpe: Celebrating 200 years of history on the Erie Canal

Al Stirpe

On April 15, 1817, the New York State Legislature voted to construct the Erie Canal, and 200 years later, it continues to serve as a vital resource for our communities.

The 363-mile waterway represents an unparalleled accomplishment of early 19th-century engineering that helped shape the state’s transportation infrastructure. Upon its completion in 1825, the Erie Canal became the longest artificial waterway in North America.

It provided a connection point from the Atlantic seaboard to territories west of the Appalachian Mountains and, in the process, established New York as the nation’s premier seaport destination and commercial center. In 1825, a trip from Albany to Buffalo would have taken two weeks via stagecoach. Using the Erie Canal, the travel time was cut to five days.[1]

The Erie Canal’s designation as a national historic landmark is a reminder of the impact it had on the state’s commercial, industrial and transportation industries and how it continues to shape local economies. It also led to new insights in geology, hydrology and paleontology.[2]

Today, the Erie Canal isn’t used the way it was before the age of cars, trains and planes, but it still remains a tourism hotspot. The canal provides unrivaled opportunities for boaters, bikers, kayakers and pedestrians. The summer may be winding down, but we’re still in the heart of navigation season for boaters, who can enjoy the canal’s natural beauty until Oct. 11. And this year, Central New Yorkers who use their boats for recreational use can experience the canal system toll-free.[3] If dry land is more up your alley, the Canalway Trail provides more than 300 miles of trails for bicyclists, walkers and joggers.

To celebrate the Erie Canal’s 200-year history, the World Canals Conference 2017 will take place in Syracuse fromSept. 24-28. The conference will feature presentations on the state and national significance of the Erie Canal and is hosted by the NYS Canal Corporation, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and Visit Syracuse.

While we celebrate the Erie Canal’s incredible history and importance, it’s crucial that we do our part to preserve this national landmark’s natural beauty. Earlier this year, I held a canal clean sweep to celebrate Earth Day and clean the canal trail of Old Erie Canal State Park. The Erie Canal has been around for 200 years, and we need to take care of it so community members can enjoy its beautiful open spaces and parks for another 200.

To learn more about the rich history of the Erie Canal, I encourage you to visit the Erie Canal Museum located at 318 Erie Blvd. East in Syracuse. The museum is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. MondaySaturday and from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sunday, and admission is by donation.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, contact me at StirpeA@nyassembly.gov or by calling 315-452-1115.

[2] Eriecanalway.org/learn/history-culture/engineering

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