Closing the gaps on Erie Canal will draw bicycle travelers

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Just like the movie says, “If you build it, he will come.”

In the case of the Erie Canalway Trail in New York state, “he” is 500,000 bicyclists annually.

The Canalway Trails Association of New York says that about 75% of the 365-mile canal towpath between Buffalo to Albany is complete as an off-road bicycle path.

Completing the remaining 75 to 80 miles will cost about $35 million, according to a report issued this month by the association: “Closing the Gaps: A Progress Report on the Erie Canalway Trail”.

Annual payback

In addition to creating jobs for hundreds of workers, the completion of an off-road link from Albany to Buffalo will draw more bicyclists to the area who will spend an estimated $5 million annually, a huge economic benefit for the 200 cities and towns along the route.

The area sees about 1 million bicyclists a year already.

According to the report, US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand launched a “Close the Gaps” campaign last year to get residents and local officials on board to finish renovating the towpath of the old Erie Canal.

'Right ingredients'

Parks & Trails New York Executive Director Robin Dropkin told the Little Falls Times,

“The Erie Canal Corridor has all the right ingredients to become a bicycle touring destination — picturesque villages, impressive historic sites and museums, charming bed and breakfasts and inns, ample campgrounds and country stores and farm stands, but what it lacks is a trail that is fully complete.”

Four miles of towpath will be converted to a bike trail between Newark and Lyons in 2012. Another 2 miles of trail will be finished in city of Rome in 2012, trail repair in the town of Glen is scheduled.

Five gaps

The report says that $35 million is needed for corridor purchase or design and construction in five major gaps.

The  New York State Canal Corporation this year requested $21 million in federal TIGER III funding and pledged a matching $14 million. The canalway bike path project did not make the federal funding list.

While some gaps just need funding for completion, other parts of the historic canalway have been lost to other development and new corridors need to be found.

In addition to individuals who tour the historic canalway by bicycle, many join the Erie Canal Bike Tour, scheduled next year from July 8-15.

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