Parks & Trails New York and the Canalway Trails Association New York recently released their sixth annual report, “Closing the Gaps: A Progress Report on the Erie Canalway Trail 2015,” detailing progress made in completing the statewide Erie Canalway Trail as a continuous, off-road route.

With 288 of 360 miles open to the public, the ECT is 80 percent complete and on its way to becoming the longest trail of its kind in the U.S., and a significant tourist destination for upstate New York.

Extending 360 miles across New York, the Erie Canalway Trail is a multi-use trail that brings important economic, public health, tourism and quality of life benefits to more than 3.7 million New Yorkers living within the 14 counties in which the trail is located.

While the ECT’s economic impact for upstate New York is already significant — a 2014 study found that the trail generates $253 million in annual economic impact and supports over 3,000 jobs — the trail’s full potential as a tourism destination and recreational asset for New Yorkers won’t be realized until the remaining gaps are closed. Only then, when the 200 communities along the canal’s route are connected by a continuous off-road trail, will the trail’s potential to tell the story of the Erie Canal be realized, with great corresponding economic and community benefits.

Cyclists from across the U.S., and around the world, come to New York state to ride alongside the historic waterway. Recreation and natural beauty are only part of the trail’s appeal. The story of the Erie Canal is central to the history of New York state, so for many a trip on the Canalway Trail is a way to connect with the state’s cultural heritage. Historic and working canal infrastructure, charming communities and the many museums and attractions along the route reinforce this connection and make the Canalway Trail unique among trail systems.

Since the “Closing the Gaps” campaign was launched in 2010 by Parks & Trails New York and the Canalway Trails Association New York, in conjunction with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, interest in completing the ECT among citizens, community leaders and local, state and federal government officials continues to grow. As a result, significant progress has been made in closing the gaps. Under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s leadership, more than 32 miles of trail have been rehabilitated, constructed, planned or are under construction.

Progress made in 2015:

Construction was completed on 5.5 miles of new trail, from Lockport to Pendleton. This leaves only 2.5 miles of unfinished trail in western New York, which, once complete, will provide more than 130 miles of continuous off-road trail in western New York.
In Amsterdam, construction began on the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook, a $16.5 million pedestrian bridge that will connect Amsterdam’s south side and the Erie Canalway Trail to the city’s downtown and Riverlink Park.
In Wayne County in the town of Galen, two new sections of stone dust trail were completed, connecting Lock Berlin Park with Black Brook Park, and on to Old Route 31.

There still is much work to do. Seventy-two miles of Erie Canalway Trail are unfinished. For approximately 20 of those miles, there is an identified source of funding and work is programmed to start within the next three years. For an additional 54 miles of trail, an estimated $40 million in funding is needed for corridor purchase and/or design and construction. However, by taking advantage of opportunities, such as federal Transportation Alternatives Program funding available through the Fixing America's Surface Transportation, the Fast Act, or the state’s Consolidated Funding Application grants programs and by ensuring a strong commitment to closing the gaps among all levels of government, it may be possible to have the entire 72 miles of trail underway or planned by the bicentennial of the start of construction on the original Erie Canal, in fall 2017.

The New York State Canal Corporation operates, maintains and promotes the 524-mile New York State Canal System, as well as 300 miles of Canalway Trail. The iconic canal system has been enlarged twice and in continuous operation for 191 years. Though still used for commercial transportation, today, New York’s canals serve primarily as a world-class destination for tourism and recreation. The Canalway Trail system offers multiple uses in all seasons, from cycling, hiking and horseback riding, to snowmobiling and cross country skiing. The backbone of the trail system, the Erie Canalway Trail, links canal communities from Buffalo to Albany, providing a venue for long distance cycling and heritage tourism.

“The canal trail is paving the way to a renaissance for our historic canal, while growing jobs, attracting visitors and connecting communities along the way,” said state Sen. Rich Funke, R-55th Dist. “I’m proud we are making significant investments to tap into the trail’s full potential as a tourism and economic development magnet for communities like mine across upstate New York. I thank Parks & Trails New York, the Canalway Trails Association New York and everyone who is helping to ‘Close the Gaps’ along our canal.”