New Kiosks

New interpretive kiosks are being installed along the Mohawk Towpath Byway to help tell the story and highlight the significance of the individual sites.  One will be located at the Old Military Crossing of the Mohawk River between the Towns of Colonie and Waterford.  This crossing was used during the Revolutionary War during parts of the year when water was too high to cross at Waterford.  Today this is the site of the Crescent Dam on the Cohoes Crescent Road.

The other new kiosk will be located at the Lock 7 Overlook at the foot of Sugarhill Road in the Town of Clifton Park.  This is the location of one of the most challenging locations for construction of the original Erie Canal prior to its opening in 1825.  Before the advent of steam powered excavation equipment the work on the shale bedrock was done by hand labor. Canallers later identified this site as the “young engineer’s cut” and was the deepest cut along the entire Erie Canal with stretched 363 miles across New York State. This is the site boasts an excellent panoramic view overlooking the Mohawk River. This is also the western gateway to the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve.

“These interpretive kiosks were originally envisioned during early planning and preparation of the Mohawk Towpath Byway’s Corridor Management Plan almost 15 years ago,” admitted Eric Hamilton, Executive Director of the Byway.  “The kiosks are funded by a Federal Highway Administration Byway Grant through the New York State Department of Transportation Byway Program.

“Uncovering these bits of history along the Erie Canal has been a rewarding process,” adds John Scherer, Town of Clifton Park Historian. “The Mohawk Towpath Byway has many stories from natural history, Native Peoples, and generations of local residents.  These kiosks provide a glimpse of some of these stories.”

Colonie Town Historian Kevin Franklin observes that a lot of America’s history happened right here in our own back yards.  “Providing these kiosks helps to summarize these stories and tease visitors and local residents to learn more of their community’s heritage,” adds Franklin.  The kiosks are on public property and accessible year round.  The kiosks also include a QR code that provides access via smart phone to an audio recording by local people explaining the significance of each of the sites.

Photographs coming and an announcement about an official unveiling will be added shortly!

Duathlon Success

Registration Breather

Sue Lasker, Loueen Whalen, Mary Duclos and Isabel Prescott take a break from registration.

The final figures on the duathlon are in.  It was a successful event: it was a safe event, we had 99 competitors registered of which 84 finished along with three 2 person teams.  We had eight sponsors for a total of $3,100.  In addition the major sponsor Capital Region Landfills underwrote the event tee shirts for $2000.

Command Central

Larry Syzdek, Eric Hamilton, and Norm Schartzer caught together near the communications trailer

I figure we had 115 hours of volunteer hours into this project with an equivalent value of over $3,100!  Through that effort we made many new friends and only teed off a few unhappy motorists (none of them Byway visitors).

Bottom line: the Byway came out ahead by $2,737.

Thank you all of you who helped in so many ways!  If you worked on the project and didn’t pick up your Giffy’s Bar-B-Q chicken dinner… well it got eaten.  If you didn’t get a goody bag including tee shirt I will get one to you on your request.

In addition to CapitalDistrict Landfills our sponsors included Jeff and Kim Hamilton of Kennesaw, GA, the G E Foundation, Brookfield Renewable Power, Mohawk Fine Papers, Stewart’s Shops, Shenendehowa Rotary, Halfmoon Family Dental, Price Chopper/Golub Foundation, The Town of Clifton Park, and Riverview Orchards.

These photos were by Tracy Perry.  There are over 2000 photos of the competitors and volunteers by Kristen Hislop.  Look for her collection on her Google+ page and search on her name.

Next year why don’t you join the fun. It’s a two mile run, 17 mile bike ride through the scenic Byway corridor, and a two mile run to the finish. Not so ambitious? How about volunteering along side one of your neighbors? There will be over three dozen of us out there making it a safe and fun event!

Tenth Anniversary

Ten years ago today the Mohawk Towpath Byway became one of America’s Byways. Our Byway tells the unique piece of America’s history the sorry of the Waterway West, the Erie Canal and the role our communities played in the westward expansion of the country and in the Industrial Revolution.

Formal presentation of our designation as one of America's Byways

Formal presentation of our designation as one of America’s Byways on September 22, 2005. Dennis Adams, FHWA Byway Coordinator is on the left; Mark Woods, NY State Byways Coordinator is second from left; Dave Fasser, center, was recently retired and Chaired the N Y State Byways Advisory Board; Eric Hamilton; and J. Richard Capka, the Federal Highway Administrator (FHWA) is on the right.

We have come a long way since receiving this prestigious honor among a network of 150 Scenic Byways and All American Roads across the country. We have expanded and perfected our stories; we’ve mapped out an Action Plan for stewardship within the corridor; we’ve developed partnerships to sustain our efforts even as federal funding and support of the larger byways program dwindles; and we have a friends organization that has brought new enthusiasm to our efforts.

Celebrate the Mohawk Towpath National Scenic Byway! Happy Anniversary to us all!

Enhance the Journey as Well as the Destination

The Mohawk Towpath Byway has been described as the short byway with a long history.  In fact at 26 miles ours is one of the shortest of America’s Byways, but we have many stories:
– Natural history of the Mohawk Valley and the only water level route through the Appalachians,
– Native peoples of the region for many generations before European influences,
– Early European contacts and trade at the early frontier,
– Construction of the 1825 Erie Canal …by hand tools and horse power,
– The Cohoes Falls and geologic Mohawk River that made the Erie Canal a necessity for transportation, then the harnessing of water power,
– The role our communities played in westward expansion of our country and the Empire State,
– The 1842 enlarged Erie Canal and transportation during the early Industrial Revolution,
– The seat of innovation and the people from many cultures who contributed, and
– Thousands of individual stories that comprise our genealogical history.

Add another dimension to the layers of history.  It seems every week there is a festival, special event, or celebration that involve one or more of these stories somewhere within the Byway corridor.  The Erie Canal opens for navigation generally the first part of April.

The Waterford Tugboat Roundup – where maritime history comes alive.

The Waterford Tugboat Roundup – where maritime history comes alive.

Waterford celebrates with Canal Festival featuring all things related to the Erie Canal from local crafters and not-for-profits, to watercraft and rides through the locks, food vendors, to fireworks.  The next Saturday is the Cohoes Heritage Day with a signature 15 k run through every park and recreation way within the city.

Morris Dancers at the Apple Blossom Festival

Morris Dancers at the Apple Blossom Festival

The Apple Blossom Festival in the more historic, rural Clifton Park celebrates the new growing season with the beautiful blooming fruit trees, folk dancing and children’s games, nature hikes, spring trail cleaning, bee keeping, food, and music. The festivals and events continue Canal Festival, Tugboat Roundup, Farm Fest, Pancake Breakfasts featuring local foods, locally prepared.  These continue through the summer and fall and then the snow flies.  During the winter there are family moonlight cross country ski outings.

No matter what your destination within the Byway corridor the journey to that destination provides the memorable experience.

Out …of the Car!

Most drivers can negotiate the Byway in less than an hour. But to really discover the stories of the Byway we need to get out of the car. This is the challenge that brought me into the Byway community and made me a Byway enthusiast.

One of the most heavily used bike routes in Saratoga County includes Riverview Road in Clifton Park. When traveling at 10 to 20 miles an hour one sees much more detail and are more aware of your surroundings than in a car. There’s also a greater appeal to stop take a photograph, investigate a historic detail, or experience an unfolding natural phenomena.

PeeblesIslandPerhaps one of the best kept secrets in the Capital District is Peebles Island State Park in Waterford. There are miles of trails that pass through forests, wetlands, high cliffs overlooking rapids, even desert like areas with emergent vegetation all on an island where the Mohawk feeds into the Hudson River. There is also the Visitor Center for the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor in the the historic textile bleach works not far from the defenses built under the direction of Thaddeus Kosciuszko in 1776.

There are several self guided tours in the City of Cohoes which interpret the city’s textile industrial past or unlock the 1842 enlarged Erie Canal as it traversed the City. These tours even link to the original Erie Canal or Clinton’s Ditch as it was often called, built in the early nineteenth century. There are similar self guided tours in Schenectady two of which use a cell phone platform to provide interpretation as you walk through the historic neighborhoods.

Stop 6 SignThe Byway’s own self guided tour is designed to get visitors out of their vehicles at historic or other points of interest along the Byway corridor. With smart phone technology the user can compare what he is seeing today with historic photographs displayed on the devise.

Perhaps the biggest attraction to get visitors out of the car are our many family owned and unique businesses. From the Waterford Clock Works, to Riverview Orchards, to the General Store in Vischer Ferry, and the New York Folklore Society and other shops on Jay Street Each of these offer unique items, many lovingly handcrafted. If you know of other unique businesses within the Byway corridor please leave a comment below.

Sure you can do the Byway in less than an hour, but take your time.  Discover our stories and build an experience that is memorable and something you can share with others.

Create Ways to Travel Between Communities Without a Car

At first this seems like a classic paradox.  First of all, the National and State Byways Programs were established by the laws that authorize the Federal Highway Administration including funding for state highways.  It seems, at times, that the focus of the highway program is to move the greatest number of vehicles in the safest, most efficient way between any point in the country.  The contradiction arises when transportation planners try to create routes that are taken for pleasure as if to separate that traffic from those who have to be somewhere at a specific time or for a specific purpose, the highway versus the byway.

When in a travel mode, when on a leisurely vacation, we want an alternative to the usual and the mundane.  Taking a route less traveled is the appeal. Take this reasoning further and one starts looking for alternatives to the personal vehicle, into walking, cycling, even boating.

Mohawk Hudson Bikeway

Cyclists pause at the historic Niskayuna Station in Lions Park on the Mohawk Hudson Bikeway

One of our area’s most used hiking and cycling resources is the Mohawk Hudson Bikeway that connects downtown Schenectady, Niskayuna, through Colonie, to Cohoes.  This trail effectively connects each of the communities on the south side of the Mohawk River.  Another interesting trail is the foot trail along the old Champlain Canal towpath connecting Cohoes and Waterford, right into Waterford Harbor.

The towns of Clifton Park and Halfmoon will be reconstructing the Towpath Trail connecting Vischer Ferry with the historic community of Crescent best negotiated on foot or a trail bicycle.

Islands South of Crescent Park, Halfmoon

Kayaking the Mohawk River between Crescent and Dunsbach Ferry.

Perhaps one of the more memorable ways to get between communities is on the water.  At water level the journey takes longer than on a bicycle, but this is the way to understand this facet of our history and travel before railways or the current Interstate Highway System.  This journey is highly recommended whether one tries it in shorter segments in a kayak, on a major commercial water watercraft, or something in between like a pleasure boat or touring vessel.

Leave a comment below describing your favorite or most memorable mode of travel between our communities.

How Many Tourists are Too Many

As a young couple I remember staying at a seaside guest house where my wife and I shared a bathroom with another boarder whom we never met. We did befriend the establishment’s owner, whom I will call Flo, and her carpenter husband. The two were most impressed with our respect for their property and we were overwhelmed with their openness to letting people into their impressive historic home.

On our second visit Flo started to share with us stories of some of her worst customers. One of the stories Flo told was she rented one of her choice rooms, just beyond the living room to a middle aged gentleman. The room had her favorite rosewood octagon, key wound mantle clock that chimed the hour. Sometime during the night the guest had tried to silence the clock with blankets and pillows. This was an affront to Flo who “threw the bum out” with instructions to never return. To Flo this was one tourist too many.

Each of us has a threshold for how many guests is too much. The rule I am comfortable with is respect my special places as though they are your own. This is the basis for, “If you carry it in, carry it out.” “Leave nothing behind but your footprints.” This is the foundation of good stewardship.

Falls View Park

Falls View Park

One of the early tenants of the Mohawk Towpath Byway Coalition is to balance the changes and developments along the Byway corridor with the need to preserve our natural and historic resources. Encouraging the constructive use of our resource will provide the economic engine to fund efforts to preserve for generations to come. Perhaps the most rewarding outcome is to have visitors embrace the preservation effort with the same enthusiasm as many of our local residents. That’s sustainability in the broadest meaning of the word.

With the depth and authenticity of our stories, variety of our recreational resources, and appeal to a broad demographic, visitors will come, and, more importantly, return.