Governor Andrew Cuomo today (May 15) announced the opening of the 2018 navigation season along the 524-mile New York State Canal System, as it celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
The eastern Erie Canal, stretching from Brewerton to Waterford, opens today. The remainder of the system, including the Erie Canal, from Brewerton to Lockport, and the Champlain, Oswego and Cayuga-Seneca canals, opens on May 18.
“New York’s canal system helped build the Empire State and it remains a key economic and tourism driver,” Governor Cuomo said. “I encourage New Yorkers and visitors alike to come and experience this great New York resource for themselves.”
This is the 194th year vessels have traversed the Erie Canal. The first boats of the year began their journey on the system following a ceremony this morning in Waterford, the Erie Canal’s eastern terminus.
“The Erie Canal is an integral part of New York history and has always been one of my favorite summertime destinations,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “For many years the Canal System was an essential part of our transportation economy and today is a significant driver of tourism across upstate, supporting jobs and small businesses. I look forward to another great season on the canal.”
Gil Quiniones, president and CEO of the New York Power Authority, the parent agency of the Canal System, said, “Whether you’re on the water or walking on a canal trail, the Canal System is a prime destination for outdoor fun in New York. The heritage and beauty of the canal corridor make for an unbeatable combination.”
For the second straight year, the Canal Corporation has waived tolls for recreational vessels to encourage more boaters to visit.
The canals will remain open to recreational boaters through Oct. 10.
A study commissioned by the Canal Corporation found there is nearly $400 million annually of direct tourism and recreational spending tied to the canals and Erie Canalway Trail. The Canal System also has an estimated $6.3 billion economic impact from non-tourism spending tied to hydropower, irrigation, providing water to golf courses and factory operations as well as commercial traffic.
The state Canal System, formerly known as the Barge Canal, was first championed at the end of the 19th century by then-Governor Theodore Roosevelt, who wanted to enlarge New York’s canals and make them more competitive with railroads to attract freight shipments.
The Erie Canal had first opened in 1825, but it had lost traffic because it was deemed too narrow and shallow to accommodate large shipments.
Instead of relying exclusively on manmade channels, as the first two versions of the canals did, engineers “canalized” large lakes and rivers and installed locks, movable dams and guard gates to regulate water flow and enable safe navigation channels.
The Barge Canal was built starting in 1905 and officially opened in Waterford on May 15, 1918.
Compared to the Panama Canal, which was built in roughly the same time frame, the Barge Canal is 10 times longer, has nearly 10 times as many locks, and yet was built for one-third the cost using only state money.
Major events on the Canal System this year include a four-month journey by the Corning Museum of Glass GlassBarge, to mark the 150th anniversary of when the Flint Glass Company moved its operations from Brooklyn to Corning and shipped its equipment on the Erie Canal. The GlassBarge, which will have a mobile glass-blowing theatre with 150 seats, will open to the public in Brooklyn on May 17 and make 28 public stops through September.
For a list of events on the canals, go to https://eriecanalway.org/explore/events. For more information on the Canal System, including hours when locks are open, go to www.canals.ny.gov.