New York State Transportation Law Article 349-bb defines a “scenic byway” as a transportation route and adjacent area of particular scenic, historic, recreational, cultural or archeological characteristics which is managed to protect such characteristics and to encourage economic development through tourism and recreation. This is the story of the Mohawk Towpath Byway.
“Richard White-Smith proposed a byway as early as 1994, when I first started on the planning process for what became the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor,” says Karen Ingelke. White-Smith became a member of the MVHC Commission.
In May 1998 the New York State Department of Transportation called for proposals for new scenic byways. Richard identified and proposed the eastern end of MVH Corridor, specifically Schenectady to Cohoes and Waterford, as a good candidate. Karen Ingelke, the Commission’s Executive Director, suggested the “Mohawk Towpath Trail Scenic Byway” as the name, “Mohawk” to tie it with the River and the Native American influence and “Towpath” to tie in the Erie Canal and that portion of the history when draft animals provided the transportation power. Isabel Prescott, another member of the MVHCC at the time, recalls Richard White-Smith’s enthusiasm for a scenic Byway through the “…agricultural landscape linking the areas if innovation and industry at both ends.” Isabel adds that Karen Ingelke and Richard White-Smith were early advocates and the source of the vision of the Mohawk Towpath Byway.
The Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission obtained an FHWA Byway Grant to draft a corridor management plan for a byway.
Both Henrietta O’Grady and I sat on the Saratoga County Heritage Trails Committee. She represented the Town of Halfmoon and I represented the Town of Clifton Park. One of the key features of a county wide system of interlinked trails included heavily cycled Riverview Road and the Towpath Trail in the Vischer Ferry Preserve. These bicycle and pedestrian routes overlapped the proposed byway and it’s corridor. My curiosity was peeked by announcement of a public meeting to discuss the byway proposal at the Vischer Ferry Fire House on March 2, 1999. I recall that the major discussion revolved around standardization of signs: way-finding, interpretation, and recreational access signs associated with byway branding. Following the meeting I drafted and Henrietta O’Grady edited a letter of support. That letter firmly placed both Henny and I as members of the early advocacy committee.
“MVHC hosted a bus tour of the byway that included OPRHP folks, some MVHC commissioners, and interested parties along the proposed trail. There was great enthusiasm among the travelers to move forward on a corridor management plan for the byway. Barbara Henderson was the MVHCC staff person assigned to the byway project. Isabel Prescott and Chris Callaghan were very involved during the planning period,” adds Karen Ingelke.
Barbara Henderson commuted all the way from Oswego to attend monthly advocacy committee meetings. Her tenacity, attention to detail, and ability to inspire volunteers to contribute details, work together for a common goal, and share over political boundaries assured the project’s success.
By late 2001 Barbara had guided the advocacy committee to complete a Corridor Management Plan which was presented to the N Y S Department of Transportation. The State Byway Advisory Committee, chaired by David H. Fasser accepted the plan and recommended that the Mohawk Towpath Byway become one of a network of New York State Scenic Byways. Working with the area’s state legislative representatives, the advocacy committee assisted in preparing legislation, sponsored by Senator Hugh Farley and Assemblyman Ron Canestrari, which passed both houses of the State Legislature. The bill was signed into law by Governor George Pataki on July 22, 2003.
For her accomplishment Barbara Henderson was named “Mother of the Byway” by the newly constituted Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway Coalition, Inc.