It seemed like a simple straightforward project: clean up the vegetation around Historic Erie Canal Lock 19 to make it more of a local destination. A number of organizations have tried it over the last 40 years, but with lack of maintenance Mother Nature would reclaim the area and it would fall back into an overgrown, neglected state. In mid-2011, Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway Executive Director Eric Hamilton took a walk in the woods that changed the course of this area for the foreseeable future.
One of the Mohawk Towpath Byway’s partners is the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County. This started early last year when the Chamber named a new President/CEO, Peter P. “Pete” Bardunias. Pete first visited the southern Saratoga County area on his family boat over a decade ago. With his love for boating recreation he was drawn to the local history and the Erie Canal, and as leader of the Chamber he was in a position to do something about it. The walk he and Eric took to Historic Lock 19 started a discussion that has led to renewed energy and innovation along the Mohawk River’s northern shore.
The towns of Clifton Park and Halfmoon have a sizable grant to reconstruct the Towpath of the 1842 Erie Canal through the Vischer Ferry Preserve to join up with the Crescent Trail in Halfmoon. As we near the final design stage of the project it is becoming apparent that there may not be sufficient funds in the grant to accomplish the complete reconstruction. By incorporating more “in kind service” into the project, grant funding could be directed toward more critical parts of the capital construction of the Towpath Trail. Further, historic Erie Canal Lock 19 could be opened up and become another destination along the Towpath Trail and the Mohawk Towpath Byway.
To secure these “in kind” services, the Chamber turned to some of their key partners including Curtis Lumber, GE, Momentive Performance Materials, Turner Construction, and County Waste. Two major efforts were undertaken: a project to cut back the vegetation around the lock 19 remnants, and the design of a bridge across the south chamber of the lock to get maintenance equipment to the center of the double chamber lock and to provide easier access for public observation of the Lock.
In early spring 2012 crews coordinated by the Chamber and Turner Construction came in and began the process of cutting out larger trees and some of the brush that had grown up over the listoric lock over the years. This effort culminated with a Community Clean Up Day publicized as a part of the statewide Canal Clean Sweep on the anniversary of Earth Day.
Turner Construction Sr. Project Executive James Wachala worked with the Shenendehowa High School Technology Department to bring together 80 students in teams of 10, each matched up with a mentoring professional engineer from GE, Momentive Performance Materials, or Turner Construction. The students looked at all facets of the project from design of a bridge to marketing Lock 19 as a destination. Winning teams were announced soon after the end of the school year.
Ground breaking for the bridge to access the high ground between the historic two lock chambers was held in August 2012. The materials for the bridge are being provided by Curtis Lumber. Turner Construction crews will construct the bridge alongside the Lock on the adjacent Towpath Trail. The bridge is expected to be placed in October by a Turner Construction crane with the walls of the eastbound lock used as a foundation.
“This is really a tremendous opportunity not only to preserve history but also look ahead to its place in the future,” says Chamber President/CEO Pete Bardunias. “The work done at Historic Lock 19 will not only preserve it for future generations but also create entrepreneurial opportunities for businesses in nearby Vischer Ferry to provide services to visitors to the site.” Janet Kennedy, Executive Director of the Lakes to Locks Passage, told attendees at the recent “Mighty Waters” conference that the Historic Lock 19 is the template for bringing together business interests, government administrators, education, and civic groups for the benefit of the community.
In the early 1800s a generation of immigrants came to America to construct what was then the world’s technological marvel – the original Erie Canal. Nearly 200 years later a new generation of immigrants has come to once again lead the world, this time as employees of GlobalFoundries and other major companies here in Tech Valley. Partnerships like the Historic Lock 19 project tie us to our history as the community moves into a future of innovation with the nanotech industry.