— Nancy Papish
The year 2025 will mark the 200th Anniversary of the opening of the Erie Canal. Many events are being planned for 2025 between Albany and Buffalo and beyond to celebrate the canal’s completion. Declared the eighth Wonder of the World by many at the time, this gem sites in your very own back yard. But you don’t have to wait until 2025 to enjoy tours and shows.
A free, self-guided tour already exists called the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway. The Byway is a federally recognized, 26 mile drive between Waterford and Schenectady showcasing sites and sounds and a wide variety of activities.
If you have never seen the 70 foot high Cohoes Falls, go look at it after a really good rain storm. Follow the Mohawk River down to the junction with the Hudson River in Waterford. There see the remains of the Champlain Canal which was completed in 1822, before the Erie Canal. Then check out the Waterford flight – five locks lifting the Barge Canal 169 feet in just 1 1/2 miles to circumvent the Cohoes Falls. Above the falls, head north to Crescent and cross the Mohawk River on the Route 9 bridge. At this very spot, the Erie Canal crossed the Mohawk River on a huge 1,137 foot long stone bridge with 26 spans—the longest aqueduct on the entire canal system. For the next 13 miles to the west, the Erie Canal hugs the Mohawk’s shore through southern Saratoga County. Here along the Byway you can discover a preserved lock, a Whipple Truss bridge, three ferry landings pre-dating the canal, a birding sanctuary and several nature preseryes, plus places to fish or launch canoes and kayaks. There are plenty of opportunities to park your car and walk miles of trails. Some are along the shore of the barge canal; some are, in fact, on the original towpaths of the Ditch and Enlarged Canal still filled with water. Drive through the village of Vischer Ferry with its beautifully maintained canal-era homes and quaint general store. Then cross back over the Mohawk River on Route 146 at the canal town of Rexford. The Rexford Bridge is in the same spot where a second stone aqueduct carried the Erie Canal back to the south side of the Mohawk. After crossing the bridge, from a park just east of the traffic circle, you can see a few remains of the 14 original stone spans of the 610 foot aqueduct. Following Aqueduct Road to the west will bring you to Erie Boulevard in downtown Schenectady. This wide road is actually the canal filled in and paved over.
Special road signs mark the entire Byway route; maps and information available at mohawktowpath.org show the more than 30 designated stops where you can listen to audio descriptions of the history that happened here.
What are you waiting for? Let’s celebrate the opening of the Erie Canal now!
[This article by Nancy Papish first appeared in the ECOS Newsletter and is used here by permission with added images.]