The Erie Canal is a his­toric cen­ter­piece along the Great Loop.

Passage Maker - - Contents - STORY AND ART JEAN MACKAY

The art of cruis­ing the Erie Canal Jean Mackay

Head up New York’s mighty Hudson, turn to port just north of Troy, and pre­pare to en­joy one of the na­tion’s most his­toric wa­ter­ways: the leg­endary Erie Canal. Cruis­ing here of­fers a va­ri­ety of scenery and ex­pe­ri­ences—you can nav­i­gate through tow­er­ing locks, cruise from vil­lage to vil­lage, and travel through dra­matic val­leys and bu­colic coun­try­side.

The Erie Canal is part of the New York State Canal Sys­tem, a 500-mile net­work of in­land wa­ter­ways that also in­cludes the Cham­plain, Oswego, and Cayuga-Seneca canals. To­gether, they con­nect the Hudson River with Lake Cham­plain, Lake On­tario, Cayuga Lake, Seneca Lake, and Lake Erie via the Ni­a­gara River, al­low­ing boats to travel from the At­lantic Ocean to the up­per Great Lakes.

When the canal opened in 1825, its sell­ing point was speed: The canal dra­mat­i­cally cut travel time for both cargo and peo­ple and opened up a whole new way to reach Amer­ica’s in­te­rior. To­day, the canal of­fers just the op­po­site: a chance to slow down, re­lax, and ex­plore all the fas­ci­nat­ing places along its shores.

Fif­teen Miles on the Erie Canal

New York­ers are proud of their canal her­itage, and you won’t make it through the Erie Canal with­out some­one singing “Low Bridge (Ev­ery­body Down)” or see­ing mule stat­ues and col­or­ful mu­rals com­mem­o­rat­ing the canal’s trans­for­ma­tive im­pact on the state and na­tion. As you travel, you’ll see ev­i­dence of the canal’s in­flu­ence ev­ery­where you go: streets that lead to the wa­ter, unique ar­chi­tec­ture, art mu­se­ums, and his­toric the­aters built upon wealth brought by the canal.

Erie His­tory

The orig­i­nal Erie Canal tra­versed 363 miles from Al­bany to Buf­falo, the long­est ar­ti­fi­cial wa­ter­way and the great­est pub­lic works project in North Amer­ica. The canal gave rise to ci­ties, towns, and in­dus­try all along its path and put New York on the map as the Em­pire State—the leader in pop­u­la­tion, in­dus­try, and eco­nomic strength. It trans­formed New York City into the na­tion’s prin­ci­pal sea­port and opened the in­te­rior of North Amer­ica to set­tle­ment.

In ad­di­tion to cargo, the canal brought a flow of peo­ple and new ideas. So­cial re­form move­ments, like abo­li­tion­ism and women’s suf­frage, thrived along the canal’s cor­ri­dor. New­com­ers in­fused the na­tion with a va­ri­ety of lan­guages, cus­toms, and re­li­gions.

The suc­cess of New York’s canals led the state to en­large them sev­eral times over the years to ac­com­mo­date larger boats and in­creased traf­fic. The most re­cent en­large­ment, com­pleted in 1918, moved much of the cen­tral and east­ern por­tions of the canal sys­tem into canal­ized rivers, while widen­ing and deep­en­ing the dug chan­nel along its orig­i­nal path in western New York.

One of the best parts of cruis­ing the Erie Canal is ex­plor­ing the many towns and vil­lages along the wa­ter­way. Many of th­ese com­mu­ni­ties pro­vide vis­i­tor cen­ters with re­strooms, showers, power, and other ser­vices. Oth­ers have docks or places to tie up within walk­ing dis­tance of shops, restau­rants, and at­trac­tions. Home­town hospi­tal­ity is a hall­mark of the canal cor­ri­dor—you’ll meet friendly lock ten­ders, har­bor­mas­ters, and greeters who take pride in car­ry­ing on the nearly 200-year-old tra­di­tion of wel­com­ing trav­el­ers.

A Na­tional His­toric Land­mark

The New York State Canal Sys­tem's ex­cep­tional scenery, his­tory, cul­ture, and nat­u­ral re­sources earned the 524-mile wa­ter­way and the com­mu­ni­ties along its shores a Con­gres­sional des­ig­na­tion as the Erie Canal­way Na­tional Her­itage Cor­ri­dor in 2000. The en­tire wa­ter­way was des­ig­nated a Na­tional His­toric Land­mark in 2016. It has been in con­tin­u­ous op­er­a­tion since 1825, longer than any other con­structed trans­porta­tion sys­tem on the North Amer­i­can con­ti­nent

• The Water­ford Flight is a set of five locks that raise boats 169 feet in just 1.5 miles. That's twice as high as the to­tal lift from sea level to the sum­mit of the Panama Canal.

• In the Mo­hawk River Val­ley, boats pass through 'The Noses"—two steeply sloped hills on ei­ther side of the riven This east-west gap be­tween the Adiron­dack and Catskill Moun­tains made it pos­si­ble to con­struct the Erie Canal. .

• Lock 17 in Lit­tle Falls is the high­est lock on the canal, rais­ing and low­er­ing boats 40.5 feet It was the tallest lock in the world when it opened in 1915.

• The canal is still used to haul cargo, usu­ally ob­jects that are too large to de­liver by rail or road or are cheaper to ship. Crushed stone and build­ing ma­te­ri­als ac­count for the largest ton­nage.

• Lock­port's ex­tra­or­di­nary "Flight of Five" is one of the most iconic fea­tures of the Erie Canal. The stair­case of stone locks and wooden gates used in the 1800s are right next to the sim­i­larly re­mark­able Locks 34 and 35 in use to­day.

• The wa­ter­way is home to an im­pres­sive va­ri­ety of wildlife. Even ca­sual ob­servers will see great blue herons, ea­gles, and ospreys while cruis­ing.

• The Cayuga-Seneca Canal con­nects the Erie Canal at Mon­tezuma to 92 miles of canal­ized rivers and lakes. The re­gion in­cludes Seneca Falls, cel­e­brated as the birth­place of the women's rights move­ment; Mon­tezuma Na­tional Wildlife Refuge; and the Fin­ger Lakes Re­gion, renowned for its nat­u­ral beauty, wine coun­try, and world-class cul­tural and recre­ational at­trac­tions.

Fif­teen lift bridges carry traf­fic over the Erie Canal in western New York. When a boat ap­proaches, the op­er­a­tor stops traf­fic on the road­way and raises the deck of the bridge 15 feet to give clear­ance for pass­ing boats.

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