Public Has Spoken!

True: the Mohawk Towpath Byway is a unique driving route from Waterford, Cohoes and Schenectady following the historic route of the Erie Canal and waterway west.

As I compile the notes, comments and suggestions from our resent public participation workshops I discover that almost all of you share my passion and mantra: the most important, most memorable experiences on the Byway occur once we leave our vehicle to discover the history, the recreational recourses, the natural world around us!

Thank you for your comments and suggestions. Comments received during the process have been summarized and circulated to all of you who participated. Even though the official comment period ended July 16, we always value your perspective. We will be editing the next draft of the Byway’s Corridor Management Plan over the next several months.

Protect and preserve our historic, natural, and recreational resources!

One of the suggestions made during the comment period was that we find a way to augment the flow in the 1842 enlarged Erie Canal pictured above. Duckweed and other aquatic vegetation and insects would be less prevalent.

Byway Corridor Management Plan

The Mohawk Towpath National Scenic Byway is reviewing and updating our corridor management plan (CMP).  As a part of this process we will be seeking public comment and suggestions through a series of virtual public workshops. To date we have had two lively, informative, virtual sessions one the evening of May 4 and a second on May 25. Our third and final workshop will be at 10 AM on June 15, 2021. This session is intended to focus on the central portion of the Byway including the Towns of Halfmoon, Colonie, and Clifton Park, but we will discuss other parts of the Byway as well.

You are welcome and encouraged to attend this workshop session. Please join us by using this link. One can also call into the 10 AM session June 15 by dialing +1 646 876 9923 and using meeting ID: 818 4849 0741 and passcode: 935642. To obtain a copy of the most recent draft of the CMP email the Byway organization. Written comments are also welcome and can be mailed to the Mohawk Towpath Byway Coalition, at P O Box 90, Clifton Park, N Y 12065. But keep in mind that your comments, suggestions and ideas should reach us before July 17, 2021, to be considered as we finalize the CMP.

The Mohawk Towpath Byway is a series of local, county and state highways that follow the historic route of the Erie Canal between Schenectady and Waterford/Cohoes in upstate New York. As one travels the Byway you unlock the story of the Mohawk River, Erie Canal, the waterway west and the part our communities played in the westward expansion of the country and the Industrial Revolution.

“Our original Corridor Management Plan, adopted in 2002, has served us well, guiding us to success on many levels.  It is our hope that the updated plan will provide a community roadmap for the next 20 years and beyond,” says Eric Hamilton, Executive Director for the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway Coalition.

“We are hoping to have ideas and suggestions from a broad cross section of businesses and not-for-profits that serve the Capital Region Area,” emphasizes Peter Bardunias of the Capital Region Chamber.  “Of particular interest are those who cater to visitors to the area as well as those in our communities to make this a better place to live, work, and play.”

“Thousands of hours of volunteer time on the Mohawk Towpath Byway has paid off in contributing an enhanced quality of life to our neighbors and visitors.  Our corridor management plan provides direction for this effort.  As we improve the visitor experience we also make our communities more livable, with better access to recreational opportunities, cultural attractions, and our natural environment,” adds Larry Syzdek who chairs the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway Coalition.

“This area is steeped in history,” says Paul Olund, President of the Friends of the Mohawk Towpath Byway. “In fact compared to the other 184 Nationally Scenic Byways ours has been referred to as the short byway with a long history!”

Duathlon or not duathlon?

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Historically our premier fundraising event has been the Mohawk Towpath Byway Duathlon. Last year it was canceled, because we could not assure a safe, wholesome environment for our competitors and cadre of volunteers during the pandemic.

Should we try an eighteenth duathlon this fall? Some have suggested August 22 when the weather is apt to be better than mid October. October 17 brings the peak fall colors and provides an attractive season ending event for our returning serious athletes.

Do we have a mass start like we have had in the past or spread out the field of participants with an individual start? What about our post race feed: the Chicken Bar-B-Q along with the awards ceremony? These large group gatherings seem to provide a unique social atmosphere for novice participants and serious athletes alike. They also each involve a certain risk of disease transition.

Our sanctioning body, USA Triathlon provides a library of information and guidelines, all of which are helpful, but don’t address what individual athletes and our hosting volunteers will be comfortable with later this year.

Yes, we are planning a Duathlon. Early registration will be encouraged with a liberal refund policy. The format and details will be worked out as we go through the sanctioning process and build confidence among our sponsoring businesses and organizations.

Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated either as a comment on this post, as an email to the event director, or as personal contact with one of our officers or directors.

The Visitor Experience

by Nancy Papish

Visitors to the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway experience their time here at three different levels:

  • They drive the Byway as a pleasant escape from their daily routine;
  • They use the Byway as an access to adventure by getting out of their vehicle and doing some physical activity; or
  • They get involved with projects or programs to help others enjoy the experience and more fully appreciate the Byway.

Drive the Byway. It’s a pleasant afternoon drive just to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily routine. Motorcycle groups know it, because it is the second most traveled route in New York State. Others travel it as an alternate, more scenic connection between south-bound I-87 Northway and Schenectady.

Your access to adventure. This is when we entice our visitor(s) to get out of their vehicle to investigate one of many features on the Byway whether a natural feature, recreational opportunity, or a historic site. The self- guided tour stop or one of our interpretive signs might satisfy this interest or they might wish to pursue it further venturing into the Byway corridor.

The ultimate level in visitor experience is to have them involved in one of our projects or programs. These might be to enhance or protect one of our historic sites or features. It might be a project like cutting back vegetation that has over grown a historic canal wall, or a bridge to connect to an old towpath, or interpreting a feature either by taking a photograph, documenting research, making a sign, or contributing money or in kind services to complete one of our ongoing projects.

We should provide every opportunity for a visitor or any local resident no matter which level they wish to experience along the Byway: a Sunday afternoon drive; an exploratory or physical adventure and a list of projects that would grow out of our vision for a more compelling visit to our Byway.

Organization Officers

At the recent annual meeting of the Friends of the Mohawk Towpath Byway we elected John Loz as Vice President of the organization. John has been an active member for the past several years and was one of the key movers in establishing the very popular birding trail within the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve. This addition to our cell phone based self-guided tour was so successful that it garnered national attention through the National Scenic Byway Foundation.

Other officers and directors listed in the upper left of our home page were re-elected for another two year term. Our next meeting will be by Zoom on January 12, 2021 at 7 PM. Don’t miss this meeting we will have a presentation and discussion of our Corridor Management Plan (CMP). We need your vision and expectations!

Marketing and Promotion

I am stuck. I cringe whenever someone says, “We should do more to market and promote the Mohawk Towpath Byway.” This is not one of my strong points and I don’t think a hard sell is appropriate or even effective in this case. However, my most comfortable clothing is a bright orange tee shirt that has a prominent message “Bike the Byway”. Another is a frayed, pail blue, faded denim, collared shirt with an embroidered Byway logo in place of the chest pocket. I realize I am quite comfortable if an old friend sees me and mentally labels me as “Mr. Byway” before they can remember my real name.

“What’s the Byway?” is a perfect opportunity to launch into my elevator speech about the driving route between Waterford or Cohoes and Schenectady that follows the historic Erie Canal and the waterway west. It’s a perfect conversation as you are standing in a checkout line trying to figure out if you are keeping a safe “social distance.” Better than trying to figure out which credit card will work with this retailer.

Bike the Byway. Do you have one of these shirts?

One of the most memorable activities was the “Walk the Byway” event back in 2010. Larry Syzdek and I started out very early one summer day in downtown Schenectady. We had refreshment stops planned along the way. He dropped off at almost precisely half way (at his house) and Ruth Olmsted joined. One of the most uncomfortable segments was the stretch that included the Cohoes – Crescent Road with narrow shoulders and limited maintenance of the vegetation along the roadway. [Note that this is stipulated by environmental concerns for activities in the regulated wetlands right up to the narrow right-of-way]. But others joined us including my wife and other supporters. Cohoes, Waterford and Halfmoon were a rewarding way to end the day. This was a promotional effort that worked. Others worked and we will continue to work. Thank you for reading.

If you would like a soft, cotton tee shirt, tan with forest green silk screen that says, “Walk the Byway” I still have a box with limited sizes.  If you walk any part of the Byway or it’s many recreational assets and would like a Byway tee shirt, I will try to find your size… providing you tell me about your favorite walk on the Byway.

With those thoughts I am off to work on another chapter of your updated Corridor Management Plan…

“An effective Marketing and Promotion strategy should include a consistent, coordinated effort of online presence, regional effort with partners, individual or group visitor outreach and international initiatives with national partners…”

Bridged!

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The first half of the 100 foot pedestrian bridge arrived for installation at the site of a former farmers bridge just east of Clutes Dry Dock. The photo was captured by Larry Syzdek.

This is the crowning touch to improving recreational access to the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve. Construction including approach pathways, parking lot improvements, and soil stabilization will be complete by the end of October. Once complete the bridge will be opened for our (public) use.

We have once again bridged the historic 1842 enlarged Erie Canal. The farm fields to the right have long been abandoned and is now a remote forested “important birding area”. The Community Connector Trail behind trees to the right was (from 1842 to 1907) the towpath for the Erie Canal. the To the left is the site of a bustling canal community also abandoned in 1907 and now ripe for archaeological investigation and interpretation.

“…low bridge! Everybody down…”

To see a video of the action from fastening together to actual placement watch a video from the Town of Clifton Park’s FaceBook page.

Farmer’s Bridge

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The re-construction of the Farmer’s Bridge east of Clutes Dry Dock is progressing. A good vantage point without crossing a “trail closed” sign is from the west side of Clutes Dry Dock. Access from the small trailhead across from Male Drive. Then hike east a half mile down the historic 1825 Erie Canal towpath.

I can only speculate that they are working on the temporary crane pad and the forms for the bridge footings. This is the view from the footbridge that Leo Coons and his Scout troop recently built.

A week ago Sue Lasker captured this image on the south side of the Towpath Community Connector Trail.  The trail is shown in left foreground.
A week ago Sue Lasker captured this image on the south side of the Towpath Community Connector Trail. The trail is shown in left foreground.

Finale

Or is it a new beginning?

Friends of the Mohawk Towpath Byway installed the final of a dozen interpretive kiosks envisioned in the Byway’s Corridor Management Plan almost twenty years ago. It started out as a cool, cloudy Saturday. Two hours later the job was done and the posts set plumb and true, ready for the first eye curious about our agricultural heritage or about recreation on the Mohawk.

Innovation was the watch word for this kiosk. Federal Byway funds were dwindling and we needed a less expensive way to produce the panels. Metal panels were used with a graffiti resistant finish. These panels were glued to an exterior plywood with a urethane based caulk. The panels were then mounted in a frame of cedar.

Once in place in two excavated post holes the holes were backfilled with an expanding foam backfill. Bill Gutelius steadied the kiosk for a critical 15 minutes while the backfill set. Nancy Papish maintained an eye on the vertical plumb bubble.

This kiosk is located in Mohawk Landing Preserve on the southern boundary of Riverview Orchards on Riverview Road in Rexford. Check it out on your next visit to the Byway. The spot is quite accessible just a short walk from the parking lot, at the end of the first board walk. You can see the kiosk from the entrance (note the handicap parking space in the foreground and the kiosk just to Nancy Papish’s right in the background.

Besides Nancy Papish’s help We are most grateful for Bill Gutelius’ assistance with construction of the frame, and hauling the finished kiosk assembly to the site. In short this kiosk installation cost about half the cost of conventional polycarbonate resin panels with square aluminum frame.

Exciting Things Coming

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Some exciting projects are in the works to improve the recreation facilities in the middle of the Mohawk Towpath Byway’s corridor. The Town of Clifton Park and their contractor will be holding a reconstruction meeting early in June. The most notable improvement will be a new pedestrian bridge over the 1842 enlarged canal east of Clute’s Dry Dock, with associated trail and parking improvements. Construction will be happening this summer into early fall, with timing riding on delivery of a pre-fabricated pedestrian bridge.  Arrangements are being made with the Town’s contractor, Bette & Cring. A pre-construction meeting is planned for next week, at which time we’ll expect to have a more detailed schedule.   Barton & Loguidice will be conducting construction inspection on the Town’s behalf.  

The entrance to the preserve at Clutes Dry Dock will change dramatically over the summer and may be closed during critical stages of construction.

A second project to construct a footbridge to the right in the background will connect to the 1825 towpath trail. Eagle Scout candidate Leo Coons is organizing this effort. This project will start this week as timber beams crafted by Amish are delivered! 

Docks for hand-launched car top craft: canoes/kayaks within the Clute’s Dry Dock basin will be removed for repair and maintenance offsite. The docks will be returned and set back into place once the main bridge construction project is substantially complete.