By The Numbers

Did you ever wonder how many visitors we get on the byway on any particular day, or week, or month? How do we relate that to amount of money a visitor spends? How do we define a visitor? How important is the Byway to our local economy? These are all very important questions as you and I consider the value of our time as we spend volunteering for the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway. Is our time really worth about $30 or is it worth more? Do we get a “return on this investment?”

Local professionals visited Lock 4 in 2009.

Since the pandemic outbreak it has been interesting to count the number of cars in the parking lot of various sites along Riverview Road and in particular the various states represented by the license plates or tags. Are these numbers significant when you consider the numbers if bicyclists that are on the Towpath Trail who may have biked here or after parking at a remote location.

Are the statistics for the calls to the self-guided cell phone based tour service significant, since someone could be calling from his location, for example, in Phoenix, AZ just for curiosity. But he or she might be planning a vacation.

“…well promoted Byways that feature heritage and cultural locations along the roadway giving visitors plenty of place to visit and spend money, complimented with destination distinctive accommodations and local cuisine, can feasibly generate between $250,000 and $450,000 per mile, per year in visitor spending.” – Dr. Maree Forbes, National Travel Center.

I say our volunteer time is worth a lot more than $30 per hour! Many thanks for your help during the year.

Canalway Challenge

Join us Saturday, August 20 for a Rotary Canalway Challenge. Meet at the historic Niskayuna Train Station, Lions Park on Rosendale Road at 9 AM. We will bike, scooter, run in either direction: to Niskayuna GE Corp Research and back, or toward Colonie’s Mohawk Landing Park and back. We will share refreshments at Old Niskayuna Train Station Lions Park, Niskayuna. Rain date August 21 at 1 PM. #canalwaychallenge

Historic Niskayuna Station, Lions Park.

Grant Received!

Thank you to the Town of Clifton Park for the grant from the Community Preparedness and Resiliency Fund!

Eric Hamilton, Secretary, and Larry Syzdek, Board Member, gratefully receive the Grant at the June 21 Town Board meeting. Hopefully we can use these funds as a local match for a larger Federal Highway Administration grant through NYSDOT Byway grant to complete the Mohawk Towpath Byway Corridor Management Plan. Councilwomen Linda Walowit can be seen in the background.– photo by Jean Spiegle

“The event was very inspiring to me seeing all the wonderful not for profits and volunteers in our town. Wonderful people doing caring and wonderful work,” exclaimed Larry Syzdek.

Invasive Species


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Over crowded vegetation has become a problem around the main entrance to the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve. It is so thick that observation of the open marsh lands is impossible: impossible to see and even more challenging to interpret. The first stop on the Byway’s self-guided birding trail is engulfed in a “jungle” of vines held up by a mass of sufficated dead trees and brush.

In this “before” Jeff Slater and Paul Olund stand near a mass of foliage with the main “old town road” trail seen behind them on the left. This is just south of the Whipple Bridge. The yellow survey tape is meant to mark the area where a number of invasive species including Asian bittersweet, multi floral rose, and honeysuckle have taken over. An occasional grape vine adds to the interwoven and braided mass. The red peaking through the foliage to the right is a chain link fence gate post that was historically closed during flood conditions. This is a “before” picture.

After about three hours of work with pruning shears, garden racks, machete, bow saws, and other hand tools five of us were able to open up a twenty foot wide panorama around STOP 31. Some of the work was on hands and knees, even on our butts!

This is intended as a demonstration project. No attempt was made to prevent regrowth. Continued cutting is anticipated to keep this area open. Our experience here will factor into the stewardship chapter in the Corridor Management Plan. It is obvious that we will not prevent continued spread of these invasives, but perhaps we can better understand the dynamics of their growth and ways to control their spread. The crew includes Jeff Slater, Mary MacDonald, Nancy Papish, Eric Hamilton, and Paul Olund captured this image.

And a special thanks to Nancy Papish who remembered water. The building heat even on an early spring day was oppressive.


I brought a weedwacker to the site and mowed over the regrowth of bittersweet. I also noticed some emergent fern, thistle, and a couple of burdock shoots. I think the idea of over-seeding with native wildflower species after future spring cut-back is a good one.

I spent the better part of an hour in the stand of Japanese Knotweed hacking out a sixty square foot area and generated over 50 pounds of debris. I will dispose of this in the garbage. If we are going to make a dent in this we have to attack it earlier in the season with repeated cuttings (try on a monthly basis?) during the growing season.

Clean Sweep

By Nancy Papish

Nine stalwarts from North River Friends of Clearwater joined forty-five volunteers from a combined group of pickers from Shenendehowa Rotary, Interact of Southern Saratoga and Friends of the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway in and around the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve. NRFC selected a portion of the towpath between Ferry Drive and Erie Canal Lock 19. The main trail had numerous pickers so the trail got pretty clean fairly quickly. Several of us, therefore, decided to fan out on various side trails where we had better luck, and resent flooding provided more stuff closer to the banks of the Mohawk River in Saratoga County.

Collected trash to the left and lunch for all!

One member drove his van along the historic towpath and picked up the full bags and items retrieved that would not fit into the bags. Back at the foot of Ferry Drive, we were rewarded with pizza and water next to “the pile.”

After lunch we went back down to Lock 19 and joined the celebration where Friends of the Byway gave a plaque to Peter Bardunias for his ten years of dedicated mowing and brush clearing around this beautiful double lock. Several years ago Peter also engaged a group of high school students to design and build a wooden footbridge across one chamber. Visitors can now more closely examine the second chamber which was doubled in length almost forty years after the first chambers were built. Peter was thankful for our clean up, and we were thankful for all his work all these years.

Peter Bardunias (third from left) is awarded the Stewardship Award by Eric Hamilton and Paul Olund, Friends of the Mohawk Towpath Byway.

One of our NRFC members, Kitty Trimarco, is a ninth generation descendant of the original settler – Nicholas Vischer (1734) on Ferry Drive. His house still stands and Nicholas’ son Eldert Vischer, operated the Ferry across the Mohawk River before the many versions of the N Y S Canals ran along or in the river. Her family stories added to the joy of the day shared by all of us canalers. Kitty Trimarco is pictured here congratulating Peter Bardunias.

[A footnote observation: blood root and coltsfoot were in bloom.]

Byway Flooding

One of the seasonal problems on the Mohawk River is the build up of ice on the river as much as a foot thick.  If we have a winter thaw involving a significant amount of rain the ice tends to break up and accumulate making an ice dam restricting downstream flow.  This is the second winter the the tug Margot has been tied up above lock 7 to break up the ice as it forms between there and Schenectady.  With this winter’s mercuric freeze/thaw cycles the tactic worked.  However seeing a tug boat landlocked on the otherwise closed and frozen waterway is an unusual and strange sight.

Flooding also occurs from unusually heavy spring rains. Such weather occurred this spring specifically April 6 and 7. The Vischer Ferry Preserve with all its wetland acts as a flood control structure naturally holding flood waters that might overwhelm downstream residences and riverside structures. As frustrating as it seems to not be able to use some of the recreational facilities in the Preserve, it could be worse. Flooding pictured here was just below the level of the Riverview Road pavement.

Worse flooding occurred after the area was inundated with the two hurricanes during late August 2011. The following photograph shows the resulting flooding over Riverview Road in Halfmoon just west of the Boyack Road intersection. The Byway was impassable for the better part of two days until the water receded.

Cohoes – Crescent Road

In November 1935 , 350 men were employed on the Cohoes – Crescent Road project under the Albany WPA program. A budget of $66,000 was approved for the project, and the wage scale for workers started at $15 per week.

Spindle City Historic Society Newsletter, spring 2022.
This circa 1920 photo shows the remnant of the 1842 Erie Canal at the toe of the slope in the foreground. The Towpath became the Cohoes – Crescent Road. The current version of the Erie Canal constructed over a century ago can be seen in the background (right to left) above the Crescent Dam.

The Town of Colonie and the Mohawk Towpath Byway completed a study of alternatives to improve safety and bike and pedestrian alternatives along this stretch of the Byway. Barton & Loguidice did the engineering study which included five alternatives in 2013. The preferred alternative would cost nearly $5 million (in 2013 construction costs). Construction would provide a parallel bike and Pedestrian pathway along river’s side of the town highway. This study was funded by a $18,000 grant the Byway obtained from the Federal Highway Administration Byway program in 2012 through the New York State Department of Transportation.

At the time the Town of Colonie was only able to obtain funding to repave the roadway between Route 9 and the City of Cohoes boundary.

College Connections

Some fantastic promotional suggestions came out of the New York State Canal Conference in Schenectady this past summer. These are aimed at reaching a demographic that the Byway has not thought of previously and using partnerships that we have not taken advantage of previously. I have to note that one membership of the Friends of the Mohawk Towpath Byway is a parent of a Siena College student who combines a visit to the Byway when visiting his favorite college student.

We also have a very resourceful connection with the geology department at Union College. Dr. John Garver’s specialty is hydrology and water quality in the Mohawk River and tributaries.

But another connection is the beloved Whipple Bridge that graces the main entrance to the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve. Squire Whipple, an early graduate of Union College designed a truss bridge that was widely used on the Erie Canal as earlier generation wooden bridges started to deteriorate and become maintenance issues.

Historically as we look at our major educational institutions in the area all of these were established during the early nineteenth century during construction of the original Erie Canal. Later in that century more engineers were needed to design and enlarge the Erie Canal.

We should further cultivate our relationships with our local academic institutions. For example, not every visiting college family wants to sit through a football game. They might want to experience the fall foliage or the magic aroma of apple cider donuts being crafted at a local orchard; or the migrating bird populations passing through our area during the Homecoming weekends.

Finally, these college connections could provide insight to the economic impacts of visitors to the Mohawk Towpath Byway; could assist us with a better understanding of what appeals to our visiting public; and recommend how to market to these visitors. Ultimately they might hold the key to the potential sustainability with resource conservation, developing sustainable recreational opportunities, and other facets to implementation of our Byway’s Corridor Management Plan.

Time Marches On…

As we struggle with the concept of stewardship within the Mohawk Towpath Byway corridor we can evaluate our effectiveness over the course of a life time. One hundred years ago we had just abandoned the enlarged Erie Canal which passed through what is now the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve. We were proud of the new Barge Canal. Communities along the 1842 Enlarged Erie Canal were bypassed as commerce on the Barge Canal bustled.

So what has happened during the past century along the old Erie Canal? As we have relied more on fossil fuels what is now the Byway Corridor has regrown to forests in many places where there once were extensive agricultural lands in the rich floodplain soils. Trees have grown up along the canal berms and towpaths. As these trees mature they reach their leafy branches out over the canal to take advantage of the sunlight.

We humans want to continue using these towpaths and berms for recreational purposes. We want to fish the old canal and kayak, canoe, even ice skate. But these uses may be in conflict with the natural progression of reforestation. Canal side trees continue to reach for the sunlight yet we maintain trails on the towpath that restrict root growth that would hold the maturing tree in place. The tree with limited ability to support itself falls into the canal as a victim of a severe storm, blocking what little flow remains in the canal, and begins to capture sediment from annual flood waters.

Nature is trying to reclaim itself.

Let’s look at the geological features. Two centuries ago our imaginative forefathers used rudimentary tools to cut limestone blocks to build the early Erie Canal locks. A relatively soft limestone was ideal for this purpose and could be worked with chisels and hammers and dragged by mules and horses to boats that could bring them along the newly dug ditch where more manual workers and draft animals would work them into place.

Some of this softer limestone is currently weathering away so that early locks are now disappearing. Lock gates crafted meticulously of oak have long since rotted away along with iron straps that resemble huge hinges have oxidized leaving only the carved grooves to inlay them in the limestone. Even harder limestone carved with steam powered saws during the 1842 enlargement are weathering making it increasingly hard to visualize and interpret our history.

How do we define stewardship and historic preservation within the realm of these natural processes?

Oxford Dictionary: stew·ard·ship | ˈst(y)o͞oərdˌSHip | noun the job of supervising or taking care of something, such as an organization or property.

Many Thanks!

Thank you to all those who helped with our Love Our Byway events this summer. We made a difference with some routine maintenance, with improvements that will last a lifetime, or other contributions and personal touches that contribute to a more personal visit to our special places.

Those who participated included Friends of Clifton Park Open Space, Friends of the Mohawk Towpath Byway, North River Friends of Clearwater, Shenendehowa Rotary, and Southern Saratoga Interact.