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.

Love Our Byway

The Mohawk Towpath National Scenic Byway is Planning a roadside cleanup on portions of the scenic route between Waterford and Cohoes west to Schenectady.  The Love Our Byway event will see groups adopting segments as short as 1.5 miles and some a three mile segment.  The volunteer event is scheduled for August 21 staring at 10 AM with light refreshments at 11:30 AM at the overlook of the Mohawk River at the end of Ferry Drive in the hamlet of Vischer Ferry.

As the Official Automotive Partner of the National Scenic Byway Foundation, Toyota is seeking to educate the public on our nation’s amazing system of byways while encouraging volunteerism. Clifton Park Toyota is proud to sponsor this Love Our Byways volunteer beautification event and encourages everyone in the community to come out to participate.

If you or your group would like to help out with this volunteer effort on your local segment of the Byway please email eric.hamilton@mohawktowpath.org or call 518-371-7548.  We will share information where to join an established group or where additional help is needed.

Southern Saratoga Interact will be helping out with the event. Can you join us?

“Our objective with this project is to clean up litter carelessly discarded along the corridor that stretches through three counties and the local municipalities of Cohoes, Schenectady, and the towns of Clifton Park, Colonie, Glenville, Halfmoon, Niskayuna, Waterford, and the Villages of Scotia and Waterford.” says Eric Hamilton, Executive Director for the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway Coalition.  He adds, “It’s hoped that we can rejuvenate an adopt the roadside program that most municipalities have, but have not received the attention that they need to have a positive impact on the Byway and the visitors impression and experience.” 

“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.  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!  It’s important that we maintain the historic and recreational resources.  But also provide an attractive first impression to our neighbors and visitors.”

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?


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…”



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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.