State of the Byway

What is the Mohawk Towpath Byway?

…the road between Waterford/Cohoes and Schenectady that follows the historic route of the Erie Canal.  Traveling the route you uncover the “waterway west” and the role our communities played in the westward expansion and Industrial Revolution.

Whats a Byway?

Bike the Byway with the Mohawk Valley to the west.

Bike the Byway with the Mohawk Valley to the west.

…a public road having special scenic, historic, recreational, cultural, archaeological, and/or natural qualities that have been recognized as such through legislation or some other official declaration.

The Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway Coalition is a not-for-profit with our 10 municipal members and a representative from Schenectady County.  The Coalition oversees the implementation of our corridor management plan.  Not only are we one of the network of roads in New York State’s system of scenic byways, but we are one of America’s Byways® a collection of 150 scenic byways across the U S that tell a unique part of the America’s history and culture.


  • Self Guided Byway Tour of features along the driving route well marked by way-finding signs.
  • A series of Interpretive Kiosks along the Byway corridor.
  • Recreational assets in each of the ten municipalities. 
  • A website and Google Voice 518-406-8610 contact phone number.
  • A cadre of enthusiastic volunteers.


  • Cell Phone operational platform


    Sharing the Byway stories at Canal Festival at Mabee Farm Historic Site.

  • Printing marketing and tourist oriented materials
  • Maintain way-finding signage
  • Sustain a vibrant and fresh web presence
  • Keeping volunteers engaged and rewarded.

What’s going on along the Byway? 

It seems like every weekend there is a local festival or event (see the calendar) or a work party.  There will be events through the fall and winter.  And then spring comes and we celebrate the opening of the Erie Canal for another season with Canal Days in Waterford Harbor.

What projects are you involved with?

One of our top priorities along the Byway is to raise community awareness.  We have such rich history within our communities.  We have some great recreational opportunities, natural history, cultural centers.

Another major project is our scenic conservation initiative.  This revolves around what we want the Byway to look like for our next generation.  Change is inevitable.  There are small changes that occur every day.  It is important that as these changes occur that we do not loose the character of our communities and our sense of place.

The Byway Is Run by Volunteers

How can we help?

Friends of the Byway clean up ready for the summer season.

Friends of the Byway clean up ready for fall events.

  • Roadside and canal cleanup by youth groups, neighborhood associations, fraternal organizations, and businesses.
  • Scout Projects to expand recreational opportunities
  • Improve assess to historic features
  • Hosting local events and festivals

What is the Vision?

We have this vision of being a tourist destination, regional, national and international.  With all the levels of history, unique recreational assets, cultural centers …we have so much to offer in this area that we take it for granted.  As more and more people become aware of what we have, the more we will want to maintain the character of our communities and our heritage. 


Even as federal and state funding are declining the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway remains a vibrant community of volunteers who have a strong sense of place esteem.  Can we show you around, and share a story or two?

Sharing the Stories

IMG_0426The Canal Fest at the Mabee Farm Historic Site has to be one of the most unique spaces in which to share the stories of the Mohawk Towpath Byway.  The barn provides a period setting, a large audience of all ages and interests, and a relaxed atmosphere.  Here Mary MacDonald (behind a visitor) shares stories, experiences, and sense of place with a small, but interested group.  I estimate that several hundred people stopped at our booth in the four hours we were there.  The only attraction that garnered more interest was the free Stewart’s Ice Cream offered in the kitchen!  Next year won’t you join us?


Summit Success


Kathy Sheehan discusses Guided Tours in Historic Institutions along with co-panelists John Scherer and Mary Zawacki, both seated. – photo by Tom Lindsay 

“There’s a ship!” explained Philip Morris excitedly to grab everyone’s attention.  Then he went on to describe the use of live theater as a story telling venue.  That was the keynote address at the Mohawk Towpath Byway Story Telling Summit on June 6 at the Mabee Farm Historic Site.  Thirty six people participated either by sharing their story telling techniques or by actively listening to the four fast paced panel discussions during the day.  More detail of the day’s program and more pictures click here.  Everything we always wanted to know about story telling from basic principles, for an audience interested in popular culture, through historic institutions, innovative methods in the 21st century, to folk music and the ballad.

The day also included sumptuous food for a light breakfast, catered lunch buffet, and finger foods at a late afternoon reception all arranged by the Friends of the Mohawk Towpath Byway.  The audience included our Byway enthusiasts and byway leaders from Ohio and Kansas!

Develop our story is the top priority of the Friends of the Byway.  This Summit met our needs!

Last Chance to Register

StoryTellingSummitRegister now for the Mohawk Towpath Byway Story Telling Summit on June 6.  This fast moving series of four panel discussions with a line up of guest speakers on how to tell the compelling stories of the Mohawk Towpath Byway.  The day starts with the principles of story telling, folklore, and interpretation and wraps up with modern story telling techniques using social media, documentaries, and cell phone.  We will share some great food, stories, camaraderie, and a key note inspiration from Philip Morris, CEO of Proctors.

Register now!


Intrinsic Qualities

QualitiesWhat’s a scenic byway? …a road less traveled? “…a road or track not following a main route; a minor road or path.” Spring time is as good a time as any to reflect on what makes a byway.

All national scenic byways have at least one of the six intrinsic qualities: archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic. I think you will agree that the Mohawk Towpath Byway is rich with each one of these qualities and I would like to share share the thoughts, ideas, and suggestions that went into our Corridor Management Plan.  It was put together by our “Advocacy Committee” under the guidance of the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor nearly two decades ago.

Let us look at each of these qualities, each with it’s own entry, and see if they are still as relevant today as they were twenty years ago. Your comments, ideas, and perspective would be greatly appreciated!

Cultural Intrinsic Qualities – see

Natural Intrinsic Qualities – see

Recreational Intrinsic Qualities – see

Scenic Intrinsic Qualities – see

Archaeology as an Intrinsic Quality – see

Historic Intrinsic Quality – see   This is our intrinsic quality, the one we focus all our efforts on.   In fact the Mohawk Towpath Byway has been described as, “the short Byway with the longest history.”   Now, how does your story fold into the Byway story?

Tip o’ the Tam

ShamrockHere’s a tip o’ the tam to all those who can trace their ancestry to the Irish labor force who built the Erie Canal. There were certainly other immigrant groups including Germans and and Brits who contributed to the project – the only water level route through the Appalachian Mountains. But Irish workers were the largest, most significant group working for 37 to 50 cents a day (and maybe a ration of whiskey).

These hard working individuals learned construction techniques along side the early engineers. Before the age of steam engines principal tools were the pick and shovel. These people found efficient methods and fashioned new tools many of which still play a role today like the wheel barrow and stump puller.

“Not only did the Irish lend their unique hard work ethic to the canal, they also put their stamp on it in many other ways, including “canal songs” that they wrote, fashioned after popular Irish tunes, with new words to fit the environment. And of course, they settled in towns all along the canal route, seen in the architecture of buildings, reminiscent of Ireland.” – Maryann Tracy.

A special salute to all our volunteers with even a bit of Irish still working to tell the spirited stories and pass along our heritage along the Mohawk Towpath Byway.

Water is Rising

As of 7:00 PM on February 22, 2018 the ice jam is building just upstream from the I-87 Northway Bridges …Thaddeus Kosciuszko Bridge over the Mohawk River.  Water is over the Clutes Dry Dock Parking lot and this eastern entrance to the Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve.  The water is over the trails not too far from the Main Whipple Bridge Entrance to the Vischer Ferry Preserve.  Use caution when traveling the Byway along Riverview Road between Boyack Road west to the Hamlet of Vischer Ferry.  Don’t drive through any standing or flowing waters.

I will post and up date in the morning.

Native People’s History

The Friends of the Byway had a most memorable meeting with Stephanie
Bandosik of Foxy Trot Dance. Two take-aways: There is no doubt that The Peacemaker, who unified the Iroquois Confederacy, was tested at Cohoes Falls and the so-called Mohawk haircut says “I am not myself” and “I have lost my connection with The Creator, but there is hope.”

Stephanie Bandosik telling the oral histories of the Mohawk Valley.  Photo by Richard Yacco.

The name “Mohawk” comes from Algonquin-speaking neighbors (then enemies) of the Kenien’ke:ha who called them a pejorative term loosely translated to “bear people” which the Dutch misheard as Mohawk. Known for their fierceness, The Peacemaker decided to approach the Mohawk with his ideas first. In those days one did not walk into a neighboring village. You stayed at a distance and built a smokey fire. The village would send out a runner to investigate. The visitor would only enter the village after being invited. The Peacemaker, according to Mohawk history, was tested by surviving a trip or a plunge over the Cohoes Falls.

Native American Traditions

February is Story Telling month among the Friends of the Mohawk Towpath Byway!  For our February 13 meeting we have a guest speaker bringing Native American stories from the Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse) tradition.  Stephanie Fox will provide us with stories and traditions from the eastern Mohawk Valley including the significance of the Cohoes Falls and some of the other natural features along the area we affectionately call the Mohawk Towpath Byway corridor.
Join us for what promises to be a very informative evening, Tuesday, February 13 at 7 PM at the historic Grooms Tavern.

Flag of the Iroquois Confederacy, Hiawatha Belt from Wikipedia

Flag of the Iroquois Confederacy, Hiawatha Belt from Wikipedia

Family Moonlight Ski

We have a Family Moonlight Ski scheduled for Thursday, January 25 at 7 PM at the main entrance to the Vischer Ferry Preserve.  Unfortunately we also have a half inch of rain predicted between now and Wednesday and not much snow following the storm as temperatures fall.  We will make a decision during the day on Wednesday whether to postpone until the next magical Thursday before the full moon.