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.

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 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.