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7 Ways to Celebrate the Erie Canal's 200th Birthday
Hike, bike, sail and enjoy other fun activities as you learn how the Erie Canal transformed America.
Celebrate the canal's rich history with memorable events this year. (Getty Images).
When construction began in 1817, the proposed 339-mile-long Erie Canal connecting the Hudson River at Albany, New York, to Lake Erie at Buffalo, New York, was designed to move cargo arriving in New York City from the Atlantic westward across the expanding U.S. The hand-dug Erie Canal opened on October 26, 1825. Through additions and improvements, today's 524-mile system has 57 locks and 17 lift bridges. As the Erie Canal turns 200, here are seven special ways among many events to celebrate its role in the explosion of new ideas and commerce.
Listen to Music in Albany
It all began at Lock 1 near Jennings Landing, the easternmost end of the Erie Canal in Albany. The state's Erie Canal Bicentennial Celebration takes place from July 2 to 8 in partnership with the Albany Symphony, which will perform newly commissioned works by American composers. "Water Music New York" comprises seven barge concerts along the canal, which other boaters (or drivers) can follow for a week of canalside celebrations. The concert barge sails from Albany to Schenectady, and then to other destinations across New York, including Amsterdam, Little Falls, Baldwinsville and Brockport and ends at Lockport on July 8.
Tie the Knot in Lockport
The unusual Flight of Five (Locks 67-71 built in 1838) between the Hudson and Niagara Rivers in Lockport is an engineering marvel that's been fully restored. The Erie Canal Discovery Center, which is open daily from May to October, and on Fridays and Saturdays from November to April, presents an in-depth history lesson about their engineering significance, including an interactive video. In summer, secure your lock on a loved one by getting married aboard a Lockport Locks & Erie Canal Cruises tour, while being raised 50 feet as three million gallons of water flows into locks 34 and 35.
In addition to celebrating the canal's 200th anniversary, explore the region's past as a center of innovation and technology. The local Lockport Cave and Underground Boat Ride paddles a flat bottom boat up the tunnel that funneled waterpower from Niagara Falls to factories during the Industrial Revolution. Nikola Tesla's concept for AC current is highlighted at the free and fascinating Niagara Power Authority museum. John Percy, CEO of Niagara Falls USA Tourism, says history fuels the county's $608 million annual tourism industry. "It's a region where adventure come naturally at the magnificent Niagara Falls and at lesser known historic adventures like Fort Niagara and the Erie Canal," he adds.
Explore the Canal by Train
The Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad traverses the national park that includes stretches of 308-mile-long Ohio and Erie Canal connecting Lake Erie to the Ohio River. This portion was hand-dug by German and Irish immigrants who earned about 30 cents a day plus a jigger of whiskey, food and shelter. The Valley Railway, which began in1880 to transport coal, allows riders (and bicyclists) to tour the length of the canal or board at multiple locations along the trail. Younger kids will enjoy the special themed railroad events such as Thomas the Tank Engine and Polar Express that take place throughout the year.
Celebrate Environmental Regulations Along the Ohio & Erie Towpath Trail
The Randy Newman song "Burn On" made Ohio's Cuyahoga River famous after the badly polluted water caught fire and burned for 24 minutes in 1969. It became a symbol of the nation's failure to safeguard the environment and led to the establishment of the 1972 Clean Water Act and anti-pollution regulations. Watch people fish and swim today from one of Cuyahoga Valley National Park's trailheads, and hike the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail to see old locks and other canal structures. The Canal Exploration Center is at Lock 38. The, Boston Store Visitor Center, which dates back to circa 1836, tells the story of canal-boat building in the valley. Continue south to Lock 27, named Johnnycake Lock after a canal boat ran aground, forcing passengers to survive on corn meal "johnnycakes" until their rescue.
Bike the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath in Cleveland
The 9-mile urban canal section managed by Cleveland Metroparks' Ohio & Erie Canal Reservation includes the northernmost section of the restored towpath. From Harvard Road, bikers connect to an 84-mile-long paved trail which leads over two cable style suspension bridges that recall the song "Low Bridge, Everybody Down." Thomas S. Allen wrote the canal's unofficial anthem in 1905, because the steam engines that replaced mule power moved so quickly, many passengers forgot to duck as barges passed under bridges. Right in the city center, stop by the pier over the Cuyahoga River where cargo ships call from all over the world; the water is now so clean that you can watch fish swim by as you celebrate the Erie Canal's birthday.
Ride a Restored Canal Boat
Between 1826 and 1836, the $4.7 million spent connecting Lake Erie to the Ohio River spawned 27 new villages in Stark County, Ohio, including what would become Canal Fulton in 1832. Today, the town operates the St. Helena Heritage Park which includes a Canalway Visitors Center (open seasonally) and the restored "St. Helena III" canal boat, pulled by two Percheron horses walking the towpath on one-hour canal tours. Among several themed cruises, the fun for kids Pirates Cruise sails the weekend of June 17, when the Canal Fulton Players board the barge looking for booty, as passengers enjoy dinner from the Canal Grille. There are twice daily trips during weekends in May, September and October; and Tuesday to Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Best of all, children under 5 can enjoy free admission. Plus, there's always a historian guide on board, and activities peak during the annual Olde Canal Days festival from July 14 to 15.
Spend the Night on an Erie Canal Houseboat
They call it "life in the past lane" when you sleep aboard a Canal Cruises houseboat sailing from Seneca Falls, New York. Houseboating on the Erie Canal and Finger Lakes is popular with families who bring along fishing gear and take advantage of the inner tubes, bicycles and swimming spots for history-themed vacations. The company's three 42-foot houseboats have heating, air-conditioning, TVs, cooking facilities and sleep six guests in two staterooms and a double berth. Canal Cruiser rates, including fuel, canal passes and more, range from $2,696 to $2,995 depending on the season, for a one-week rental.
About En Route
Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.
Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.
Edited by Liz Weiss.
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