Figures show growing use of canal

This year’s boating season on the state’s canal system opened late because of high water and nearly
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This year’s boating season on the state’s canal system opened late because of high water and nearly shut down early because of drought.

But despite those constraints, final figures for the New York State Canal Corp.’s 182nd navigation season show an increase in lockings throughout the 524-mile system.

Locally, usage figures for the 15-lock Erie Canal section of the system indicate growing activity compared to the dismal 2006 season marred by flooding throughout the Mohawk River valley.

New York State Canal Corp. Director Carmella Mantello on Wednesday said boats passing through locks along the system’s four sections beat the 2006 season by 31 percent and showed an increase of about 5 percent compared to 2005.

This past season saw 150,126 lockings, according to state Canal Corp. figures. There were 114,516 lockings in 2006 — a troubled season that brought millions of dollars in damage to riverside communities and along the canal system due to flooding.

The year 2005 was considered a busy season with 143,516 lockings, said Mantello, who began leading the Canal Corp. just over two years ago.

Longtime state Canal Corp. employees consider 150,000 a heavy total, Mantello said.

“Folks here for nine or 10 years say if you beat that, it’s a good year,” Mantello said.

Locally, traffic along the Erie Canal from Lock 2 in Waterford to Lock 16 in St. Johnsville saw an increase in traffic over 2006 but a slight decrease from 2005, according to the state Canal Corp.

A total of 31,567 lockings were recorded along the Erie Canal section in 2007 compared to 19,986 in 2006 and 31,813 in 2005, according to state Canal Corp. figures.

Mantello said the numbers do not reflect recreational use by people who don’t travel through the canals but rather put in at boat launches for fishing, water skiing and use of personal watercraft.

“There’s a lot of boats that stay within the lock channels,” Mantello said.

It’s difficult to quantify the use of the canal system that doesn’t involve the water directly — but Mantello said canalside events grew since 2005 and the state Canal Corp. is seeing more interest from localities hoping to take advantage of waterfront activities.

“We’re really pleased. Two and a half years ago, there were about 40 events across the canal system. This past year there over 150 canal events,” Mantello said.

“Communities, businesses and nonprofits are recognizing that the canal is becoming a part of the economic engine for upstate New York,” Mantello said.

Figures were not readily available for usages not on the water. But Martin Daley, a spokesman for Parks and Trails NY, which focuses on the preservation and use of parks, trails and open space in the state, said the annual Cycling the Erie Canal event drew more than 500 people in 2007.

Now headed into its 10th year, the event takes cyclists 400 miles along the CanalWay trail recreation path from Buffalo to Albany and continues to draw more interest, Daley said.

“Every year we keep adding more and more,” Daley said.

Following the 2006 season, state Canal Corp. officials had planned an early opening for 2007 but that was stalled by high water.

Toward the end of the season, lockings were curtailed due to drought conditions threatening water supplies shared by the canal and municipal water systems, leading to announced plans for an early closing that were ultimately called off due to sufficient rainfall late in the season.

Categories: Schenectady County

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