The state canal system saw a modest rebound in traffic this year — 5 percent — after a 22 percent decrease in 2008.
Carmella Mantello, executive director of the New York State Canal Corporation, is happy about this year’s traffic numbers along the canal. However, she said the viability of the state’s canal system shouldn’t be measured in how many times a boat goes through a lock, but rather the number of people and communities interacting with the canal system, which has increased dramatically in the last four years.
When Mantello took over as executive director in 2005, she said there were 40 events along the canal’s 524 miles, which she said is not much considering the 230 communities that sit along the canal. In 2009 there were more than 300 community events along the canal, and the Canal Corporation is hoping there will be 375 in 2010.
Community events along the canal range from small farmers markets to large harbor festivals, Mantello said. Locally, major events along the canal include the Lock 7-12 CanalFest, which brings together the Schenectady and Montgomery County chambers of commerce for a weekend of canal-related activities, the Tugboat Roundup in Waterford and the Canal Clean Sweep.
“When people talked about the canal, it was all about its boating trends, and don’t get me wrong, boating is still our core mission, but something that hadn’t been tapped into was the community end of things and not just events, but getting communities to recognize the canal as part of their revitalization efforts,” Mantello said.
The canal generates $380 million annually for communities throughout the state through tourism, according to a 2008 economic study. Mantello said canalside events along the shoreline are a large contributor to that.
“What it’s showing us is when you look at the canal season don’t base it on the lockings or the boats that come through, base it on everything,” she said.
Canalside events including festivals, and the land trails throughout the canal system are popular destinations along with various activities like fishing along the locks.
In 2010 the Canal Corporation plans to unveil a non-motorized water trail for canoeing and kayaking, which will offer more than 100 user-friendly launch sites with various amenities.
“This is a trend that has really increased due to economics,” Mantello said.
The state canal system is not just a summer destination either. The Canal Corporation has put together a calendar of winter events along the canal this year, which includes more than 150 events including holiday festivals and cross country ski outings.
Communities are also starting to follow each other, Mantello said. A successful farmers market along the canal in Waterford will be replicated in Clifton Park.
“Little by little the canal is beginning to connect. Counties are working with other counties on various events, and the canal is truly becoming what people envisioned it to be 10 years ago — a national tourist destination,” she said.
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Categories: Schenectady County