Off the Northway: Crowds lured with horses or without them

It’s still spring and it’s not supposed to be prime time for tourism in Saratoga Springs, not yet.

It’s still spring and it’s not supposed to be prime time for tourism in Saratoga Springs, not yet.

So driving down Broadway one evening earlier this week, I was stunned all over again by the number of people out on the sidewalks or eating on restaurant terraces.

Sometimes it seems like all roads lead to Saratoga, whether the horses are running or not. Even with NYRA layoff threats, I’m not worried. No insider thinks racing won’t start as scheduled on July 23, at least this year.

But just off the herd paths to Saratoga, there are communities that want to appeal to folks whose sweat isn’t getting worked up over the daily double.

Bicycle tours — literal tourism — is a booming business now across the country, and plans are being laid now for a 58-mile bike trail that would follow the old Champlain Canal from Waterford to Whitehall.

People regularly ride the 360-mile trail that follows the Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany, eating, camping or staying in motels along the way — and eating some more, cycling being hard work.

“Bicyclists spend a lot of money,” said Parks & Trails New York Executive Director Robin Dropkin, who talked about the potential at a meeting in Schuylerville last week.

“We’re really in a perfect location to draw people for bicycle tours,” she said.

A route from Waterford to Halfmoon would pass from the fascinating flight of canal locks at Waterford north past Saratoga National Historical Park, crossing into Washington County north of Schuylerville.

I’ve cycled along the Hudson and through the farm country below Schuylerville myself and can testify it’s beautiful and relaxing.

Grant’s cottage

Anyone who loves history should visit Grant Cottage, atop Mount McGregor in Wilton, just below where the state prison looms large.

But the people who maintain the mountaintop site where former president Ulysses S. Grant spent his final weeks in the summer of 1885, feverishly working to complete his classic memoirs, say it needs help, ASAP.

“The cottage is basically falling down,” Friends of Grant Cottage President Lance Ingmire told the county Board of Supervisors this week in an appeal for money.

The outside of the state-owned cottage is deteriorating, he said, there’s mold in the basement and stormwater runs into the visitors’ center, a converted Department of Corrections garage.

“Our need is immediate,” Ingmire said.

But he was told that the county — which is notoriously tight with a nickel even in the best of times — has a process for handling such requests and nothing can happen immediately.

Grant’s memoir is a classic, plainspoken and insightful. As a young Army officer he was in San Francisco as the California Gold Rush made the little trading post of San Francisco burst at the seams, and of course his perspective on the Civil War is unique.

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