A new rest area opened Thursday on the New York State Thruway to provide travelers a chance to take a break from driving, eat food produced in the Mohawk Valley, and sit in the grass while they watch the day-to-day operations of a lock on the Erie Canal.
The Lock E-13 Living History Rest Area is located on the westbound side of I-90 between Exits 28 and 29 in Montgomery County. It made its debut Thursday and was packed with people sampling soaps, sweets, dairy products, syrups, and sauces that are for sale in the shop.
The single-story rectangular building houses a Taste NY market with neatly arranged products from across the Mohawk Valley and Capital Region, as well as historical information and a model of the lock.
“This is the only stop along the entire Thruway where you can actually pull off the Thruway and see a working Erie Canal lock,” said Canal Corporation Director Brian Stratton at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “For two hundred years, the Erie Canal has been a transformative force in upstate New York.”
Stratton said the Erie Canal generates just under $400 million dollars a year in tourism spending in New York, and that the addition of the rest area will help push that number higher. He said the stop is good draw for out-of-state tourists who might not know the historic canal is still operational.
Plans to build the scenic rest area began a year ago as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “Capital For a Day” initiative. The goal is to showcase the historical significance of the 570-mile Thruway and 524-mile Erie Canal, while giving visitors a taste of the products grown and crafted in the region, according to a joint statement from state organizations involved in the project.
“It’s a chance to taste New York, it’s a chance to taste the Mohawk Valley,” said Kevin King, a director with the state Department of Agriculture and Markets. “Take a gift home to somebody and show them the good quality products that we have abundant to the region.”
In addition, the state has partnered with Liberty Fresh Market, a program through the Liberty ARC in Montgomery County that provides retail job training to people with developmental disabilities.
Eleven people from Liberty ARC will be among those staffing the rest area, according to organization spokesperson Sharon Holbrook-Ryan.
“They are taking full responsibility and pride and just really loving this opportunity,” Holbrook-Ryan said. “And it’s an opportunity that they should have, that they’re well versed in, and they’re responsible for and they’re capable of.”
Among the products at the market was Brooks House of BBQ sauce from Oneonta, The Original James Ketchup made in Scotia, and milk from nearby farms.
Norman Bollen, a board member at the Fort Plain Museum and local history enthusiast, said the rest area will also be a great way to draw visitors to other historical sites in the county.
“You have all these beautiful eighteenth century historic sites that you just don’t see in other areas of the country,” said Bollen.“Because [the area] is rural a lot of these great sites have survived, and in the cities they’ve lost them. For tourists, they’re assets we can showcase to bring tourists to Montgomery County and to Fulton County,” Bollen said.
The rest area will be open during the canal navigation season, roughly from May to mid–November, seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.