If you visited the Jewish Community Center on Saturday, you might have gotten the impression that there was some local humanitarian crisis that forced hundreds of people to camp out on the center’s lawn.
The hundreds of tents, however, were housing 650 bicyclists from around the country and world who had just completed the 360-mile Erie Canalway Trail, which stretches from Albany to Buffalo. Sunday morning the group is finishing the last leg of their journey via a short jaunt to the state Capitol.
Jonathan Duda, a spokesman for Parks & Trails New York, which organized the event, said this year’s Erie Canalway tour focused on the history of the trail as part of the canal’s bicentennial celebration that kicked off this year.
“That was very special, we did have a focus on the history aspect this year,” said Duda.
The group stopped at several museums and other points of interest along the trail during the eight-day tour, which is now in its 19th year.
“This is the birthplace of industrial America really, and people get to understand how important New York was to the western expansion of the rest of the country,” said Duda.
The trail is roughly 80 percent complete, and Duda said another reason PTNY organizes the event is to raise awareness of its goal of completing the trail by 2025.
On Saturday, the entire group, 650 riders, relaxed at the JCC and were treated to trays of hot food and boxed wine, as well as a massage tent and other creature comforts denied them during the ride.
Duda said a lot of the same people come back to the tour year after year, and an air of cooperation and congeniality is quickly developed while out on the trail.
“Like any bike tour there’s a lot of camaraderie and people looking out for each other,” he said.
Riders each paid around $750 for the tour, stopping along the trail and sleeping in tents each night. Large box trucks have been following the group with everyone’s luggage and camping gear. There are tour-sanctioned stops each day. Duda said another benefit of the event is the economic boost that riders provide to the small towns and villages along the way.
Linda Becker of Mankato, Minn., said she joined the tour because she enjoys bicycling and she appreciated the event’s focus on New York and U.S. history. Her favorite stop along the tour was in Lockport.
“It’s just a gorgeous area and you really see a lot,” said Becker. “It was really fun, it’s a fairly easy trail with a lot of history, and I enjoyed learning about the Erie Canal.”
Duda said the tour this year featured riders from Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
Andy Katz, program director at JCC, was busy Saturday afternoon attending to the various needs that crop up with such a large group. Nevertheless, he said, the day was going well and the riders are a pleasure to have.
“We’re very pleased to have the group here. They’re a great group to have and we like doing large- and small-scale events,” Katz said.