SCHENECTADY COUNTY — People often marvel at the views on the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail and this summer, thanks to Color the Canal, there’s more to marvel at.
Encouraging and artistic posters dot the trail in Schenectady County, proclaiming “You’re doing great. Keep it up,” “Ready Set Breathe” and “Hold on to Hope.”
It’s part of a summer outdoor art exhibition, called Color the Canal, featured on popular sections of the trail stretching from Kiwanis Park in Rotterdam to Lions Park in Niskayuna.
Led by the Friends of the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail and CREATE Community Studios, it’s meant to beautify the trail and bring the community together. The first exhibition launched last summer, during the Cycle the Erie Canal Bike Tour, which drew hundreds of cyclists to the area.
“It felt kinda like we got to show off Schenectady,” said Gillian Scott, the president of the Friends of the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail. “They’re riding from Buffalo all the way to Albany so they pass through so many communities and a couple of the communities do roll out the red carpet. They had a barbershop quartet greet them at one point, but a lot of the riders said they didn’t see anything like this anywhere else along the trail.”
The bike tour was canceled due to COVID-19 this year, but Scott and Heather Hutchison of CREATE decided to hold the exhibition anyway. Given how much the community has been affected by COVID-19, they felt like the project was just as important to hold this year, if not more so.
“It feels like there are more people on the trail than there ever have been,” Scott said. “I think that’s great because there’s so many things that we can’t do this year.”
“We can’t go to the movies, we can’t go to the mall. The kids, until recently, they couldn’t even play on the playground. But this is something that we can do. We can get out our bikes or we can go for a walk … It’s a very safe activity for what feels like a very anxious time.”
“These kinds of projects really are so much more meaningful this year than any other year,” Hutchison said.
Together they collected around 75 posters from community groups like Wildwood Programs, C.O.C.O.A. House, Friends of Recovery, New York Working Group on Girls of Schenectady, ARTS4VETS, Support our Troops Committee, Northside Neighborhood Association and others.
Many of the pieces have uplifting messages and words of encouragement. Some are specifically COVID-19 related, encouraging people to wear masks and stay safe, and others are landscapes or colorful abstract works.
This year, organizers were also able to install a permanent mural on the Blatnick Hill shelter. Painted by artist Isabella Burnett, the outside features a line of trees, a fence and a path that merges with the landscape around it. Inside the shelter is bursting with vibrant wildflowers and a butterfly.
“It’s very evocative of the scenes you see on the bike path,” Hutchison said.
The mural is the first permanent piece of artwork that organizers have been able to install, but they hope it’ll be the first of many.
“That’s my ultimate goal at some point to have more permanent public art on the trail,” Scott said. “Color the Canal is kind of a stepping stone I’m hoping to get us there. It’s a way to involved the public in the trail and to raise the profile of the trail in the community; just to get some art out there.”
So far, they’ve gotten positive feedback about the project. Many passersby stopped Hutchison and Scott during the installation earlier this month to praise their efforts and thank them for adding a bit of artistic beauty to the trail.
“When we were out there working on the mural, one of the cyclists stopped and he gave us $10. He was like ‘I want to donate to your efforts.’ So that was really rewarding too,” Scott said.
Color the Canal will be up through the rest of the summer. It was sponsored by a grant from the state Decentralization Program, as well as Electric City Bike Rescue and Marty’s True Value, among others.
For more information visit Color the Canal on Facebook.