The Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site has received $95,000 from the state to rebuild its parking lot and replace interpretive signs, all lost to last summer’s floods.
Approximately $75,000 will be used to install a new parking lot south of the visitor center on land off Schoharie Street. The remainder of the grant will be used to restore and replace signs that tell the story of the Erie Canal.
Brian U. Stratton, director of the state Canal Corp., announced the grants at a news conference at the visitors center Friday afternoon. He called the site “hallowed ground” because of the historic features.
At a glance
• Schoharie Crossing attracts up to 50,000 visitors annually. The site will open for the season May 1.
•It contains a section of the original Erie Canal, which operated from 1817 to 1825, as well as an aqueduct that carried the enlarged Erie Canal across the Schoharie Creek and several locks for the canal that operated from 1836 to 1862.
•It is also near the current Barge Canal, which opened in 1905.
“You can see, feel and walk around the three phases of the canal,” he said.
The nearby Schoharie Creek overflowed its banks last year when tropical storms Irene and Lee passed through the area, and floodwaters washed away the parking lot and signs and destroyed Schoharie Street. The visitors center escaped with minor damage.
Plans are to open the new parking lot by mid-May. Signs will be installed by 2013 and will number 28, eight more than before the floods, said Alane Ball Chinian, regional director for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Chinian said the grant will restore “visitor amenities” and make the site more visitor-friendly. “This is a sprawling site with a big story to tell,” she said.
The new self-guiding signs will depict travel through the locks and historic photographs.
The grant money comes from the Canal Corp.’s Canalway Education and Interpretation Program, funded through bonding in 2006-07. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is channeling the money through his consolidated funding application program for statewide flood recovery, repair and restoration projects. He is using his regional economic development councils to announce the awards.
Schoharie Crossing still shows signs of flood damage, with debris from fallen trees littering outskirts of the area. The flooding also uncovered one of four blockhouses positioned at the corners of Fort Hunter — a stockaded fortress built near a Mohawk Indian village and protected by the British — where the parking lot once existed.
The state knew about the fort when it installed the parking lot decades ago, but could not afford to conduct a full archaeological dig, Chinian said. It is now working to excavate the fort and will incorporate it into the historic site’s program.
The state also plans to build a playground near a boat launch that lies across the Schoharie Creek from the visitors center. The playground will cost $56,360, be shaped like a canal boat and feature slides and climbing devices.
Stratton’s visit also coincided with the seventh annual Canal Clean Sweep event, which is helping to celebrate Earth Day. More than 1,000 volunteers from 100 organizations are cleaning about 300 miles of the 524-mile-long canal system during the event. Approximately a half-dozen volunteers, including Stratton, helped clean out debris from the Empire Lock, which is part of the historic site.