Those islands around the Western Gateway Bridge with the evocative Indian names — Isle of the Senecas, Cayugas, Mohawks, Onondagas and Oneidas — lie in a particularly pretty stretch of the Mohawk River, surrounded by a populous city and two towns. If they were almost anywhere other than Schenectady, somebody would have found a way by now to put them — or at least one of them — to good use.
That somebody could be a private individual, government or group. The use could be something educational, like Native American exhibits, or recreational, from picnics and clambakes to sports and games to dances and movies under the stars. In fact, the Isle of the Mohawks, the only privately owned one — which happens to be for sale now for $91,000 — had all those things and more in the early 20th century, when it was leased by a group called the Scotia Athletic Association from the Sanders family, which owned it.
And, not coincidentally, it had a footbridge connecting it to the mainland. That made the island easily accessible; when the bridge was removed around 1930, activities there pretty much ceased. But the owner of the island, Mel Pennacchia, still has a right of way at South Ballston Avenue, where the bridge used to be.
Back in 2005, when the state was looking to designate the first state park in Schenectady County, we urged it to choose the islands. Instead it picked a preserve in Niskayuna owned by the former Schenectady Museum, which is nice, but not the unusual kind of state park the islands would have made.
Pennacchia says there’s no urgency about selling his island; he just wants to see it used for something like what it used to be used for. He’d also be willing to keep and lease it, perhaps to the Glen Sanders Mansion, around 75 feet away, or the town of Glenville or the county. The key is restoring the footbridge, which shouldn’t be that difficult or expensive, especially if built by a town or county crew.
And if not the Isle of the Mohawks, how about the Isle of the Cayugas, which sits directly under the Western Gateway Bridge? The state is about to undertake a rehabilitation of the bridge. A simple set of stairs from the bridge could give the public access.