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What you need to know for 08/20/2017

Mohawk Towpath Byway tour getting high-tech upgrade

Mohawk Towpath Byway tour getting high-tech upgrade

A new, self-guided audio tour allows people to learn more about the Mohawk Towpath Byway on their mo

A new, self-guided audio tour allows people to learn more about the Mohawk Towpath Byway on their mobile phones.

Visitors who are out and about at sites along the byway can call 649-9990 or use their smartphones to scan a QR code from signs at certain sites and stream the audio content from the Web.

There’s already a sign up at the Visitor Center in Proctors that directs people to dial 9 in the audio tour to hear Proctors Executive Director Philip Morris talk about Schenectady, said Eric Hamilton, executive director of the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway Coalition.

“That’s really where it starts, is right in that neighborhood,” Hamilton said of the byway, which began where the intersection of Erie Boulevard and State Street is now and continued down the current Erie Boulevard. Mules walked along the towpath and hauled boats in the canal.

Brochures are expected to be available next week at visitor centers and municipal offices, Hamilton said.

The tour is still a work in progress, but when it rolls out Aug. 10, descriptions will be available for 14 sites along the 26-mile byway, which extends east from Schenectady with a loop at the end; the old canal ran south to Cohoes and the new canal currently in use runs to Waterford.

On the audio tour, local officials such as town supervisors and historians read 2-minute descriptions of the area’s history or current use, and listeners are then directed to the location of the next site on the tour.

“What we’re after is a positive visitor experience and having a visitor feel welcome to wander into one of our local convenience stores to get an ice cream or whatever,” Hamilton said.

Several sites in Clifton Park and Rexford are on the tour, including Riverview Orchards, the only private property on the audio tour.

“The farm was originally a stop on the canal where you could rent a mule or swap off mules” when the animals were tired after a day’s walk, Hamilton said. “It does have a historic significance on the byway.”

Coalition officials hope the tour generates interest in continuing to preserve the byway, he said.

The Saratoga County sites are:

• Ferry Drive, Rexford

• Lock 7 dam overlook, Rexford

• Riverview Orchards, Rexford

• Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve, Clifton Park

• Clute’s Dry Dock, Clifton Park

• Crescent Park, Halfmoon

• Dunsbach Ferry Site, Halfmoon

• Flight of Locks, Waterford

• Waterford Harbor Visitor Center, Waterford

The Schenectady County sites are Aqueduct Park in Niskayuna and the Visitor Center in Proctors in Schenectady. The tour also gives audio descriptions for Freddie’s Park in Colonie, Old Military Crossing in Colonie and Cohoes Falls in Cohoes.

Hamilton isn’t sure how people will use the audio tour — whether they will travel along the whole tour in one trip or tune in only to select sites.

“That’s going to be something that’ll be interesting to see,” he said.

The byway gets a few tour bus trips each year, and those people will also be able to use the audio tour.

The coalition is contracting with mobile communications company OnCell in Pittsford for $1,500 a year to provide the audio tour and can add more stops at no additional cost if there is a lot of visitor interest in a particular area.

A Federal Highway Administration byway grant is paying for the tour currently, and in the future that fee could be paid through donations, business sponsorships or from monies the coalition gets from its municipalities.

The grant, which is administered by the state Department of Transportation, also will provide six kiosks with written information in addition to the five that already exist along the byway.

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