The Erie Canal will open for the season at 7 a.m. Saturday, May 3 — just two days behind schedule after a lengthy winter.
The state Canal Corporation aims to open the statewide system on May 1, and did so last year.
“Obviously, we had a very rough winter, we had a lot of snow that had to melt, and then we had some rain,” said Shane Mahar, a Canal Corp. spokesman. “Those things combined have caused us a very minor delay in our opening schedule.”
Canal Corp. officials hope the weather of the navigation season will be more forgiving than last, when intense storms and flooding caused the Erie Canal from Lock 8 in Scotia through Lock 15 in Fort Plain to be closed for several weeks.
“We would prefer the canal system to be opened every single day during the navigation season,” Mahar said.
Mahar said it’s been a busy offseason for Canal Corp. workers, “but all of our infrastructure is in good, working order and we’re ready to go.”
The canal system will be open to boaters from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 3 through May 21; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 22 through Sept. 10; and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 11 through Nov. 19.
Vessels such as tour boats, tugboats, charter boats and cruise ships all have 24-hour service available to them, and should call 471-5014 during regular business hours and 461-0942 after hours to arrange for lock and lift bridge service outside the canal’s regular operating schedule, according to a notice to mariners issued by the Canal Corp.
The canal system generates an estimated $380 million in annual visitor spending for upstate New York, which includes dollars from tourists who walk and bike on the Canalway Trail, Mahar said.
The canal is also being used more in recent years for the shipment of goods. Last year, nearly 100,000 tons of commercial goods were shipped on the canal system, Mahar said.
“That number is up significantly from where it’s been in the past,” he said.
When the Erie Canal opens May 3, it will be its 190th consecutive season of navigation, said Brian Stratton, Canal Corp. director.
“Every year, thousands of tourists travel upstate to experience the history of the canals and to see firsthand the vital role they continue to play within the more than 200 communities that line their shores,” he said in a statement. “Whether you’re 9 or 90, the canals have something for you and I encourage everyone to come out and make 2014 our best year yet.”