650 cyclists from all over the country reach Orleans, traveling Erie Canal
By Ginny Kropf, corrrespondent
MEDINA – If Medina wanted to impress the cyclists who descended on the village Sunday as part of the 20th annual Cycle the Erie Canal, it would appear the community succeeded.
“Medina certainly rolled out the red carpet,” said Jack Luftman of Bridgewater, N.J., as he peddled into the Canal Basin during a concert Sunday afternoon by The Foolz Band of Rochester.
Trucks carrying the cyclists’ gear and tents began arriving early Sunday morning on the grounds of Wise Middle School and Medina High School.
About a third of the 650 cyclists had arranged to have their tents put up for them, while the rest had to set up their own when they arrived.
“There could easily be 300 tents on the grounds,” said Kaden Smith of Grand Island, who was taking part in the ride with his parents George and Amy.
This was the family’s first year participating in the ride and it was Kaden’s 13th birthday.
The family will ride every other day and share volunteer duties the other days.
“We are very excited to be ‘newbies’ to this event,” Amy said. “We’ve already met many new people, some who have done this ride for 15 or 16 years.”
“They all say they’ll come back again,” Kaden said.
Cyclists from 36 states and Australia started the tour in Buffalo.
“There are riders from California, Oregon, North Carolina, Washington and all over the country,” said Ken Thomas of Amherst, who was also a first time rider/volunteer.
He and another first-timer, Greg Kaladjian of Schenectady, took time Sunday afternoon to enjoy a drink and some camaraderie with riders Mike and Kathy Eudy of Concord, N.C., and Sasha Eisenstein of Albany. Eisenstein, who was also cycling with the others, is the trails manager for the New York State Canal Association.
“I’ve only been on the job for five months, so I thought this would be a great way to get familiar with the canal,” she said.
Eisenstein said the Governor last year committed $200 million to complete trails from New York City harbor, past Lake Champlain to the Canadian border, and from Albany west to Buffalo. It is the governor’s vision for the Empire State Trails Initiative to be the longest multi-use trail in the country, and be completed by 2020.
Ground was broken in May on a two-mile stretch of the trail across from the Buffalo/Niagara Heritage Village near Lockport, making the trail 85 percent complete. This will enable cyclists to ride the 135 miles from Buffalo to east of Rochester on an uninterrupted trail, Eisenstein said.
As part of their welcome to Medina, the Medina Tourism Committee, headed by Jim Hancock, arranged for the afternoon concert in the Canal Basin and another in the evening at the school campgrounds by the band Pocket Change.
There was also a shuttle running from 3 to 7 from the school through downtown to the canal basin and back. Dinner Sunday night was catered by Zambistro’s and breakfast Monday morning was provided by the school.
One of the highlights of the day was a talk at 7 p.m. in the Middle School Auditorium by Tom Grasso, past president of the New York Canalways Organization.
Gary and Susan Cotton of Amherst, Ohio, have been biking for 15 years, but this was their first time in the Cycle the Erie Canal ride. Gary was amazed at the information Grasso provided on the Erie Canal.
“I couldn’t believe all the alterations it has gone through in its history,” Gary said. “And it was so interesting how they use it now. I didn’t know about the culvert and will be looking for it when we ride over it tomorrow.”
Suzanne Erbes of Detroit said she didn’t know anything about the canal before attending the talk.
“I’ve seen it when I’ve driven through New York, but I didn’t know anything else, like about the mules,” she said. “Tom’s knowledge and details were incredible. His talk was inspirational and instructional and I look forward to seeing the things he talked about.”
The cyclists will make short stops in Albion and Holley on Monday, before heading to Pittsford to spend the night.