Murray sees potential with 400 camp sites, tourism and ag resources

Photos by Tom Rivers: Hurd Orchards saved this nearly 200-year-old barn last year. This photo was taken in November. Amy Machamer, farm co-owner, said the older barns, cobblestone houses and other historic structures can help Murray stand out from other communities, and preserve a sense of place.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 3 June 2020 at 7:01 pm

‘Have the confidence to say this is really a great place.’ – Amy Machamer

Town Supervisor Joe Sidonio speaks during Tuesday’s Zoom meeting about the town’s comprehensive plan, which will be a guide for land use and economic opportunities for the next decade.

MURRAY – Town officials are looking for opportunities to increase tourism and economic activity in Murray.

Agriculture is a leading industry in the town, home to some of the most productive soils in the world. Those soils should be considered strong assets for the town as it looks to update a comprehensive plan, which is a land use guide for the community.

Updating the plan is a chance to look at possible zoning changes or other strategies that could help local businesses better capitalize on the town’s assets. Besides its farmland, Murray benefits by having the Erie Canal and a number of historic sites, panelists said during a Tuesday evening Zoom meeting about the plan.

Murray also has 401 camp sites between campgrounds at Red Rocks Ponds RV Resort and Hickory Ridge Golf Course and Resort.

Better promoting other sites in town, and developing more biking and walking trails could get campers out into the community more, spending more time and money in Murray, said Barbara Johnston, a planning consultant with LaBella Associates.

“It seems to me Murray has an incredible opportunity to capitalize on the recreation and tourism sector,” Town Supervisor Joe Sidonio said during the meeting.

Murray has several strengths – agriculture, campgrounds, historic sites, tourism opportunities, Sidonio said.

Developing a plan to better promote and encourage those strengths can be a boost for the entire town, he said.

He would like to see the town implement a farmland protection plan to preserve the prime agricultural land.

Local agricultural could also be helped with more siphons for irrigation from the Erie Canal, said County Legislator Ken DeRoller.

The two campgrounds said developing walking and biking trails would make their sites even more attractive, and give campers more to do locally. That way they would likely stay in Murray longer.

Max Han of Red Rocks Ponds RV Resort said there is a lack of campgrounds and other amenities for cyclists on the western end of the canal closer to Buffalo. Many people who travel the canal on bike start in Rochester and head east towards Albany because of the big gap in amenities once you leave Buffalo.

If there were more places to camp and rest, Han said more people will pass through the canal from Buffalo to Rochester, which would be a boost to Orleans County.

The Corning Museum of Glass brought a barge to Holley and Medina in Orleans County, as well as other canal towns in New York, during the summer of 2018. Glassmakers did demonstrations on the barge.

Jim Bensley, the county’s planning director, is part of a Erie Canal waterfront development plan for several municipalities. That effort has shown a need for more places on the canal for people to launch kayaks and canoes. Bensley said there is a big movement now for “car top boating,” where people can bring a small vessel on their car. There are few spots on the canal in the county where it is easy to launch a canoe or kayak, he said.

“We think the Erie Canal is a very big resource,” Bensley said. “It’s such an important part of our history and hopefully an important part of our future.”

Bensley said more entertainment on the canal, such as the Corning Museum of Glass Barge which visited in the summer of 2018, would be welcome attractions to the county and would bring more people to the canal.

There is also a need for a marina where boaters could get gas. Many won’t venture to Orleans because it’s far from marinas and the boaters worry they could run out of gas, Bensley said.

Dawn Borchet, the county’s tourism director, said the 401 camp sites at Red Rocks and Hickory Ridge are a major asset for bringing in visitors.

The Tourism Department has worked to package tours locally to keep the campers in the community longer. Borchet urged the local businesses to talk up their sites to visitors, so they will check out other businesses, too.

Max Han, Red Rocks manager, said cyclists often avoid stretch between Buffalo and Rochester because few places to stop in between.

“It would be great if there were other accommodations along the way,” he said. “It would encourage other people to travel out our way.”

Red Rocks is right on the canal. The campgrounds would like to see a boat launch nearby. Han said the closest is a 10-minute drive away.

He also said the community’s high tax rate is a burden for businesses. He pays a tax rate that is two to three times higher than what his competitors pay in other communities.

Cindy Diehl of Hickory Ridge agreed the high taxes in Murray are a strain on the businesses.

Murray’s Ridge Road Corridor has a nice mix of businesses – including farm markets, a winery, antiques – on a historic road with cobblestone homes. The Ridge passes many country scenes – fruit orchards, corn fields and historic cemeteries.

Amy Machamer, co-owner of Hurd Orchards, said the town is “beautiful” and it stands out on the canal system, where many are communities are too developed and have been inundated with chain stores.

Hurd Orchards has been operating for more than 200 years. She said the farm and other sites that rely on visitors and tourism are facing a new challenge in the Covid-19 era.

“We’re struggling to find new footing and to perhaps build new models,” she said.

Machamer, who is married to Sidonio the town supervisor, has worked with her mother as co-owner of the farm for the past 35 years.

Sal DeLuca tosses a bocce ball during a game last Sept. 1 during the bocce tournament at St. Rocco’s Italian Festival in Hulberton. The festival and tournament are one of the “authentic” activities that make Murray an appealing and unique community, said Amy Machamer.

Hurd Orchards has been to survive by creating farm products and an experience “that is authentically us.” Machamer said the area’s historic assets are part of the community’s authenticity and attraction to visitors.

She said the community is diminished every time an old barn or cobblestone home is lost on the landscape.

“Don’t let the treasures get lost,” Machamer said.

Hurd Orchards has worked the past year to preserve one of its oldest wooden barns, dating back nearly 200 years.

She praised the work by local officials to save the old Holley High School and work with a developer, Home Leasing of Rochester, to repurpose the school into 41 senior apartments and the Holley village officials. That $17 million project is nearly done.

“The preservation of old Holley High School is a crown jewel, that was a huge effort,” Machamer said. “It took the initiative.”

Holley also worked to create a canal park that runs from near the lift bridge to waterfalls. That park is a major asset in bringing people by the canal and enjoying the village.

She also noted some of the unique aspects to Murray – the many garlic farmers and the annual St. Rocco’s Italian Festival near Labor Day. They are part of what makes Murray authentic.

Hurd Orchards is on Ridge Road, a route which has been described by the late author Arch Merrill as “a special continuous village.”

She highlighted another advantage of Murray: the real estate is much more affordable than in neighboring Monroe County.

Machamer would like to see the community better promote Murray, and feel more pride in the town.

“Have the confidence to say this is really a great place,” she said.

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