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Wanted: Ideas and vision to capitalize on Erie Canal

Photos by Tom Rivers: Alex Morse, a researcher with the Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, leads a group focused on Arts and Culture opportunities with the Erie Canal. About 60 people discussed ideas to better promote and use the Erie Canal during a discussion Monday at the Challenger Learning Center in Lockport. There will be another discussion today in Brockport at Cooper Hall at Brockport State College.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 July 2019 at 10:20 am

LOCKPORT – The Sate Canal Corp. wants to hear from residents in canal communities on how the state can better promote the canal to visitors and made the canal a better asset to local residents.

The Canal Corp. has scheduled a series of community engagement sessions to hear from residents. There was a meeting on Monday in Lockport, and there is another today in Brockport. (Click here to see the schedule of sessions.)

“This comes at a very exciting time,” Brian Stratton, director of the State Canal Corp.

The Erie Canal is celebrating an 8-year bicentennial of the construction from 1817 to 1825. Stratton says the Canal Corp. is developing a vision for the next century of the canal.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year announced the “Reimagine the Canals” initiative and two winners were picked from 145 entries in a $2.5 million competition.

One of the winners includes the Erie Armada, a group of boats passing along the canal carrying people tasting craft beers. That armada will be Sept. 20-22 at the Macedon Canal Park.

Brian Stratton, director of the State Canal Corp., said the state welcomes feedback to increase the impact of the canal in communities along the historic waterway.

The Canal Corp. also picked a plan to develop a pocket neighborhood in Canastota, turning open spaces and former industrial areas along the canal turned into space for housing and community space.

But the Canal Corp. wants more ideas and going to the canal communities for inspiration.

At the Lockport meeting, there were the following focus groups – Tourism, Parks and Public Spaces, Arts and Culture, Nature and Environment, Water Recreation, Local Business and Events and others.

About 60 people attended the session at the Challenger Learning Center.

State Assemblyman Mike Norris, R-Lockport, was among the officials at the meeting. He is pleased to see the state putting resources into the canal, and seeking feedback from the canal communities.

One of the ideas submitted includes using horse and buggy rides in canal towns.

The ideas at the sessions will be compiled by the Rockefeller Institute of Government and put into a report for the Reimagine the Canals Task Force. Former Lt. Gov. Bob Duffy, the current CEO of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce is one of three co-leaders of the Task Force, with Duffy focusing on the western end of the canal.

The canal has changed from a commercial shipping hub in the 1800s to a recreational use today.

Some of the people at Monday’s meeting would like to see the canal develop heritage sites in each canal town, to help people understand and appreciate the history of the canal communities and the canal’s role in shaping them. That could include using bronze states, interpretive panels, murals and public arts projects to tell those stories.

Other ideas mentioned include:

• There is shortage of quality housing in many canal communities. Creating affordable and attractive living spaces should be a priority.

• There should be shuttle options on the canal. For example, if people take a kayak on the canal, they could then ride a bicycle back to the original destination.

• The canal is cleaner than in the past, but illegal dumping should remain a priority. Some people would like to see “fish ladders” to help fish travel in creeks and streams. Sometimes the canal is a barrier for fish in nearby creeks.

• More dining and lodging options needed along the canal.

• More festivals and events needed in canal towns.

• Making the canal more accessible to people with mobility challenges, and adding more handicapped accessible ramps for boats, canoes and kayaks.

• Some of the groups cited a lack of funding in making the projects a reality, and a difficulty in building consensus among local and state officials in what projects to pursue and then manage.

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Reimagine the Canals meetings in Lockport, Brockport this week

Staff Reports Posted 15 July 2019 at 9:52 am

Photo courtesy of Char Olick: A double-rainbow appeared over the Main Street lift bridge and downtown Albion on Saturday evening.

There will be community engagement sessions this week in Lockport and Brockport as part of the State Canal Corp.’s goal to “Reimagine the Canals.”

There will be a session today in Lockport from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Challenger Learning Center, 160 Washburn St.

Then Brockport will host a session on Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the SUNY Brockport Cooper Hall.

The Rockefeller Institute of Government is leading the series of community engagement sessions this month for Reimagine the Canals, a state-sponsored initiative to identify new uses for the Erie Canal.

The initiative, launched in May by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, builds on last year’s Reimagine the Canals Competition, which sought innovative ideas to boost local economies, increase recreation and strengthen environmental resilience along the Erie Canal.

“These sessions are a great opportunity for the public to help shape the future of the Erie Canal,” said Joanie Mahoney, the Reimagine the Canals Task Force chair. “The public’s input will be crucial in formulating the final recommendations about the Canal that will be sent to Governor Cuomo.”

First opened in 1825, the Erie Canal spans more than 360 miles. Today it is overseen by the New York State Canal Corporation, a division of the New York Power Authority.

As the Canal nears its third century, Governor Cuomo viewed this as the time to reimagine the future of this essential piece of New York State infrastructure as a resource for agricultural irrigation, ecological restoration, flood mitigation, boating, fishing and tourism.

The community engagement sessions will integrate the voices of Canal communities into the Reimagine initiative. Community members will learn about Reimagine the Canals and will discuss the Canal’s current uses and its potential future. The insights from these sessions will be presented to the Reimagine the Canals Task Force.

Participants can RSVP prior to attending. The Reimagine the Canals website offers more information about the initiative, as well as a portal where members of the public can submit feedback if they are unable to attend a community engagement session. The Rockefeller Institute will hold a second series of meetings later in the summer.

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New book about Erie Canal focuses on musical history of the historic waterway

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 28 June 2019 at 6:07 pm

MEDINA – An accomplished musician and educator with a particular interest in the Erie Canal will be at The Book Shoppe from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday to sign copies of his new book.

William Hullfish, professor emeritus of music at Brockport State College, will take readers on a musical journey along New York’s historic Erie Canal in his 240-page book, The Erie Canal Sings: A Musical History of New York’s Grand Waterway.

Hullfish’s career began with six years with the United States Air Force Band and Singing Sergeants. He has toured extensively in State Department tours to South and Central America, the Far East and Southeast Asia, as well as with various music groups in every state except Alaska. He has played at the White House, Kennedy Center, Constitution Hall, Mormon Tabernacle and Carnegie Hall.

In Europe, he has played concerts in Germany and Austria, and has played summers in every Canadian Exhibition from the Pacific Northwest Exhibition in Vancouver to the Calgary Stampede, Red River Exhibition, Toronto and Ottawa Exhibitions and the Montreal Music Festival.

Founder and director of the nationally recognized Golden Eagle String Band, Hullfish is an expert in American music, especially Erie Canal songs. He was awarded a Gold Medal by the Smithsonian Institute as a Smithsonian/Folkways recording artist for his cultural contributions. He has several publications and recordings published by the American Canal Society, of which he is a member.

Hullfish performs in several orchestras, including the Brockport Symphony, Gateswingers Big Band, Greece Community Orchestra and Greece Summer Symphony. At a special concert appearance with the Albany Symphony, he was named a “National Treasure” by music director David Alan Miller.

Life working along the banks of the Erie Canal is preserved in the songs of America’s rich musical history, and while Thomas Allen’s, “Low Bridge, Everybody Down” has achieved iconic status in the American songbook, Hullfish writes that its true story has never been told until now.

Copies of his book will be available at The Book Shoppe, 519 Main St.

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Task Force named to reimagine the Canal Corridor

Posted 10 June 2019 at 10:27 am

Press Release, New York Power Authority

Photo by Tom Rivers: Fireworks go off in Holley near the canal and lift bridge last June 3, 2018 when the village capped its annual June Fest celebration.

ALBANY – The members of a task force established to reimagine the Erie Canal were announced on Friday. The panel will make sweeping recommendations to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the Board of Trustees of the New York State Canal Corporation as to how this historic waterway can be used to address resilience challenges and leverage economic development and recreational opportunities along its 363-mile route.

The task force will lead the Reimagine the Canals initiative announced last month by Governor Cuomo, who is seeking new opportunities for the 195-year-old waterway, which helped transform New York from an agrarian state to an industrial powerhouse, to directly benefit the communities it travels through. It is expected the panel will develop a set of strategic recommendations for the canal system to be presented to the Governor.

“This is a unique opportunity to improve upon one of New York’s most valuable assets,” said Joanie Mahoney, chair of the task force. “With the experts we have to serve on the task force, I know the future of the Erie Canal is in very good hands.”

The task force will focus on several areas affecting the Erie Canal, including:

• Potential new uses to improve the quality of life for New Yorkers

• How the Canal can support and enhance economic development

• New opportunities to enhance recreation and tourism

• Ways the Canal can mitigate impacts from flooding and ice jams, improve resiliency and restore ecosystems in canal communities

• Opportunities to use Canal infrastructure to expand irrigation for Western New York farms

In addition to serving as task force chair, Mahoney, New York State Thruway Authority chair and former Onondaga County Executive, will serve as regional lead for the central region. Former Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy will be regional lead for the Western region, while former Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens will be regional lead for the Mohawk Valley.

The task force is slated to hold its first meeting later this month. Several public meetings, to be held across the state this summer, will be announced soon. The task force is expected to present its recommendations to Governor Cuomo by the end of the year.

John Robinson, a member of the new canal task force, is pictured on June 30, 2015 on his third ride along the Erie Canal, going 363 miles from Buffalo to Albany. He is pictured with his wife Andrea. They are close to the Main Street lift bridge in Albion. Robinson used an adaptive-use bicycle to make the trip on the towpath. He runs a business, Our Ability, which promotes inclusivity in the workplace for people with disabilities in the workplace.

The task force members are drawn from a variety of fields with active stakes in the canal’s future, including maritime recreation, tourism, agriculture, historic preservation, resilience and environmental conservation. They are:

• Michael Arcuri, Arcuri Ward Law, Utica

• Leslie Becraft-Corrigan, General Manager, Winter Harbor Marina, Brewerton

• Andy Beers, Director, Empire State Trail/Hudson River Valley Greenway

• David Buicko, President & CEO, Galesi Group

• John Courain, Operations Director, Genesee Waterways Center

• Marie Cramer, Canal New York

• Maureen Doyle, President, Central NY Waterways

• Robin Dropkin, Executive Director, Parks and Trails New York

• John Garver, Professor, Geology, Union College

• Stuart Gruskin, Chief Conservation and External Affairs Officer, the Nature Conservancy

• Chris Lajewski, National Audubon Society

• Ross Levi, Executive Director of Tourism, Empire State Development (I Love NY)

• Cornelius Murphy, Professor, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

• Bill Nechamen, Executive Director, NYS Floodplain and Stormwater Managers Association

• Derrick Pratt, Program Director, Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum

• Bob Radliff, Executive Director, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor

• John Robinson, CEO, Our Ability

• Bruce Van Hise, Executive Director, Corn Hill Waterfront & Navigation Foundation

• Jeff Williams, Public Policy Director, New York Farm Bureau

Ex-Officio Members

• Richard Ball, NYS Agriculture and Markets Commissioner

• Eric Kulleseid, NYS Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner

• Rossana Rosado, NYS Secretary of State

• Basil Seggos, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner

• Brian Stratton, NYS Canal Corporation Director

• Howard Zemsky, Empire State Development President and CEO

Helping guide the task force will be the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, a part of the State University of New York. It will oversee the series of public meetings across the canal region, where residents, business owners, municipal leaders and other stakeholders can offer their ideas and insights about the Canal’s future.

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Lakeshore flood watch in effect Sunday to Tuesday

Photo by Tom Rivers: A dock in the Oak Orchard Harbor is shown on a foggy Tuesday afternoon. The water levels are up this year in Lake Ontario and tributaries.

Staff Reports Posted 31 May 2019 at 12:54 pm

A lakeshore flood watch is in effect from 6 p.m. Sunday until 6 p.m. Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service in Buffalo.

The flood watch includes the counties of Orleans, Niagara, Monroe, Wayne, northern Cayuga and Oswego counties.

“The combination of very high lake levels and moderate to strong northwest winds will result in greater wave action and an increase in lakeshore flooding on the southern shoreline of Lake Ontario,” the Weather Service said.

Lakeshore flooding may increase, especially in bays, inlets, and other low-lying areas along the shoreline with wave action producing an increase in shoreline erosion, the Weather Service said.

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Erie Canal has been refilled for upcoming navigational season

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 6 May 2019 at 1:44 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – The Main Street lift bridge is pictured with a full Erie Canal on Friday. The canal was filled with water last week.

The canal will open for its navigational season on May 17. The tolls for recreational vessels have once again been waived this year.

This year the boating season on the canal will run from May 17 to Oct. 16.

One of the tenders, a small tugboat, is pictured at the canal in Albion on Friday.

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Governor, on Earth Day, signs legislation banning single-use plastic bags

Posted 22 April 2019 at 2:32 pm

‘We’re putting an end to this blight on our environment.’ – Gov. Cuomo

Press Release, Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation on today on Earth Day that bans the sale of single-use plastic bags in New York starting in March 2020, a significant step to reduce pollution and protect fish and wildlife.

“Single-use” plastic bags do not degrade and often wind up as litter on lands and in waters, harming birds or wildlife that ingest the plastic. It is estimated that New Yorkers use 23 billion plastic bags annually, and nationwide studies show that approximately 50 percent of single-use plastic bags end up as litter. In addition to preventing plastic bag litter in our environment, this ban will also help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic bag production and disposal, from petroleum used to produce the bags to emissions from the transportation of bags to landfills.

“You see plastic bags hanging in trees, blowing down the streets, in landfills and in our waterways, and there is no doubt they are doing tremendous damage,” Governor Cuomo said. “Twelve million barrels of oil are used to make the plastic bags we use every year and by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish. We need to stop using plastic bags, and today we’re putting an end to this blight on our environment.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation will work with stakeholders and community leaders to ensure the roll-out of this initiative does not disproportionately impact low and moderate income and environmental justice communities through the distribution of reusable bags.

The legislation signed today bans the provision of single-use, plastic carryout bags at any point of sale, and provides DEC exclusive jurisdiction over all matters related to plastic bags. Under the new law, garment bags, trash bags and any bags used to wrap or contain certain foods, such as fruits and sliced meats are exempt from the ban.

Counties or cities will also be permitted to charge a 5-cent fee for single-use paper bags. Three cents from the fee will go to the Environmental Protection Fund, while the other two cents will go to the locality to pay for distribution of reusable bags.

New York joins California and Hawaii as the only states where single-use plastic bags are banned.

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Several groups will be part of canal cleanup this weekend

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 April 2019 at 11:02 am

Provided photo: Medina Boy Scout Troop 35 and Cub Scout Pack 35 are pictured last April by the Canal Culvert as part of the “Canal Clean Sweep.” The Scouts will be back at the site on Saturday picking up trash and litter.

Several groups will be part of the annual “Canal Clean Sweep” this weekend in Orleans County. The state-wide effort is promoted by the NYS Canal Corp. and Parks & Trails NY. The annual event happens near Earth Day, which is actually today.

There will be cleanup efforts in Holley, Albion, Knowlesville and Medina this weekend for the 14th annual Canal Clean Sweep.

This weekend there will be cleanup events at the following locations in Orleans County:

• ALBION – The Lockstone, a business planned on Natasha Wasuck at 160 North Main St., is sponsoring a cleanup at 10 a.m. on Sunday. Volunteers are asked to show up at the Lockstone and then head east and west to pick up trash along the canal.

• HOLLEY – On Saturday, the Masonic Lodge No. 713 in Kendall will start at 9 a.m. at the Holley Canal Park on East Avenue.

Masons will clean the towpath on both sides of the canal from the Canal Park eastward to Countyline Road.

• RIDGEWAY – Boy Scouts from Troop 35 and Cub Scouts from Troop 35 will meet at the Canal Culvert at 9 a.m. Saturday on Culvert Road to pick up garbage in the culvert tunnel and also up on the towpath.

• MEDINA – On Saturday, the Sons of the American Legion will start at 9 a.m. at the Legion Post on North Main Street. They will pick up trash from the Post, heading east to the Bates Road canal launch ramp. The Sons will also work on landscaping at Glenwood Avenue bridge over the Erie Canal.

• MEDINA – The Medina Lions Club also will do its annual environmental cleanup day on May 27, starting at Lions Park on North Gravel Road (Route 63) at 9 a.m.

• MIDDLEPORT – Volunteers are welcome Saturday beginning at 9:30 a.m. at the Carmen Bridge parking area and then head west to clean to the former Peet Street parking area.

For more on Canal Clean Sweep, click here.

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Bald eagles pictured at Iroquois Wildlife Refuge

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 April 2019 at 11:29 am

Photos courtesy of Stephanie DiGiulio

Two bald eagles are pictured today at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. Stephanie DiGiulio of Albion took the photos. She was thrilled, as a Albion graduate (home of the Purple Eagles), to take photos of the majestic creatures.

She didn’t want to give out an exact location for the eagles, so they don’t get disturbed from an influx of visitors.

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Pileated Woodpecker makes presence heard in Carlton

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 March 2019 at 11:48 am

CARLTON – Michael Smith took these photos of a Pileated Woodpecker on Monday, which was pecking away at a maple tree stump in Smith’s front yard on Route 18.

“My wife heard him pecking loudly at the tree from inside the house,” Smith said. “The tree face fits the situation.”

The Pileated Woodpecker is a large woodpecker that can seem like a crow. This woodpecker tends to have a red chest and a red stripe on its cheek.

Click here for more about the Pileated Woodpecker.

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