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nature & waterways

2 harbors in Orleans picked for dredging by state

Staff Reports Posted 12 February 2020 at 12:36 pm

Johnson Creek, Oak Orchard among 20 channels to get attention

File photo by Tom Rivers – A boat passes through the Oak Orchard Harbor. Sediment builds up in the channel which can make it difficult for larger boats to use the harbor.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced today that 20 harbors on the southshore of Lake Ontario will be dredged, including Johnson Creek in Carlton near Lakeside Beach State Park and the Oak Orchard Harbor at Point Breeze.

The Oak Orchard Harbor dredging is scheduled to start in June 2021 and the Johnson Creek Harbor will get attention in July 2021.

The $15 million regional dredging initiative is part of the State’s $300 million effort to repair and build resiliency in communities recovering from damage caused by high water levels and flooding.

The governor made the announcement during a stop at Sandy Pond in Oswego County, where a $600,000 REDI award for the North Sandy Pond Resiliency Project will help the Town of Sandy Creek strengthen the barrier bar dividing Sandy Pond and Lake Ontario. The next round of dredging to commence at Blind Sodus Bay, Wayne County, in April, Cuomo said.

“New Yorkers living and working along the shorelines of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River are still reeling from last year’s record flooding that devastated their communities,” Cuomo said.

The full lists of harbors to be dredged includes:

Orleans County: Oak Orchard Harbor, Johnson Creek

Niagara County: Wilson, Olcott Harbor

Monroe County: Sandy Creek, Braddock Bay, Long Pond Outlet, Irondequoit Bay

Oswego County: Sandy Pond Inlet, Salmon River/Port Ontario

Wayne County: Port Bay, Blind Sodus Bay, Bear Creek Harbor, Pultneyville, East Bay

Cayuga County:  Little Sodus Bay

Jefferson County: Clayton French Creek Marina, Henderson “The Cut”

St. Lawrence County: Ogdensburg “City Front Channel,” Morristown Navigation Channel

The first REDI project completed is at Mexico Point State Park in Oswego County where record-high water levels at Lake Ontario in 2017 and again in 2019 caused devastating damage to the shoreline.

In just four weeks, 435 linear feet of shoreline was stabilized with the placement of 3,200 tons of stone. The project, which was completed ahead of schedule on Feb. 6, will preserve public access to Lake Ontario at Mexico Point Park and protect the local economy through the continued attraction of visitors.

At a Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative Conference in Albany in November 2019, Cuomo introduced the $15 million Regional Dredging Project to the representatives of communities slated to receive REDI grants, letting them know that later that month field teams would be identifying areas to be dredged and developing a timeline for implementation.

Each dredging project is targeted to be complete no more than four months from its start date, with dredging expected to commence in:

• April 2020 at Blind Sodus Bay

• September 2020 at East Bay and North Sandy Pond Inlet

• October 2020 at Braddock Bay, Pultneyville and Little Sodus Bay

• April 2021 at Sandy Creek

• June 2021 at Olcott Harbor, Oak Orchard Harbor and Wilson

• July 2021 at Irondequoit Bay, Long Pond Outlet, Bear Creek Harbor, Henderson “The Cut,” Johnson Creek, Salmon River/Port Ontario, Ogdensburg “City Front” Channel, Morristown Navigation Channel and Clayton French Creek Marine.

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Officials say canal plan in Orleans County comes at perfect time

Photos by Tom Rivers: Ed Flynn, director of planning at LaBella Associates, leads a meeting last week at Hoag Library, where the public was invited to rank priority projects for better utilizing the Erie Canal.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 January 2020 at 7:34 pm

State has many millions available for canal communities with a strategy

ALBION – An effort by several Orleans County municipalities to develop a waterfront plan for better utilizing the Erie Canal couldn’t come at a better time, local officials said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing for a $300 million “Reimagine the Erie Canal” program, which is in addition to regular pots of funding from the state for canal projects and other economic development.

The state wants to see a plan for the projects, with assurances the money will be well spent and will make an impact in the canal communities.

Construction of marinas in Albion and Holley were given red stickers, considered a top priority. Community members at a meeting last week also want to see better signage on the canal pointing people to local businesses and attractions. Boaters and kayakers also could use more amenities, such as launches and docks.

“The timing is incredible,” said County Legislator Ken DeRoller, who is a committee member for the Canal Corridor Local Waterfront Revitalization Program Plan. “We’re hitting a sweet spot.”

The committee had a meeting last week at Hoag Library, asking community members to help prioritize projects and areas of focus on the canal.

The county received a state grant for $62,000 to develop the plan and hired LaBella Associates as a consultant for the project. Each municipality along the canal in the county has a representative on the committee, except Medina, which has developed its own plan. The county committee members are representatives from the villages of Albion and Holley, and the towns of Albion, Murray, Gaines, Ridgeway and Shelby.

Ed Flynn, director of planning at LaBella Associates, told the local officials he believes the collaborative approach will stand out when the state considers which projects to give money.

“Orleans County is unique in developing a plan,” he said.

LaBella created poster boards with images and descriptions of potential projects. People at the meeting were given five stickers and asked to put them by projects. They were given two red stickers for highest priority projects, then one each for green (second highest), yellow (third highest) and blue (fourth highest).

LaBella will tabulate the results and give and report during the next meeting, which hasn’t been set.

DeRoller said the lack of a canal waterfront plan has hurt the communities’ chances in getting state grant funding in the past. But that should change now that the canal towns and villages are identifying projects.

“This plan is so imperative to give us leverage,” DeRoller said. “The attractiveness is we’ve never had a plan before so we’ve been kind of left out.”

The plan so far has identified four goals to boost the canal in the county.

Goal 1: Leverage the Canal’s Recreational Resources

(The county and corridor communities should capitalize on the canal’s wealth or land and water-based recreational resources.)

• Attract, develop and grow boating and kayaking facilities

• Provide rental facilities for bikes and kayaks

• Promote year-round sporting competitions to encourage use of recreational opportunities

• Upgrade trail surfaces for bikes

Goal 2: Stimulate Tourism along the Canal

Adding more events would draw visitors and also get local residents more enthused about the canal. Some ideas include launching a barge and bridge festival, where bridges and barge would be closed off for events, such as community dinners, brewfests, wine events, musical performances and food festivals.

(Attraction of local, regional and national visitors will promote the long-term sustainability of the Canal Corridor.)

• Provide full-service marina facilities along the canal

• Increase amenities for boaters and kayakers

• Hold year-round events on and near the canal

Goal 3: Accelerate Revitalization of Corridor Communities

(Investments in villages, downtowns and anchors along the corridor will improve the economy and quality of life for Orleans County residents and benefit businesses and tourists.)

• Provide financing and incentives to targeted businesses that will improve the vitality of village and hamlet centers

• Incubate locally based new businesses along the canal

• Redevelop sites on and near the canal

• Provide financing for agricultural siphoning and facilitate its deployment

• Provide directional and directory signage for businesses in village centers and hamlets

Goal 4: Promote the Corridor’s identity, sense of place and history

Public art projects that feature oxen and mules, two animals critical to the early success of the canal, would promote the canal and could be a fun community project drawing visitors.

(The corridor’s unique character and culture should be promoted, protected and leveraged to advance revitalization of Orleans County and corridor communities)

• Develop branded signage compatible and complaint with canal sign standards for mileposts, history, gateways and directions

• Provide informational signage at key points to tell the corridor’s natural and man-made history

• Revitalize historic and cultural buildings and sites

• Increase access to natural and agricultural areas

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13,000 birds counted in annual event at Oak Orchard Swamp, including 20 bald eagles

Posted 14 January 2020 at 8:57 am

Turkey Vultures were an unusual sight for the bird count

By Celeste Morien, Count Compiler

Photo by Celeste Morien: This Turkey Vulture is shown in the Oak Orchard Swamps, but not on the Christmas Bird Count day of Dec. 27. 

SHELBY – On December 27, 21 volunteers participated in the 52nd annual Oak Orchard Swamp Christmas Bird Count.

The National Audubon Society, in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, sponsor Christmas Bird Counts annually throughout the country and beyond in the Americas. Each count consists of a tally of all birds seen within a 15-mile diameter circle on one day that falls within a 15-day period at the end of December and the beginning of January. Audubon Christmas Counts have been taking place for 119 years and provide valuable information on the range expansion or narrowing of wintering bird populations.

The center for the Oak Orchard count is the point at which the Genesee-Orleans County line crosses Route 63. The 15-mile diameter circle includes the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, Oak Orchard and Tonawanda State Wildlife Management Areas, the Tonawanda Native American Reservation, the townships of Alabama and Shelby, the villages of Indian Falls, Medina and Wolcottsville and portions of Middleport and Oakfield.

Count hours were warm and mild, with a low of 39F and high of 57F, both above the average daily temperature for the date of 34F. Both morning and afternoon were essentially precipitation free.

Our observers were afield in 14 parties from 6:30 a.m. until 5:50 p.m., and in 322.5 total hours covered 35 miles on foot and 504 miles by car! One observer counted birds at home feeders. Participants also clocked 4 nocturnal hours and 37 miles searching for owls. In total, these observers tallied 62 species. 13,248 individual birds were counted, which is an improvement over last year. Despite this year’s open water, because of a hard freeze in November most waterfowl had left the region by count day.

For the second year in a row, counters commented on difficulty finding sparrow species including low numbers of wintering Dark-eyed Juncos, American Tree Sparrows and other common sparrows. With the lack of snow, participants reported that birds were difficult to see in fields and were not present at the roadsides.

No irruptive species (those that visit in winter from the boreal forest when cone crops there are low) were noted this year, except for a few Red-breasted Nuthatches. Two notable highest counts ever were of 20 Bald Eagles (!) and 493 Herring Gulls. Turkey Vulture was the one “new to the count” species this year.

This female Ruby-crowned Kinglet was photographed by Jennifer Rycenga of San Mateo, CA. It was seen on Waterworks Road.

A Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a Hermit Thrush, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler were all found lingering in the count area by our sharp-eyed participants. Count week birds seen in the three days before or after the count date were Tundra Swan, Hooded Merganser, Short-eared Owl, Savannah Sparrow and Turkey Vulture.

The Friends of Iroquois, Inc. sponsored evening refreshments at the refuge. The INWR Staff contribute time and effort in covering the refuge areas. The NYS DEC staff volunteered to report birds while on duty and conducted their winter raptor survey on count afternoon. Many thanks go out to everyone who participated! We rely on volunteer support every year to continue this important tradition.

A list of species follows:

• Canada Goose, 4,447; European Starling, 4,105; House Sparrow, 690; Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon), 499; Herring Gull, 493; Mallard, 327;

• Ring-billed Gull, 307; Black-capped Chickadee; 287; American Crow, 270; Mourning Dove, 173; Red-winged Blackbird, 151; American Tree Sparrow, 142;

• Dark-eyed Junco, 140; Brown-headed Cowbird, 139; American Goldfinch, 127; Northern Cardinal, 109; Blue Jay, 102; Cedar Waxwing, 85; Downy Woodpecker, 83;

• White-Breasted Nuthatch, 73; House Finch, 62; Eastern Bluebird, 48; Wild Turkey, 48; Red-tailed Hawk, 47; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 46; American Black Duck, 31;

• Hairy Woodpecker, 30; Northern Flicker, 29; American Robin, 22; White-throated Sparrow, 21; Bald Eagle, 20; Tufted Titmouse, 17; Horned Lark, 10; Song Sparrow, 9;

• Brown Creeper, 9; Pileated Woodpecker, 8; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 5; Eastern Screech Owl, 5; Cooper’s Hawk, 5; Northern Harrier, 4; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 3; American Kestral, 3; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 3; Great Blue Heron, 3; Ring-necked Pheasant, 3;

• Carolina Wren, 2; Common Raven, 2; Merlin, 2; Great Horned Owl, 2; Common Merganser, 2;

• Yellow-Romped Warbler, 1; Hermit Thrush, 1; Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 1; Northern Shrike, 1; and Barred Owl, 1.

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DEC will discuss ‘State of the Lake’ during fishing expo in Niagara Falls

Posted 13 January 2020 at 6:17 pm

Press Release, Department of Environmental Conservation

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation invites the public to check out its Bureau of Fisheries’ expanded angler outreach programs at the upcoming Greater Niagara Fishing and Outdoor Expo, Jan. 17 to 19, at the Niagara Falls Conference and Event Center, 101 Old Falls St.

“DEC is pleased to increase our outreach efforts at this year’s Niagara Fishing and Outdoor Expo,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “This event provides an excellent opportunity for anglers to interact directly with the biologists who study and manage our Great Lakes and inland fisheries, and to talk one-on-one with fisheries managers about a variety of topics. New York offers numerous world-class fishing opportunities, and we invite anyone interested to come and learn more about the incredible sportfishing in New York’s Great Lakes region and beyond.”

Freshwater fishing in New York State is thriving and generates significant economic benefits to local economies. In 2017, anglers fished more than 3.1 million days on New York’s open Great Lakes waters, and an additional 850,000 days on Great Lakes tributaries. The combined economic impact exceeded $152 million in angler expenditures en route to and at fishing destinations. Anglers fished more than 1.3 million days on the Finger Lakes in 2017, generating a combined $29.9 million in expenditures.

In addition to its annual informational booth at the event, DEC will host abbreviated versions of the fisheries “State of the Lake” meetings for Lake Erie and Lake Ontario that are typically held in March and May. Meetings will feature emerging results about walleye movement, creel survey results, habitat work, prey base, and record catch rates.

Key members of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario fisheries management and research community will present information on management and assessment activities for prominent lake and tributary sport fisheries. Meeting times are:

State of Lake Ontario Fisheries meeting – Friday, Jan. 17, 6 to 7 p.m.

State of Lake Erie Fisheries meeting – Friday, Jan. 17, 7 to 8 p.m.

Billed as a top attraction at this year’s expo, DEC will host a unique “Open House” program on Saturday, Jan. 18, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., during which expo attendees can talk one-on-one with subject matter experts on a variety of the State’s fisheries management topics, including: Lake Ontario – open lake; Lake Ontario tributaries and Salmon River; Lake Erie and tributaries; Niagara River; St. Lawrence River; Great Lakes fish production and stocking; Finger Lakes; Recruiting more women to fishing; Trout stream management; and Environmental Law Enforcement.

To learn more about this event, visit the Niagara Fishing Expo website.

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Sponsorships available for events in canal communities

Posted 10 January 2020 at 2:50 pm

Photo by Tom Rivers: About 1,000 toy turtles float down the Erie Canal in Albion during the Amazing Turtle Race in June 2015, an event which is part of the annual Albion Strawberry Festival.

Press Release, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor

WATERFORD – The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, in partnership with the NYS Canal Corporation, is offering competitive sponsorships up to $500 for events or festivals taking place in the National Heritage Corridor from May through November 2020.

Applications are due by Feb. 20. Qualifying events must promote or celebrate the distinctive historic, cultural, scenic, or recreational resources of the canal corridor. Eligible applicants include municipalities and nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations.

Events that celebrate the bicentennial period (1817-1825), encourage use of the New York State Canalway Water Trail, or participation in the Canalway Challenge or inclusive recreation for people with accessibility needs will be given priority consideration.

For instructions and an online application, visit eriecanalway.org/resources/grants.

About the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor

The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor preserves New York’s extraordinary canal heritage, promotes the Corridor as a world-class tourism destination, and fosters vibrant communities connected by more than 500 miles of waterway. It achieves its mission in partnership with the National Park Service, New York State agencies, non-profit organizations, local residents, and more than 200 communities across the full expanse of upstate New York. www.eriecanalway.org

About the New York State Canal Corporation

The New York State Canal Corporation, a subsidiary of the New York Power Authority, oversees the operation and promotion of the New York State Canal System. The Canal Corporation’s mission is to operate and maintain a premier waterway and trail system that honors the historic legacy of the Erie Canal and offers unique recreational and tourism opportunities, while also promoting sustainable economic development throughout the canal corridor. For more information on the New York State Canal System and the Canal Corporation, please visit www.canals.ny.gov.

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Nominations sought for Erie Canalway Heritage Award of Excellence

Posted 9 January 2020 at 8:04 am

Provided photo: Little Falls Canal Place was chosen the 2008 Heritage Award recipient.

Press Release, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor

WATERFORD – The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor is calling for nominations for the Erie Canalway Heritage Award of Excellence, which celebrates outstanding places within the National Heritage Corridor where people have come together to make the Corridor a more vibrant place to live, work and visit.

The award recognizes local investment in places, including parks, trails, historic buildings and canal structures, streetscapes and entire communities. Municipalities, community groups, private entities, and non-profit organizations are encouraged to submit a nomination by Feb. 28, 2020.

The nomination asks applicants to make a compelling case for “What makes their place great?” Recognition for excellence is selected based on the applicant’s effectiveness in helping to advance one or more of the goals set forth in the Erie Canalway Preservation and Management Plan.

Award recipients benefit from statewide recognition and the promotion of their efforts as best practices to inspire others within the Corridor. A formal presentation of awards will take place in June.

Past recipients include: Lockport Locks District, Lockport; Canal Place, Little Falls; School Street Hydroelectric Facility, Brookfield Renewable Power, Cohoes; Hudson Crossing Park, Schuylerville.

For additional information, past recipients, and the online nomination form, visit eriecanalway.org/get-involved/awards.

About the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor

The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor preserves New York’s extraordinary canal heritage, promotes the Corridor as a world-class tourism destination, and fosters vibrant communities connected by more than 500 miles of waterway.

It achieves its mission in partnership with the National Park Service, New York State agencies, non-profit organizations, local residents, and more than 200 communities across the full expanse of upstate New York.

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Cuomo announces $300 million plan for Erie Canal communities

Renderings courtesy of Governor’s Office: One proposal calls for lighting up the movable dams in Amsterdam and Canajoharie in the Mohawk River valley.

Posted 6 January 2020 at 12:26 pm

“Reimagine Erie Canal’ would grow tourism, reduce flooding in canal towns, and improve irrigation for upstate farmers

Press Release, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Office

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today unveiled a $300 million plan to reimagine the Erie Canal by creating recreational activities on the Canal to boost tourism, mitigating flooding, enhancing irrigation and recreational fishing and restoring wetlands.

The governor is recommending the New York Power Authority Board, which now oversees the Canal Corporation as a subsidiary, approve the $300 million investment over the next five years at the board’s January meeting.

“When the Erie Canal was created in the 19th century it set the state and the nation on a path to prosperity, and this year we will repurpose the canal to fit our state’s 21st century needs,” Governor Cuomo said. “This bold and visionary plan to transform this historic waterway will build on the success of the Empire State Trail, grow tourism across Upstate New York, improve resilience of today’s Canal communities and ensure the economic sustainability of the waterway into the future.”

A first phase of funding will start this year that will have two parts: a $100 million economic development fund to invest in communities along the Canal and a separate $65 million investment in solutions that will help prevent ice jams and related flooding in the Schenectady area.

The remaining $135 million of the plan’s funding will subsequently be allocated to research recommended by the Reimagine Task Force, as well as to solutions related to flood mitigation, invasive species prevention and ecosystem restoration.

New Economic Development Fund for Canal Communities

In the first phase of the program, a $100 million economic development fund will support projects that adaptively reuse canal infrastructure to enhance water recreation, tie the Canal’s new recreational improvements to the Governor’s Empire State Trail, celebrate historic canal structures, and develop unique canalside attractions and activities. Roughly $25 million of that will be allocated immediately to a set of initial projects:

• Connecting Communities: The “Brockport Loop” project in Monroe County will connect SUNY College at Brockport to the Empire State Trail and the village of Brockport through the transformation of a canal guard-gate into a pedestrian bridge and overlook, with a supporting grant of $2 million from the Ralph Wilson Foundation.


• Celebrating “Iconic Infrastructure”: Interactive, hydro-powered illumination of Canal “movable dams” – initially in Amsterdam and Canajoharie in the Mohawk River valley – will celebrate the Canal’s heritage and its history as an engineering marvel.


• Expanding Water Recreation: A new whitewater destination, at the north end of Cayuga Lake near Seneca Falls, will rely on existing water control infrastructure to construct an active water sports course adjacent to the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, to increase eco-tourism and sport visitors to the region.


• Adapting Industrial Property for New Uses: Winner of the Reimagine the Canals competition, a canalside pocket neighborhood, will be developed by Madison County in Central New York at a former industrial property in Canastota along the Old Erie Canal – demonstrating a new model for 21st century canalside living.


• Developing Destination Accommodations: The historic Guy Park Manor, on the Mohawk River in Amsterdam, will be reborn as a hospitality destination and a pedestrian bridge constructed across the already-existing Canal lock will provide access to additional overnight accommodation along the Empire State Trail on the opposite side of the river.

Resiliency Improvements Strengthen Canal Communities

To help mitigate chronic summer and winter flooding in the Mohawk River Valley, an initial allocation of approximately $65 million will be used for deploying an icebreaker and undertaking dredging and filling in certain portions of the Mohawk to prevent ice jam formation; developing an Ice Jam Monitoring and Early Warning System to better alert communities to potential flooding; and retrofitting the New York Power Authority’s Vischer Ferry power dam in Niskayuna to help mitigate summer flooding and ice jams around the Schenectady and Scotia areas, including the historic Stockade District.

At the recommendation of the Task Force further studies will be undertaken to better assess additional approaches to both reducing flood vulnerability in the Mohawk and tackling the rise of aquatic invasive species across the Canal.

Improved Irrigation for Farmers

The plan also includes establishment of an irrigation district in Western New York to enhance drought resiliency by ensuring that farmers in those counties have reliable access to water during the critical summer growing season. Guaranteed access to water is needed to expand the production of high-value fruits and vegetables, specifically in areas that today cannot access canal water.

To ensure water is available during periods of low rainfall, canal outflow infrastructure will be modernized as part of a “smart water management system” that can better respond to changing weather conditions. A new grant program operated by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets will underpin additional private-sector investment in irrigation infrastructure.

World-Class Fishing and Restored Wetlands

To create world-class fishing in Western New York, the new plan recommends managing water releases from the Canal to enhance fish habitat, improve angling opportunities, and extend the fall fishing season in Lake Ontario tributaries. It also includes funding to expand public fishing access along key streams in Orleans, Monroe and Niagara counties.

In addition, it identifies a program to divert Canal water to restore and re-nourish wetlands in Central New York that were compromised a century ago by the Canal’s construction. This will allow areas in close proximity to the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, a migratory stopover for more than 1 million birds each year, to be significantly enhanced to further attract naturalists, locals, and visitors from throughout the region and beyond.

Reimagine the Canals Task Force Shares Recommendations in Report

Ideas in this plan originated from the Reimagine the Canals Task Force recommendations. The Reimagine the Canals Task Force, launched by Governor Cuomo in May of 2019 to pursue a comprehensive investigation of how the 195-year-old Erie Canal could be reimagined for the 21st century, issued its full set of findings to the Governor today in an official report. The Task Force set out to:

• Identify potential new uses for the Erie Canal aimed at improving the quality of life for New Yorkers

• Evaluate how the Erie Canal can support and enhance economic development along the canal corridor

• Identify new opportunities to enhance recreation and tourism along the Erie Canal

• Assess how the Erie Canal can help mitigate impacts from flooding and ice jams to improve resiliency and restore ecosystems in canal communities, and

• Discover opportunities for using Erie Canal infrastructure to expand irrigation for Western New York farms.

The Task Force is chaired by Joanie Mahoney, New York State Thruway Authority chair and former Onondaga County Executive. Mahoney is overseeing Task Force work in Central New York. Former Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy serves as regional co-chair in Western New York, and Joseph Martens, former Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner, serves as regional co-chair in the Mohawk River valley.

In addition to economic development and operational recommendations, the findings, detailed in the Reimagine the Canals Task Force Report released today, include solutions for strengthening storm resiliency along the waterway, improving irrigation for farmlands, expanding fishing opportunities in Western New York and restoring wetlands in Central New York.

The Task Force engaged with municipal leaders, stakeholders, local business owners, scientists and other experts, along with community members, to identify opportunities and solutions that support a new vision for future investments in the waterway. Many of the ideas that the Task Force explored came from the completed Reimagine the Canals competition, held last year by the New York Power Authority and New York State Canal Corporation. SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute of Government, on behalf of the Task Force, conducted a series of outreach sessions during the summer in five canal communities – Lockport, Brockport, Schenectady, Utica and Syracuse – to solicit new ideas from the public at large. Ideas were also solicited on a Reimagine the Canals website, offering more distant canal users an opportunity to provide their views to the Task Force.

The “Reimagine” initiative builds on successful efforts by Governor Cuomo to invest in the canal corridor, including the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative and successful Taste NY program, which have stoked new industries, businesses and housing in canal communities. Harnessing the Canal’s full potential to attract more tourism and recreation is a key focus of the Initiative. Governor Cuomo and state agency and authority staff will collaborate with Empire Line communities and continue to consult with Task Force members and other stakeholders to ensure the success of projects as they move forward.

There are 1.6 million trips taken annually on the Erie Canal Trailway, the former towpath used by mules and horses to pull barges in the canals’ early days. The Trailway is part of Governor Cuomo’s Empire State Trail, which at 750 miles will be the largest state multi-use trail network when completed in late 2020. Governor DeWitt Clinton began work on the original Erie Canal on July 4, 1817.

“As an upstate New Yorker who lives near the Erie Canal and is a frequent visitor to canal communities, I know how this plan to reimagine the canal can unlock even more potential to make it a major tourism magnet,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “The canals have played a crucial role in New York’s history and growth, and with the implementation of these new exciting projects, the canals will remain a vital force and make a positive contribution to the economic well-being and quality of life in the 225 communities they travel through.”

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Canalway heritage corridor gets funding boost to $14 million

Photo by Tom Rivers: A boat passes along the Erie Canal in Albion in this photo from Sept. 23, 2015.

Posted 19 December 2019 at 5:06 pm

Press Release, U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and U.S. Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY-20) today announced that their amendment to raise and extend the federal funding cap for the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor to $14 million has been included in the soon-to-pass end of the year budget package.

This is an increased funding cap of $2 million, without which, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor would have no longer been eligible to receive federal funding. Instead, following the members’ successful push, the Erie Canalway will continue to receive annual appropriations to help preserve this historic corridor and promote tourism and economic development throughout the region.

“The Erie Canal is a crucial economic engine for tourism in Western New York, not to mention one of the state’s greatest attractions and most impressive features. It’s incumbent on all of us, elected officials, residents, and tourists alike to preserve the history and beauty of the Erie Canal for the long-term future, so that it can be enjoyed by generations of New Yorkers and Americans to come,” said Senator Schumer. “That’s why I urged my colleagues in Congress to raise and extend the funding cap for the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, allowing it to continue receiving the federal support it needs to thrive. More than ever, we have to make sure our local governments and communities in Upstate New York have the resources required to protect treasures like the Erie Canal.”

“The Erie Canal is one of New York State’s most important historic treasures. The legacy of the canal helps drive millions of dollars for Upstate New York, promoting tourism for the communities along the corridor,” said Senator Gillibrand. “It was a mistake for Congress to leave this historic waterway, which connects communities from Glens Falls to Buffalo, at risk of losing its federal support, which is why I’ve been fighting to raise and extend the funding cap for the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. I’m proud that our amendment to do just that has passed the Senate, and will continue to fight to make sure the Erie Canal can be preserved for generations to come.”

“Our Erie Canalway connects us and future generations with the stories and places of the past that have shaped who we are as Americans,” said Congressman Tonko. “Not only does the Canalway provide us with an incalculable historical and cultural value, it delivers a significant economic return by bringing tourism and commerce across our region. I was proud to work to get this provision in the House Appropriations package, and am overjoyed that this raise in the funding cap will be signed into law so that we can continue to invest in and preserve this unique, national treasure.”

Congress established the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor in 2000. The corridor spans 524 miles and 23 counties across the full expanse of Upstate New York, following the historic routes of the Erie, Cayuga-Seneca, Oswego, and Champlain Canals.

The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, in partnership with the National Park Service and numerous local, state, and federal partners, works to preserve and share the Erie Canal’s extraordinary heritage, to promote Upstate New York communities as a tourism destination, and to foster vibrant communities connected by the waterway through historic preservation, conservation and recreation, education, and community development.

Approximately 3.2 million New Yorkers live in the communities within the corridor, and a 2016 economic analysis found that the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor had an annual economic impact of $307.7 million in Upstate New York.

Congress has imposed cumulative funding caps on the amount of funding National Heritage Areas can receive over their lifetime, but also has the authority to increase the caps when they are about to be reached. Although the expiring statuary caps for many national heritage corridors were extended in the Lands Package earlier this year, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor was left out of the cap extension. The members previously led a push to ensure Congress raises and expands the funding cap for the Erie Canalway to preserve its legacy.

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It’s almost time for annual Christmas Bird Count at Oak Orchard Swamp

Posted 17 December 2019 at 9:49 pm

Photos courtesy of Celeste Morien: A Cooper’s Hawk is shown in this photo.

Press Release, Oak Orchard Christmas Bird Count Compiler Celeste Morien

It’s almost time for the Oak Orchard Swamp Christmas Bird Count, which began in December 1968.

The National Audubon Society has been sponsoring Christmas Bird Counts for 119 years and the Friends of Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge provide support for this local count.

Count compiler and Medina resident Celeste Morien would like the public to be alert for counters with spotting scopes and binoculars who will be out and about Dec. 27 on local roads, searching for birds in fields and at bird feeders.

Filling bird feeders now and keeping them stocked ahead of the count helps fulfill the count objective of counting all wild birds seen and heard within the circle.

Our Oak Orchard Swamp count is centered at the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge on the Orleans and Genesee County line at Route 63. Count volunteers follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile diameter circle, which includes more than the refuge and state wildlife areas, counting every bird they see or hear all day.

It’s not just a species tally—all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day.

According to the Audubon website, “Prior to the turn of the 20th century, hunters engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas ‘Side Hunt.’ They would choose sides and go afield with their guns—whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered (and furred) quarry won.

A Pileated Woodpecker is at a suet feeder.

Conservation was in its beginning stages in that era, and many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an early officer in the then-nascent Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition—a ‘Christmas Bird Census’ that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them.”

So began the Christmas Bird Count. Thanks to the inspiration of Chapman and the enthusiasm of 27 dedicated birders, 25 Christmas Bird Counts were held that day. The locations ranged from Toronto, Ontario to Pacific Grove, California with most counts in or near the population centers of northeastern North America.

From Dec. 14 through Jan. 5 each year tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas brave snow, wind, or rain, and take part in the effort. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this long-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations, and to help guide conservation action.

The data collected by observers over the past century allow Audubon researchers, conservation biologists, wildlife agencies and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, it provides a picture of how the continent’s bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years.

The long term perspective is vital for conservationists. It informs strategies to protect birds and their habitat, and helps identify environmental issues with implications for people as well.

If your home is within the circle and you are at home on count day, you can report the birds that visit your feeder. Anyone can participate, but arrangements must be made with the compiler. To do so, please contact celeste.morien@gmail.com.

Please consider donating to the Christmas Count here since the Audubon Society no longer collects fees from each participant – www.audubon.org/GiveCBC.

For past results of any Christmas Bird Count, the National Audubon Society website is an excellent resource – www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count.

Two wild turkeys scamper in the snow.

This map shows the areas of focus during the Oak Orchard Swamp Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 27.

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Free canal calendars will be available locally

Posted 25 November 2019 at 9:31 pm

Courtesy of Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor: The cover of the 2020 Erie Canalway Calendar features the Tugboat Erie, in this photo by Frank Forte of Little Falls.

Press Release, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor

WATERFORD – The public is invited to pick up a free 2020 Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor calendar starting December 1, 2019 at selected libraries and visitor centers throughout the National Heritage Corridor. The calendar features winning images from this year’s Erie Canalway photo contest.

(Editor’s Note: Locally the calendars will be available at the public libraries in Albion, Holley, Medina, Brockport and Middleport.)

“The calendar showcases the unique beauty, history, and character of New York’s canals and canal communities,” said Bob Radliff, Erie Canalway Executive Director. “We hope it inspires people to preserve and celebrate our incredible canal heritage.”

Calendars will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, thanks to generous sponsorship by the NYS Canal Corporation.

This year’s cover features 1st Place winner Tugboat Erie by Frank Forte of Little Falls, NY.

See a list of calendar distribution sites by visiting www.eriecanalway.org.

The 2020 Erie Canalway Photo Contest opens in May 2020. The public is invited to submit images taken year-round within the National Heritage Corridor.

The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor spans 524 miles across the full expanse of upstate New York, encompassing the Erie, Cayuga-Seneca, Oswego, and Champlain canals and their historic alignments, as well as more than 230 canal communities.

Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Commission and the Erie Canalway Heritage Fund work in partnership to preserve our extraordinary heritage, to promote the Corridor as a world-class tourism destination, and to foster vibrant communities connected by the waterway.

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