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$40 million needed to complete Erie Canalway Trail

Tom Magnarelli
Students from Seymour Elementary School in Syracuse at the Sims Store Museum in Camillus along the Erie Canalway Trail.

The Erie Canalway Trail is a multi-use path which extends 360 miles across upstate New York following the original manmade waterway. But there are still large gaps in the trail that advocacy groups want completed.

There are about 288 miles of trail open to the public, but that leaves about 72 miles that still to need to be completed to connect the project. Greg Francese of Parks & Trails New York said there is money to complete 20 unfinished miles of the gap, but funding is needed for the remainder. He estimates that would  cost about $40 million.

“With 2017 being the start of the bicentennial celebration of the Erie Canal, we think it is fitting to set a goal to have the entire 72 miles of trail underway or planned by the end of next year,” Francese said.

Francese said it will take federal, state and local funding opportunities to make this a reality.

Assemblyman Al Stirpe said the data shows a comprehensive trail system that can be advertised can drive the economy.

“Lots of people like to come, they’ll spend lots of money on their vacations going through these trail systems,” Stirpe said.

Stirpe said if the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation advertises the trails available in a five-county region of central New York, it could entice tourists visiting New York City to make the trip upstate as well, to explore the region.

"They're targeting places like China and Austrailia where people come and spend maybe three weeks or a month so they know there are other things for them to do in New York State," Stirpe said. "They already come here with their boats from all over the world to go through the Erie Canal and into the Great Lakes and this is just another way I think we can help our economy."

Tens of billions of dollars are spent on tourism in New York City each year.

Some advocates say the most challenging gap to fill is a four-mile stretch in Syracuse along Erie Boulevard East where six lanes of traffic sit on top of what used to be the canal. A competition is being held to design how the Canalway trail could connect through that corridor.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.