Annual 'Cycle the Erie Canal' tour continues to grow
The annual "Cycle the Erie Canal" tour continues to grow, bringing more and more visitors to the historic path. This month, hundreds of bicyclists followed the storied canal on a 363-mile ride.
Clanging bells and the smell of hot dogs roasting welcomed bikers at the halfway point of the ride at the Camillus Erie Canal Park earlier this month. This year’s event, put on by the statewide nonprofit Parks and Trails New York, attracted riders from 39 states, Canada and Australia.
Auburn native, Bruce Gillolly, who is 77, has a personal reason for joining the ride.
"I recently found out that my grandfather emigrated from Ireland. And he ended up working on the Erie Canal," said Gillolly.
David Adamitis of Syracuse used the opportunity to celebrate his high school graduation with a friend. Even though he thought he knew all about the canal, he said learned some things on the trip.
"Going along and learning the history, you never realize the extent of it," said Adamitis. "I didn’t know there was different canals done along the way, I thought it was just the one."
This particular ride has grown dramatically. Dave Beebe, a volunteer at the Camillus Erie Canal Park remembers when there were only eight bikers on the trip from Buffalo to Albany. This year around 700 cyclists pedaled the trail.
Its success mirrors a growth in tourism along the canal. It currently attracts close to 1.6 million visits a year with a yearly economic impact of $253 million.
Linda Vishnesky, a docent at the Camillus park, said much of that goes into small businesses in small towns along the trail, describing one Camillus business that geared up for the ride.
"Peter’s Polar Parlor, right down the road, is giving a 10% discount. They have a bike wash station and a spritzer station for the bikers. So we get different businesses in it and it helps the community," said Vishnesky.
Dylan Carey, project director at Parks and Trails New York said as the state continues its investment in the canal trail, this event and others will only get bigger.
"By 2020, we’ll have the Empire State Trail complete, and that’ll be the centerpiece of what will be the country's premier trail system, and it’s attracting people from all over the country to come see it and ride it and see what we have to offer," he said.