The Erie Canal Discovery Center has announced local Canalway Trail enthusiast Carol Schmelz was selected to receive the eighth annual Key to the Locks Award on May 4 at 11 a.m. at the Discovery Center, 24 Church St., Lockport.
The Key to the Lock is awarded each year to a local citizen from Niagara County who best promotes and exemplifies "Erie Canal spirit and heritage." Community members provided nominations, and a panel comprised of civic leaders and previous winners reviewed the entries. Previous award winners include Lockport Mayor Michael Tucker, David Kinyon, Jane Whitmore, Clint Starke, Becky Burns, Joe Whalen and Jeff Degnan.
Schmelz is well known as the prime "mover and shaker" behind restoring the Canalway Trail that follows the old towpath along the banks of the Erie Canal. She started advocating for the completion of the trail by writing to Assemblyman Dave Seaman in 1992 about the lack of horse trails in Niagara County. It was Seaman who suggested she get involved with the Canalway Trail, a concept then in its infancy.
"I got involved in this project because I rode my horse beside the canal in Pendleton for 20 years and knew the trail well," Schmelz said.
Although she still enjoys horseback riding, Schmelz laments that there are no designated places to ride in Niagara County. She said she hopes to rectify that by serving as the local representative to Canalway Trails Association New York, which is working to bridge the last local gap in the recreational trail along the Erie Canal.
The Canalway Trail runs parallels to the canal, in some cases using the same route as the original towpath. A "mule named Sal" may be long gone, but the trail is still used by walkers, joggers, bicyclists and more. For decades, the idea of a nonstop path along the canal has been hindered by a gaping hole in the trail between Amherst and Lockport, largely in the Town of Pendleton. Through the tireless efforts of Schmelz and other CTANY volunteers, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced recently that funding was in place to complete the Amherst-to-Lockport segment and work will begin in 2014, with a completion target date of September 2015. Once this is done, there will be 134 miles of continuous trail from Buffalo to the Village of Lyons in Wayne County.
The Key to the Locks Award ceremony is a free, public event, and all are encouraged to attend. In addition to the Key to the Locks presentation, the Erie Canal Song Contest winners will perform their winning selections. Both events take place at 11 a.m. For more information, call 716-439-0431.