Federal designation preserves canal history, plans for future
Standing along the western terminus of the Erie Canal, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Brian Higgins announced introduction of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Act (HR 4641), a bill to extend the canalway's authorization for the next 15 years.
"The Erie Canal Corridor is one of America's richest treasures, and holds enormous potential that we are still unlocking," Gillibrand said. "From the waterfront in Buffalo where we stand today, through the Finger Lakes and up to Lake Champlain, the Erie Canal continues to fuel our economy and provide New Yorkers with miles of adventure and endless recreation. As New York's first senator from upstate in nearly 40 years, I will always work to preserve the beauty and tradition of the Erie Canal, and the extension of this National Heritage Corridor is an important step to continue garnering the national recognition it deserves."
"In Western New York, we are finally starting to realize the true value that comes with our proximity to the Erie Canal," Higgins said. "Continuation of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor is vital to sustaining the momentum. By embracing, maintaining and promoting the unique history we have here in New York, we provide limitless opportunities for our region's future."
Congressman Chris Gibson is also a lead co-sponsor in the House of Representatives.
"Tourism is the second-biggest economic driver in New York's 19th Congressional District, and our two National Heritage areas are major contributors to this economic engine," Gibson said. "I am proud to work with this bipartisan group of New Yorkers to reauthorize the Erie Canalway Heritage Corridor, which recognizes the importance of our amazing transportation, trade and recreational network. I am confident that we will be able to reauthorize the Erie Canalway and Hudson River Valley National Heritage areas so as to continue to effectively coordinate public and private funding to encourage additional tourism in our historic region."
The Erie Canal was designated a National Heritage Corridor by Congress in 2000. Through this designation, a federally appointed canalway commission, in conjunction with the National Park Service and U.S. Department of Interior, is tasked with promoting the corridor as a tourism destination, and ensuring the historical and natural features of the canal and its communities are preserved. The commission's authority is set to expire in 2015.
"Like the original investment in the Erie Canal, the benefits of projects and programs in the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor are shared by millions of New Yorkers and visitors, and a nation that can be proud of its nationally significant heritage," said Erie Canalway Commission Chairman Russ Andrews. "The National Heritage Corridor is a vital link that connects communities and reinforces efforts to preserve our heritage and drive economic development."
Following its completion in 1825, the Erie Canal quickly became recognized as a defining public works and civil engineering achievement with an enormous and lasting impact for New York and the nation. By connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes, the canal facilitated the movement of people and goods in a way that had previously been restricted by the difficult conditions of overland routes.
Today, the Erie Canal continues to be an economic driver both from a global perspective and right here in Western New York. Rich with history and natural beauty, the canal serves as one of New York's largest tourism magnets, providing recreational opportunities, events and telling the story of the canal's role in the Underground Railroad. The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor works closely with the New York State Canal Corp. and I LOVE NY to promote the 524-mile stretch.
Still, the economic reach extends beyond tourism with interconnectivity ranging from industry and agriculture to hydropower and research and development. According to a recent report by the New York State Canal Corp., the canal's non-tourism economic impact is more than $6.2 billion annually, supporting more than 8,800 direct and 26,400 indirect jobs.
Earlier this year, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor announced grants to Explore & More Children's Museum and the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site to expand Erie Canal enrichment opportunities in Western New York.
The corridor covers 4,834 square miles across 23 counties, extending from Tonawanda to Whitehall at the bottom of Lake Champlain, and includes Buffalo, Rochester and the Finger Lakes, Oswego, Syracuse, Albany, Saratoga National Historic Park and Glens Falls. For more information about what there is to see and do along the Erie Canal, visit www.eriecanalway.org.