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College of Saint Rose in Albany makes closure official

Lawmakers Support Extension Of Erie Canalway Commission

Pleasure craft lined up for the annual opening of the locks at Waterford
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
File photo of boats outside the Erie Canalway Visitors' Center in Waterford

A group of New York’s federal representatives is sponsoring legislation to reauthorize a commission to support the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.

Stretching hundreds of miles across upstate New York, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor was established in 2000. The corridor connects 200 cities, towns, and villages, holds 365 miles of Canalway Trail, and allows visitors to boat, bike, and paddle New York state.

On Thursday, marking the week of the 195th anniversary of the Erie Canal’s completion, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Paul Tonko announced their legislation to extend the authorization of the Erie Canalway Commission, the body that manages the activities of the National Heritage Corridor.

The Commission must receive reauthorization from Congress. Currently, there is a sunset date of September 30th, 2021. The extension, supported by legislation from Tonko, Gillibrand, and other members of the New York delegation, would keep the Commission functioning until 2034.

Here’s Tonko, a Democrat who hails from the Mohawk River community of Amsterdam.

“It’s a good partnership that works with the NPS – the National Park Service – and it’s no wonder, I believe, that we have a bipartisan response to this and that both Houses are committed to move forward with the legislation,” said Tonko.

Gillibrand, a fellow Democrat, says the reauthorization also helps the Commission prepare for an important milestone.

“This extension is particularly important because in addition to providing oversight for the Canalway, the Commission is expected to spend the next several years planning for the bicentennial of the completion of the original Erie Canal in 2025,” said Gillibrand.  

Barbara Blanchard, Chair of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Commission, says the Commission facilitates communication between the National Park Service and other entities, including seven New York state governmental agencies.

“It’s important because the commission works in a partnership arrangement with many other organizations to improve the quality of life in the communities along the canal system,” said Blanchard.

The canal, which opened navigation from Albany to Buffalo, is used less for commercial traffic these days but remains popular for tourism.

Bob Radliff, Executive Director of the Commission, said the pandemic delayed boating traffic earlier this year, but bikers, walkers, and paddlers have flocked to the Canalway.

“We have all kinds of stories of people using the trails for personal challenges, family experiences, etc. So it was exciting this year to see and hear those stories and we were pleased that those trails could provide physical and mental relief and health for thousands and thousands of people,” said Radliff.

The legislation to extend the Commission to 2034 is also supported by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Representatives Brian Higgins, Joe Morelle, John Katko, Tom Reed, Anthony Brindisi, Antonio Delgado, Elise Stefanik, and Sean Patrick Maloney.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.