A group of bikers, paddlers, walkers, and others who traveled along New York’s Erie Canal were celebrated today. But the governmental organization that runs the 360-mile route across the state is in danger of losing federal funding.
A small celebration was held Wednesday afternoon in Waterford, near the eastern terminus of New York’s Erie Canal system. Honored were people who completed personal mileage goals as part of the Canalway Challenge.
The event that invites people of all abilities to traverse the state was organized by the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.
Bob Radliff, the organization’s executive director, spoke at the Waterford Harbor Visitor Center.
“It connects us to this iconic place by tracing our history and tracking our miles. The Canalway Challenge now has people participating from more than 20 states, from Puerto Rico, from Canada, from ages 8 to 80,” said Radliff.
But the organization that was established by Congress could have some challenges ahead. Radliff recently testified before Congress in support of legislation that would raise the amount of federal money the organization can receive.
“So we’re in a unique position in that we’re bumping up against our cumuluative funding cap and it’s created some tension without our heritage area,” said Radliff.
Radliff says the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor is approaching its $12 million funding cap. He says a $2 million raise would allow for about three more years of funding.
Capital Region Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko is supporting legislation to raise that cap and also a bill that would create a uniform system for how federal Heritage Areas are supported. Tonko said the legislation would give rules for potential new Heritage Areas, and set up guidelines for transparency and accountability for existing areas.
“I think it’s so powerful. It speaks to the soulfulness of our regions of this country. And every region has the storytelling that makes it a power place, a destination. And this funding enables us to put together regional strategies,” said Tonko.
And protect programs like the Canalway Challenge. Although it’s the first year of the program under the helm of the Heritage Corridor, it’s not the first organized ride along the canal.
John Robinson, CEO of Our Ability Inc., is a quadruple amputee. Seven years ago, he rode along the canal with a handcycle to raise awareness for people with disabilities. It was called the Journey Along the Erie Canal.
This past year, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor asked Our Ability to create a one-mile challenge for the Canalway Challenge.
Robinson said hundreds of people have come out to travel a portion of the canal and meet their own goals.
“What we’ll never know is the impact that that has on their life. One anecdote, about seven years ago we had a young woman that joined us from Cortland County. She saw what we were doing, she bought a handcycle. She came up and she did two or three miles. Well, I know that Nicole has been handcycling since then. And that’s what we need. We need people that join us for a mile. And the go home and realize, you know what? I don’t want to give this up. This little bit of freedom. It’s a little bit of physical activity. A little bit of sweating. A little bit of nature, sunshine, and I want to keep doing it.”
The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor says since launching in May, 591 individuals, 229 groups, 29 organizations, and 600 Cycle the Erie Canal Bike Tour participants have set a personal mileage goal.
And if you look closely, you might see 15-, 90-, 180-, or 360-mile mileage stickers on a bumper near you.