By Kathan Roberts
Remember the Erie Canal? Remember the song we sang in elementary school? (“Low bridge, everybody down”). Remember learning how it shaped modern history? Well, that ancient relic is still around, and its uses have expanded from its original purpose of shipping and transportation.
While a significant number of the canal’s modern uses do not involve its past, there are still many that do.
In Lockport, for example, a trip along the canal takes you through the its past, which has been reconstructed through historical markers, old canal boats and tours. The part of Lockport along the canal is home to many historical artifacts – enough to fill a second song about the Erie Canal. And just as in the song we sang, low bridges span this section of the canal.
Tour boats take passengers through a modern set of locks, built right next to the old ones. Nonmotorized boats, such as canoes and kayaks, can pass through the locks at no charge. The Lockport Caves tour, which goes through the town’s historic manmade caves, begins at Upson Park, next to the canal. A museum of the canal’s history can be found near the lower locks. In keeping with the canal’s original purpose of transportation across New York State, campsites occur along the canal, making it possible for boaters and hikers to traverse New York in a way reminiscent of the first users of the canal.
Today, the Erie Canal facilitates many types of recreation. Many use the canal for boating, while the towpath next to the canal, once used by mules pulling boats, is now used by walkers and bikers. The canal and the towpath are great for these activities because the two are long, flat and relatively straight, a rarity among local bike paths and waterways.
Another advantage of the canal is the water’s calmness. While this may be a detriment to those who prefer more adventurous white water, it’s perfect for beginning boaters. When learning to maneuver a canoe or kayak, for example, the last thing you need is rough water. The canal is a good place to practice, and its length provides intermediate and advanced boaters opportunities to challenge themselves as well. The same is true for the towpath: the approximately 300 miles that comprise it can be used equally well by the casual dog walker and the experienced hiker. The canal and towpath can be as easy or as challenging as needed.
The Erie Canal retains much of its history while also serving modern needs. Runners, motor boaters, dog-walkers, kayakers, hikers, bikers and campers have found that the canal remains something to sing about.
Kathan Roberts is a sophomore at Williamsville North High School.