With the wind behind them and sunshine breaking through, more than 500 bicyclists set off bright and early Sunday from Buffalo for the 15th annual Cycling the Erie Canal bike tour, a 400-mile trek that will end next Sunday in Albany.
The tour is sponsored by the New York State Canal Corp. and Parks & Trails New York to highlight the historic, scenic and economic attractions along the canal and to promote the two-thirds-completed Canalway Trail, which will be one of the longest recreational trails in the nation when it is finished.
A police escort accompanied the cyclists for the first of their miles as they left Nichols School on Amherst Street after registration, breakfast and a brief 7:45 a.m. kick-off ceremony. Many had camped overnight in tents on the school grounds. Rental trucks carried their gear to Sunday night’s campsite at Medina Middle School.
This year’s group of riders hails from 36 states and other countries as far away as Great Britain. Among them are five Boy Scouts and two scout leaders from a troop in Maryland.
The cyclists picked up the Canalway Trail and got their first glimpses of the canal in the Tonawandas. After an official rest stop at the Amherst Erie Canal Museum, they pedaled on to Lockport to view the locks and take boat tours of the canal.
The trail took them to an afternoon rest stop in Middleport’s Municipal Park, then on to the school in Medina, where a computer lab and swimming in the school pool were available. After dinner at the school, Tom Grasso, president of the New York State Canal Society, gave a talk on canal history.
Today, riders will enjoy a completed section of the Canalway Trail all the way to Rochester, where they will swim and canoe at Genesee Valley Park, dine at Nazareth College and spend the night on the grounds of an elementary school in Pittsford.
Each day’s itinerary covers 50 to 60 miles. After Pittsford, there are overnight stops in Seneca Falls, Syracuse, Rome, Canajoharie and Schenectady.
Riders will have a chance to take guided tours of sites such as the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse and Fort Stanwix National Monument in Rome.
Canal Corp. Director Brian U. Stratton will be cycling portions of the tour, along with other members of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s cabinet. Stratton will take part in a media event at the midpoint of the tour in Syracuse on Wednesday.