N.Y. Canal Towpath Revealed Again

Chenango
So far, six miles of the towpath along the Chenango Canal, built in 1836, have been cleared of overgrowth.

Credit: Chenango Canal Association, Inc.

When it opened in October 1836, New York's Chenango Canal provided a crucial link between Binghamton and Utica, connecting Pennsylvania coal mines with the Erie Canal. But for more than a century, this canal in upstate New York was forgotten.

Now, two groups, Parks and Trails New York and the Chenango Canal Association are working to restore the canal's towpath.

Of the trail's original 97 miles, only six are accessible. However, that stretch is now growing. This winter, workers are clearing overgrowth to establish an eight-foot-wide trail in Hamilton, N.Y., extending the towpath another three miles.

Standing on its banks near Hamilton now, it would be hard to imagine that this sleepy little body of water was once a bustling gateway to open ocean. In 1834, the canal project attracted hundreds of immigrant workers from Ireland and Scotland. During its heyday, the canal carried engines for trains, coal-burning stoves, tools, and railroad men. In fact, the canal barges carried the railroad tracks that made the waterway obsolete just four decades after it was built. 

The Chenango Canal may have remained overgrown and forgotten if local resident Diane Van Slyke had not taken a walk in 2001 with her grandchildren. Van Slyke was taken aback when her grandson headed down a steep set of stairs she hadn't known existed.

With a permit from the New York State Canal Corporation, volunteers helped Diane clear, restore, and rehabilitate a five-mile stretch of canal and its adjacent towpath in Brouckville, N.Y., in the late 1990s. She also opened a small museum in 2004. Van Slyke's group hopes to eventually reconnect Utica and Binghamton via the canal's towpaths—a tough job since large portions of the old trail are now in private hands.

"We've made strides in some areas, inches in others," says Van Slyke, now president of the Chenango Canal Association. "We'll work to move brush and plants that have fallen into the water, but by the time we're finished, it's coming down on the other side. But when I see someone head towards the museum, or study the trail signs we've recently put up, I feel it's all worth it."

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Comments

Submitted by CRT at: July 14, 2009
I recently took my son on a walk and went biking with my wife on a stretch of the trail south of Route 46 all the way to where the new section ended near the south end of the Hamilton Airport runway. What a wonderful asset we have in our community! Unfortunately, the local police have a shooting range on the trail, which meant they closed it and we had to fine our way out through a farm field. Also, there is a narrow stretch near the airport that is not yet bike-worthy, but you could certainly walk through to connect to the old path into the Village of Hamilton. My next jaunt will hopefully take me on the original stretch from Route 46 north through Bouckville.

Submitted by Brian at: March 6, 2009
That's awesome that this is being done.

Submitted by SA at: March 5, 2009
The Canal should be dedicated to the Indians since the US government forced them off their lands to build it.