N.Y. Canal Towpath Revealed Again
By Kate Nickel | Online Only | Mar. 4, 2009
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.
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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