CHITTENANGO — With so many Americans not able to travel this year for their vacation, New York is encouraging residents to take a “Staycation” on the Erie Canal.
The Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum was selected as one of the launching points for the new activity program and is designed to get people out of the house and enjoy themselves, all while still practicing social distancing.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul joined local and state officials at the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum on Thursday, Aug. 6 and spoke on just how important the canal is as not only a destination but as a vital piece of American history.
“It’s important New York understands not only the history and heritage of the canal, but also the joy,” Hochul said. “The joy of going down the bike trails, of the bird watchers, of the kayakers, and more.”
Hochul said she knows the Erie Canal personally, having had a chance to explore the canal waters as a boater. “My own personal staycation is going to be along the Erie Canal,” she said. “As you all know, this is not the year to travel elsewhere. On the other hand, why would you ever want to go elsewhere anyhow? Pandemic or no pandemic, why wouldn’t you stay in New York state and explore the canals from Buffalo to Albany? Or the Hudson Valley? Or the Fingerlakes in North Country? There’s not another state with the diversity we offer.”
Hochul commended the work of the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum and the spotlight the staff shines on the 200-year-old canal.
And New Yorkers have been making excellent use of the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum offer of the free kayak and bicycle rentals to explore the canal.
According to Museum Executive Director Joseph Treglia, 254 kayaks and 52 bicycles were rented out through the Staycation Program as of Aug. 6.
“The trail has seen around 1,000 people by now and you can see the traffic is consistent and steady,” he said.
“We encourage New Yorkers to stay in their home state and call it a staycation,” Hochul said. “Celebrate what we have in New York and understand that something like this can be in your backyard.”
Hochul encouraged people from all over, from Chittenango to Syracuse, to get out and explore the canals and see the part of history they’ve been missing on their own staycation.
Director of the New York State Canal Corporation Brian Stratton said New Yorkers don’t have to go far to take a staycation.
“The Erie Canal is a tremendous resource that New Yorkers can take advantage of while staying safe and local while practicing social distancing,” Stratton said.
“Staycations are ways to get out of the house, get active, and experience New York’s amazing history and beauty — all while staying close to home.”
Among those getting out and onto the Erie Canal was Senator Rachel May, D-53, who planned to ride her bicycle all the way to DeWitt.
Not every New York representative appreciates the canal but May was one of those to defend it during budget season.
“Back in March when we were wrangling over the budget, one of my downstate colleagues said ‘Why would we include an item in the budget about reimagining the Erie Canal? Who uses canals anymore, anyway?’ And I took that as my opportunity to explain,” May said.
For May, it’s not just an important piece of New York’s history and how many towns, villages, and cities came to be — it’s a major tourist attraction and driving force in the community.
“The canal is the connector and the focal point of Upstate New York,” May said. “I’m thrilled that Reimagine the Canal has gotten creative and is doing this staycation program and bringing people to the canal.”
Treglia echoed this sentiment, saying “This national historic site is dedicated to connecting the past with the present.”
He continued, saying New York state has faced a spring no one could have ever imagined and was grateful the museum could have visitors and help them connect with New York’s heritage.
“These challenges have encouraged institutions like ours to get creative in fulfilling our missions,” Treglia said. “The Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum is proud to be a part of this program, and we’re committed to promoting the canal’s importance.”
And in the face of COVID-19, Hochul encouraged people to remain strong.
“This pandemic has been horrific for the people of our state. We were the hardest hit,” Hochul said. “And Gov. Andrew Cuomo has done nothing short of a magnificent job shepherding this state into better times. That infection rate has been driven from the highest in the nation to the lowers. That sends a message that regardless of where you go in the state of New York, it’s safe to do so.”
Even so, Hochul asked for residents to continue wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
On this topic, Hochul commended Chittenango Mayor Elizabeth Bough Martin for standing up for and defending the employees of The North Pole Ice Cream Shop in Chittenango.
“Some people gave the employees a hard time for having to wear masks,” she said. “I had a chance to go meet them. And Mayor Martin stood up for them, so I thank her for giving them that spotlight and the importance of wearing masks.”
Hochul said attitudes like this are why New York is at a 1% infection rate and why officials can tell people that it’s safe to go out in New York state.
“We’re coming out of a very dark period, but New Yorkers still need to recreate,” Hochul said. “They need opportunities to recharge and refresh the soul. And that’s what you can do on the canal.”
The free self-guided excursions will be available until Sept. 7, Mondays through Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Reservations for bikes or kayaks must be made in advance by calling Chittenango Landing at 315-687-3801.
Visitors are also encouraged to explore the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum site which will be open and features the only remaining three-bay drydock and boatyard from the original Erie Canal, officials said.
Blacksmiths will be demonstrating on-site between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, based on availability. People are encouraged to call or check the museum website for the current schedule.
Food, beverages, and gift items will be available on site.
For a complete itinerary including maps and information on surrounding landmarks as well as local sites and restaurants, people can go online to the state Canal Staycations website at http://www.canals.ny.gov/canalstaycations/.