A coalition of local and state advocacy groups gathered at the Camillus Erie Canal Park Thursday to push for closing the remaining gaps in the 360-mile canalway trail in time for its bicentennial next year. Progress has been made, but the most challenging gap appears to be right here in Syracuse.
Mile by mile, trail enthusiasts have worked with the state and other agencies to slowly fill gaps in the trail from Buffalo to Albany. Today, it’s about 80 percent complete. Greg Francese with Parks and Trails New York they’re 72 miles away from making it the longest, continuous, intrastate multi-use trail in the nation.
"For about 20 miles of unfinished trail, there's an identified funding source," Francese said. "For the remaining 52 miles of trail, we estimate that $40 million in funding is needed to close the gaps. With 2017 being the start of the bicentennial celebration, we think it's fitting to set a goal to have the entire 72 miles of trail underway or planned for early next year."
The Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council has been working on the Syracuse Connector Route project for years. Senior transportation planner Danielle Kroll says their goal is to re-establish a working group to continue discussions on how to close the 14 mile gap between Camillus and DeWitt.
"The Syracuse segment of the canal trail has long been considered one of the more difficult gaps to complete due to the urbanized area it will traverse, along with its associated costs and the need for local champions to spearhead the effort," Kroll said.
Kroll says they have been able to install short-term signage along the original canal route in the city until a permanent route is in place. Town of DeWitt planner Sam Gordon says ideas for the path are included in the Elevating Erie design competition to re-envision Erie Boulevard East, which covers much of the old canal.
"We're looking for opportunities to bring new life back to a thing that really breathed life into all of Upstate New York," Gordon said. "It's the reason why the City of Syracuse, Town of DeWitt, Village Camillus and many other places across upstate exist."
Gordon and others say the movement toward creating recreational trails has been gaining momentum as residents and communities realize the health and economic benefits they bring. For example, a 2014 study found that the Erie Canalway Trail generated $253 million in annual economic impact and supports more than three thousand jobs. Gordon says if trends continue, local mobility is seen as a must have.
"Communities used to get asked, 'why should be build facilities for running, bicycling, and walking.' Now the biggest question is, 'how fast can we get these projects done?'"