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How About Ice Skating, Sculptures, or a Water Park on the Erie Canal? Design Competition Finals

Scott Willis/WAER News

An agriculture irrigation system for farmers. Creating canal-side pocket neighborhoods. Maybe a great Erie Canal race. Those are three of seven finalists announced today for the Reimagine the Canals Competition launched as part of this year’s bicentennial celebration. Kimberly Harriman is the Senior Vice President of the New York Power Authority, and presented the finalists at SUNY ESF.

“They really do have one thing in common, and it’s a can do spirit and that’s the exact spirit that made the canal system what it is today.”

Harriman says 145 applications were submitted, but the judges felt the seven finalists bring something new to the table.

“It’s not just the same idea with seven different variations. This spans everything from irrigation to archipelagos to winter festivals to hut systems along the canal. You can’t get more different and varied.”

Contestants from nine countries submitted applications for the contest, and Harriman says that shows that the world recognizes Erie Canal as a present day asset.

“…and so, we can recreate this unbelievable mecca for tourism and recreation and economic development our agricultural resources right here in New York. You can’t deny that after looking at 145 applications.”

Credit Scott Willis/WAER News
Announcement of Reimagine the Canals finalists.

Harriman says the seven ideas each support all of Upstate New York’s seasons, including a winterscape that brings winter activities such as ice skating or hockey to the canal. Harriman says the competition was inspired by the Cuomo administration’s effort to create a 750-mile Empire State Trail, connecting the Erie Canal Way and Hudson Green Way.

“I think some of said wow if we’re creating this unbelievable trail system how do we compliment it? There’s no better way to compliment it than taking 524 miles of Erie Canal and really leveraging for all of its worth.”

Other finalist ideas include developing water landscapes, adding art and sculpture installations, and creating innovative overnight accommodations for recreational visitors.  The teams have three months to refine their proposals and explain their economic impacts before submitting their final entries.  The winners will be announced in early fall.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at