A series of projects aimed at connecting people to the Erie Canal through exhibits, artistic performances and by pedaling across rural countryside are closer to becoming a reality.
The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor announced $45,800 in grants awarded to nine organizations throughout the state at Proctors on Friday, Jan. 18. Three Capital District organizations will receive a total of $17,500: the American Locomotive Company Heritage Museum, Capital Repertory Theater and the New York State Bicycling Coalition. The grants will be used for projects connecting people to the Erie Canal’s history.
Beth Sciumeca, executive director of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, said grants proved successful after funds were first awarded last year to seven organizations.
“They are just doing really interesting things to share our history, educate students and showcase everything that the Heritage Corridor has to offer,” Sciumeca said. “We are really looking forward to building on that with this round of awardees.”
The ALCO Heritage museum in Schenectady is receiving $4,500 to develop a permanent exhibit exploring how the state’s early 19th century canals and railroads were connected. Museum Director Jim Cesare said the “interpretative and educational” exhibit is planned to be completed by September to welcome children as they head back to school.
Capital Repertory Theater was awarded $7,000 to support a five-week performance tour telling the story of African Americans who participated in Upstate New York’s Underground Railroad, which led thousands of slaves to freedom. Producing Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill said its educational programs reach children throughout 14 counties and it has three programs focusing on Upstate waterways.
“These are stories we believe are important and we love telling them,” Mancinelli-Cahill said. “Because of this grant we can go to schools that could not otherwise afford it and we can go to community centers and offer our program, sometimes at no cost, so that we can reach people with this very powerful message.”
For a more active approach to connect with the canal’s history, the state Bicycling Coalition is receiving $6,000 to produce a series of bicycle route maps to point out sites of interest and scenic routes leading from the Erie Canalway Trail through Orleans, Wayne, Ontario, and Madison counties.
“You have a lot of people that go along the canalway trail, but we want them to get off the trail and spend some money as well as view the heritage of the areas around the canal,” Bicycling Coalition Director Harvey Botzman said. “None of these areas have any sort of bicycling map.”
Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam applauded the efforts to connect people to the Erie Canal.
“We gave birth to a necklace of communities, dubbed mill towns, that then allowed the American dream to be tethered in those clusters,” Tonko said. “All the communities have a story to tell and when we do it together, we weave our individual strands into the richness of a tapestry that allows us to understand who we are as a people and what we are as a place.”
State Canal Corporation Director Brian Stratton said the canal system is a strong economic engine that generates at least $380 million in direct tourism spending annually. The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor stretches 524 miles across upstate New York and touches more than 230 communities.
The other projects receiving funding include: