Today’s Erie Canal is not your great-grandfather’s Erie Canal, nor for that matter is it the one that your grandfather knew. The original canal, still referred to as “Clinton’s Ditch,” was such a commercial success that enlargement began fairly soon after it opened in 1825. Those changes were completed in 1862 and the waterway became known as the Enlarged Erie Canal. At the beginning of the 20th century the canal was altered again and renamed the Barge Canal. The canal reverted to its original Erie Canal name in 1992.
One of the few locations in New York where all three versions of the Erie Canal can be seen side by side is in Macedon, Wayne County. For over two decades, local volunteers have uncovered abandoned canal locks and bridges, adapting these areas for recreational use through initiative and hard work. Most recently, a new nature trail was designed to attract butterflies on land between the current Erie Canal Lock 30 and a portion of “Clinton’s Ditch.”
A vision takes flight
“I do not know of any other butterfly nature trails along the Erie Canal except for ours,” says Marie Cramer, who helped bring Macedon’s Butterfly Nature Trail to fruition. The new trail opened in August 2012 and was dedicated the following month.
“Anybody can walk on the trail,” explains Cramer, the former mayor of the Village of Macedon. “It is friendly to individuals, such as older people who use walkers.” Cramer credits Mark DeCracker of Trail Works’ Forever Wild for Everyone project and businessman John Cieslinski for the idea.
When Cieslinski, owner of Books ETC. on Main Street in Macedon, visited the location he saw its natural beauty. “I could feel the sacredness there,” says Cieslinski. He recalls DeCracker’s encouragement and says, “Mark was a resource and inspiration.” DeCracker oversaw the development of the Trail of Hope, a handicap accessible trail in Lyons.
The Macedon site, on the land west of the boat launch, is owned by the state. Permission was sought for the project and approved by the Erie Canal Corporation. Cramer was helped by a former village trustee, Marcy Frey, then executive director of Macedon Partners Association, Inc., which worked to foster an economically healthy commercial district in the village. Cramer said, “Marcy had the vision and gave the Macedon Village Pride Committee the support needed to accomplish this project for all to enjoy.”
“You couldn’t even see the canal,” recalls Bill Lawton, a volunteer on the Butterfly Trail from the start. At the entrance to the trail, a plaque lists those who rallied to clear the land and to provide materials and financial help to develop the trail. After excavation, volunteers graded the earth, tilled the meadow and seeded it with grass and wild flowers to attract butterflies.
“Butterflies like water,” explains Lawton. “They have to keep their wings moist.” Lawton, who checks the trail weekly, is excited to see milkweed plants in abundance this year, since they are known to attract monarch butterflies. “Monarch butterflies rely on the milkweed, lay eggs under leaves, and when hatched to caterpillar stage they eat the leaves,” explains the Xerox retiree. He was among those who built frames for raised flower beds planted with butterfly bushes.
“Bill sees the true value of history and nature preservation,” says Cramer. “Without Bill in this community, the Butterfly Nature Trail, Lock 60, Gallup Bridge area and Aldrich Change Bridge would not look as beautiful as they do today!”
Along the trail
“Free nature therapy” is how Cramer describes the trail, where families and individuals are now safe to enjoy the Canal Park at Lock 30. “Prior to this, you could drive back with your car or truck from the entrance to the point with overgrown trees and bushes. It became an unsafe place because unusual activities were occurring day and night.”
Near the entrance of the one-quarter mile Butterfly Trail is a chainsaw sculpture of a Native American Peace Queen entitled “Jegohnseswe,” donated by Richard, Sr. and Carol Elaine Deys, a couple who shared in the vision for the trail. The figure, holding a butterfly, was crafted by Jeff Cook, and stones at its base, some painted with butterflies, create an impromptu rock garden.
The Canal Park at Lock 30 provides overnight camping for Erie Canal or Canalway Trail users, picnic areas, and a boat ramp. A playground was added in 2015. The Butterfly Trail offers an opportunity to walk, jog, cycle, and hike along the man-made waterway. Birders, fishing enthusiasts and photographers enjoy a natural environment. Children can find a “leprechaun house” at the base of a large tree. Canalside benches are great for viewing boats or the cyclists traversing the Erie Canalway Trail. The benches were purchased by local families to honor loved ones. “Just sit and the beauty arrives,” says Cieslinski.
There are both bluebird and butterfly houses. Signs provide information about birds, butterfly species and their life cycles. Youngsters in a 2013 Palmyra-Macedon summer learning program observed the butterfly metamorphosis process at school and then released the butterflies at the nature trail after each student read the signs.
The trail is included in the Wegmans “Passport to Family Wellness” program for Wayne County. Hikers complete a passport after visiting numerous trails. Each trail head has a unique symbol to trace or rub into a passport book.
“Visitors have a unique experience,” says Frey, calling the trail a destination. “It gives Macedon a higher profile and visibility,” agrees Cieslinski.
The trail has already been recognized by the New York State Conference of Mayors with a “Best Practices” award. “If you take the time to walk the trail you will see why it is special,” says Frey. A largely abandoned park has been beautified and transformed into an educational resource for the local intermediate school, where science teachers can access the habitat of the butterflies. “It is a peaceful sanctuary and it would not be there if it were not for Marie driving the project and finding so many volunteers,” says Frey.
After more than a century and a half in existence, the Village of Macedon has recently taken steps to dissolve. However, there is every expectation that the Butterfly Nature Trail – a grassroots effort of the Macedon Village Pride Committee, Trail Works, Inc., village officials, businesses, visitors, residents and volunteers – will continue to attract people of all ages and be recognized for what it has achieved.
Macedon’s Canal Heritage
Within a short stretch along the Erie Canal and Erie Canalway Trail, there are several historic sites and canal structures from the 1800s. Nearby locations include:
Enlarged Erie Canal Lock No. 60: Off Quaker Road, between Walworth and O’Neil Roads, Lock 60 was opened in 1841 as a single chamber lock with a 10-foot lift, replacing the original 1822 Clinton’s Ditch lock. It was doubled in 1874 and the north chamber was lengthened at the eastern end in 1888. Lock 60 became overgrown after all Wayne County locks were abandoned in 1917. In the 1990s volunteers worked to clean it up. Lock 60 shared the “2013 Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Award of Excellence” with another nearby canal location, Change Bridge #39.
Change Bridge #39, also known as Gallup’s Bridge Just west of the O’Neil Bridge are the abutments for Gallup’s Bridge #39 of the Enlarged Erie Canal. It was a combination highway and towpath change bridge. The change bridges allowed the towline and the mules, horses and young boys that walked with the animals, to cross and re-cross the canal when the towpath switched banks, as it did at this location.
Wayneport Union Burying Ground is a small cemetery located on the west side of Wayneport Road, just north of the canal. Buried here are 26 canal workers, victims of an epidemic in 1846. It is the only known site where canal laborers were buried en masse. The actual gravesite is unmarked, but in 1992 a historical marker was dedicated here.
Mud Creek Aqueduct is located in Aqueduct Park, just west of the Village of Palmyra and north of Route 31, adjacent to Erie Canal Lock No. 29. The wooden floor timbers of the aqueduct have been removed and today the structure is a spillway for the current canal. It also carries the New York State Canal Trail over Ganargua Creek.
Aldrich Change Bridge, Aqueduct Park is the only change truss bridge still in existence in New York State. Built in 1858, it is one of only two surviving bridges from the first enlargement of the Erie Canal. Originally located at the weighlock in Rochester, the bridge moved to the Macedon-Palmyra Town line in 1880. It became a farm bridge until approximately 1970, when it was abandoned. Washed from its abutments by ice and high water in 1996, it was salvaged, dismantled, stored and finally re-erected in Aqueduct Park in 2003-04. An award of commendation from the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor was presented to the Friends of Aldridge Change Bridge in 2014.
For more information, visit macedontown.net, trailworks.org, and the Lock 30-Butterfly Nature Trail Volunteers page on Facebook. John Cieslinki can be reached at 585-474-4116.
Story and photos by Laurel C. Wemett