By Gary Muldoon
During the pandemic, I have been able to use and enjoy the Erie Canal far more than in the past, as have many others. For a couple reasons: first, during this time I’ve had few personal interactions with anyone outside my office, so how I dress for work has become, to say the least, quite casual, allowing cycling clothes to become my new norm (hate that cliché). And relatedly, my daily work schedule became quite a bit more flexible.
As a result, biking has become my main method of transportation. At least if the weather is okay, as it almost always seems to be of late. Like many, I’ve had a serious need to exercise, and this mode of transit has been just what the doctor ordered.
Fortunately, both my home and workplace are quite close to the Erie Canal. Getting on and off the canal path – formally known as the Erie Canalway Trail – requires only a few side streets. The distance between the two locations is a fair trek for me, about 15 miles, but its exceeding flatness makes the trip less than a major exertion. In my daily travels there’s only one place, in Pittsford, where the path varies from the canal and requires some up-or-down effort, but that brief interruption makes it more enjoyable. That’s about midway for my travel. Biking through Schoen Place is always a nice diversion from the trail. Or, to indulge myself, a stop at Pittsford Dairy Farms for coffee and pain du raisin, making life blissful.
At locks along the canal’s length, a bit of an effort is needed to go uphill a few feet. About as much as walking upstairs.
Around Bushnell’s Basin is a plaque noting that the location of what is known as “the Great Embankment.” It reads: “Completed 1822 is one mile long, 70 feet high across Irondequoit Creek Valley,” a significant engineering feat of building up the land to carry the canal across the valley. In 1974, the canal floor burst through the concrete into a sewer tunnel being dug. Homes in Bushnell’s Basin were flooded.
The adjacent land is Great Embankment Park, mostly soccer fields, off Marsh Road.
A lot of history along the canal.
Plenty of users of the canal path, including parents biking with their kids, or jogging while pushing a pram with a toddler inside. But I’d bet far less than even a tenth of those living in Monroe County have ever walked, jogged, biked, or rollerbladed the canal path. That’s a shame: I’d rank the Erie Canal as the nicest humanmade amenity in this area. And those who do use it seem to treasure it as I do. Almost never do I encounter litter or graffiti along the length of my travel, and the path’s users are courteous to other users.
This year for the first time I bought a bell for my bicycle, to warn those I’m approaching from behind of my proximity. It’s been a help. Sometimes a “On your left” is the warning – I prefer “BE-hind.” Sometimes you need to be a bit louder, with ambient noise or if the walker is wearing headphones.
On parts of the path, a painted yellow line acts as a median, separating those traveling in opposite directions. Most people stick to the right side, allowing plenty of room for passing. If two bikes approach from behind, it’s worthwhile letting walkers know that more than one are approaching.
Sometimes two people will walk together but are separated by the width of path, walking side by each. They will definitely get a bell when I have to pedal between them.
By my rough count, a tenth of the users wear masks, though most maintain a social distance.
Not all parts of the canal path are paved, which may make it difficult for rollerbladers, say. Those parts are of hard clay, with gravel.
A few years ago, when I worked in downtown Rochester, the canal was also a worthwhile route: continue through Genesee Valley Park and up the Genesee River to get into the central business district. Now, my daily travel route is a few miles shorter.
Not much boat traffic this season; the locks are just starting to admit a bit of “through” traffic. There are a few scullers in the morning or an occasional houseboat. A few people fishing.
There’s wildlife to encounter. At various spots you may need to slow down for Canadian geese and their goslings that cross the path, going to and from the canal: “make way for ducklings!”
A large turtle, a few deer. “Farther and farther, all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.” An Adlestrop moment.
At home and work, there are things to do and worry about, deadlines and headlines. Not along the canal. Placid.
Gary Muldoon is a partner in the Rochester law firm of Kaman Berlove Marafioti Jacobstein & Goldman LLP.