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March 3, 2004

Oswego River Canal is Part of National Heritage Corridor

The Oswego River Canal played a colorful and vital role in the settlement of Oswego County, and in the history of our nation. Barges and packet boats traveled continually up and down the river for much of the 19th century, carrying farm products, commercial goods and passengers. Thousands of people had jobs in mills and factories along the canal. Fugitive slaves used the waterway as a route north to Canada.

The Oswego River Canal and other sections of the New York State Canal System could be eligible for federal funding over the next few years, thanks to the canal system's designation as a National Heritage Corridor in 2000 by the U.S. Congress.

There are over 500 miles of navigable waterways in the state canal system, and the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Commission is developing a long-term plan that combines tourism, conservation, recreation, and community development activities all along the waterway.

The canal commission hired Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners LLP of New York City, and Sasaki Architects, Landscape Architects & Professional Engineers PC of Watertown, Mass., to develop the plan.

The commission is eligible to receive up to $1 million annually in federal funding to plan and implement projects along the canalway. Citizens attended meetings around the state this winter to voice their ideas on how to enhance and preserve the unique qualities of the canal corridor.

Over 100 People Attend Oswego Meeting

Oswego County Legislator Kimberly Seager, District 10 (Phoenix, Schroeppel, Volney) is Oswego County's representative on the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Commission. She noted that the meeting held in January in Oswego had the largest turnout, with over 100 people in attendance.

"The commission staff and the consultants were very impressed with Oswego County's turnout and with our residents' commitment to utilizing the Oswego River Canal," said Seager. "People in our area are proud of this connection to our nation's history. These meetings are an important part of the process to get folks in Washington to understand the significance of our sites."

Several local officials, including mayors and legislators from the towns and cities along the canal, were present at the meeting.

The information from meetings across the state will be compiled and reviewed by the consultants and National Park Service, with the first draft of a preservation and management plan expected by late this year.

Draft Plan Will be Posted on the Internet

Marcia Kees, director of planning and program development for the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, said more public meetings would be scheduled when the draft is ready to allow for public comment. Portions of the plan will be posted on the canalway Web site at www.eriecanalway.org as they are completed, and people will also be able to give feedback through the Web site.

Kees emphasizes that the role of the commission is to provide a "support net" for canalside communities. "We are not there to duplicate, we are there to help build on the work that's being done in local communities," she said.

Oswego River Canal Traffic Increased 8 Percent

Legislator Seager, who is chairwoman of the Legislature's Economic Development and Planning Committee, noted that boating traffic already has a significant economic impact on communities along the canal system.

According to a study released by the New York State Thruway Authority, recreational boating traffic along the Oswego River Canal has increased steadily over the past few years. In 2002 there were 18,800 boat "lock-throughs," an 8 percent increase over the year before.

"The canal system presently generates more than $384 million annually in tourism and other economic benefits to upstate New York," said Legislator Seager. "It will be a few more years before the National Heritage Corridor plan is fully implemented, but we know that communities along the Oswego River, and all of Oswego County, will benefit from this project."

Meetings of the Erie Canalway Commission are open to the public. The commission will hold its next meeting March 18 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse.

For more information, contact the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor at (518) 237-8643 or visit the Web site at www.eriecanalway.org.

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