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Three Rivers Junction, where the Seneca meets the Oneida, forming the Oswego, it’s got to be right around that bend.

At Three Rivers we sail into our own wake;  we’ve performed the ouroboros.  There’s just this sign, which we saw on leg 9 of the earlier virtual tour.  No pier, no quay, no wharf, no concession stand . . . no place or reason to stop. Different groups of the Haudenosaunee may have had their names for this convergence, but I’ve not learned any.  The inn that was here, off the left side, has never been replaced.

If we turn north here, we return to Oswego.  If we turn east, we head for Waterford.  I know a boat currently in the Pacific that was right here coming from Lake Erie/Buffalo seven years ago, and turned east here.  Arriving from Lake Erie, about 200 miles back, meant getting lowered 200.’  From here to Waterford means about 160 miles, but we have to be raised about 60,’ and then lowered about 400.’  Quo vadis?

This is the end of the line. Thanks for coming on the virtual tour.

I hope you carry away a sense of the beauty and variety of this corridor, which you won’t see from the NYS Thruway or even the Empire State Trail.  Part of my goal was to help virtual travelers see a past, present, and future microcosm of the tangled evolution of this continent.  Conflicts and other events happened here between indigenous peoples, then between Indigenous and European, then Europeans tangled with each other, and finally schisms arose and continue to arise between different descendants of settlers.  Infrastructure innovates and then becomes vestigial, to be left or removed or reimagined and repurposed.  This tremendous although seasonal thoroughfare got built and evolved.  As of 2020, the locks can still be made to accommodate vessels up to 300′ x 43.5′ with water draft to 9′  and air draft 15.6′.  If SC-330 existed, it could still make a real trip from salt water back to Manitowoc WI.  I’ve included photos of some fairly large vessels in these two virtual tours.

I end here at the crossroads (or crossrivers, more accurately) because the waterway is at a fork, a decision point, in its history.  One future is the status quo or better, another future might see it become vestigial, i.e., the end of the line.  Either way, some role evolves.  Here‘s a description of the state’s ideas just four months ago, although given Covid-19’s appearance, that January 2020 speech seems like years ago.

Some speculate, Article XV of the NYS Constitution notwithstanding,  that we face the Erie Canal’s  disappearance as a thoroughfare.  It DOES cost taxpayer money to operate and maintain even if transiting recreational vessels pay no fees, said to be the case through 2021. Since 2017 recreational boaters have paid no tolls;  before that, fees were very low, especially calculated as a percentage of the value of some of the yachts I’ve seen transiting.  Commercial vessels pay, although the tolls are small compared to those in Panama. Also, the sheer number of recreational boats has declined since a high of 163k in 2002;  in 2018, 71k transited locks/lift bridges.  In that link, this:  “The figures account for each time a boat goes through a lock or under a lift bridge, not the actual number of boats. If a boat travels through several locks, it would be counted as locking through each time. The numbers also do not account for boaters who only travel locally and do not go through a lock. A large percentage of boating traffic falls into this category.”   I’d love the be able to unpack those numbers further.

If  tolls cover 5% of the budget,  remaining 95% … a lot of money … needs to come from somewhere else.

This navigation season would normally have begun next week around May 15.  That will not and can not happen this year, a direct result of NY-on-pause policies implemented to combat Covid-19 spread, and I support those policies.  But canal maintenance projects that involved draining  (de-watering) sections of the canal (remember guard gates and moveable dams?) and disassembling some locks, severing the canal,  are not finished. But what if the canal never opens as a thoroughfare at all in 2020?  In May 7, 2020 Buffalo News‘ Thomas J. Prohaska reports that eighteen legislators from canal communities across the state have written NYPA calling for full opening this season of the thoroughfare.  It would be the first time that it has not opened since 1825.  It’s undeniable that March and April 2020 for New Yorkers as well as folks in the rest of the US and the world have been unprecedented. Just earlier this week in central NY a hot spot appeared among construction and agriculture workers.  But we will go back to the way things were, right?  Recent special funding stemming from Re-Imagine the Canal focus, though, seems to be going to non-navigational projects, ones that look at the water rather than ones that enhance the thoroughfare.  To be fair, the strategy seems to be to increase reasons to come to the water in hopes that this will increase usage of the water, the locks, and the lift bridges.

Will this be the 1918 canal in 2118 or sooner, ruins in a countryside park, places to make people reflect on their mortality?

Will it be sublime views of nature reclaiming its space?  There’s intermittent water but no thoroughfare, a severed waterway, and eventually

it’s gone, reborn or devolved into a gully or a bog.

We choose.  We have voices. We have fantastic 21st century writing, communication tools to speak to “deciders.”

These posts have been my individual effort during the “Covid-19 pause” to share a draft of a project I had imagined would involve augmented reality.  This has been my way to stay indoors and busy during this unprecedented time.  Many of you have helped over the years, have shaped my perception and understanding on this place.  You know who you are and I thank you.

If you’re interested in learning more about this waterway, consider joining the Canal Society of New York, an organization that’s existed since 1956, and holds yearly conferences and field trips along the waterway.  Their website has lots of information and many useful links.

If you want more detail about the canal from Eriecanalway.org‘s application to the US Dept of the Interior/National Park Service in reference to the New York State Barge Canal Historic District, click here and start in section 7.

I plead guilty to multiloquium here, so let me end with a set of my photos I’ve taken along the Erie Canal, a treasured thoroughfare as much now as in 1825.

Dancing by the river,

skimming through the system,

looping together,

paddling as far as you want,

transiting from seas to inland sea,

waiting timeless bateaux ,

max’ing the dimensions

solo shelling,

Hudson boat getting raised at lock E-17,

Canadian boat heading for the St. Lawrence,

awaiting passengers to summit the thoroughfare,

stopping for regional treats,

exploring the middle of the thoroughfare,

using minimalist power,

repositioning delivery,

mustering,

returning from a tow,

locking through at season’s start,

fishing in the shade,

frolicking on fantasy fiesta floats,

simply yachting,

squeezing through and under and above,

bringing tools to a job,

rowing a home-built,

locking Urger through for at least the 10,000th time,

raising money from Buffalo to Burlington VT,

[your tour guide] tending line . . .

the air guides standing vigil, and

the misunderstood “monsters” preparing to plumb the depths of the canal, just some of the things that happen here.  This last photo is for TIB, who wanted to know.

 

 

 

 

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