Experiencing the Erie Canal


That’s what the Erie Canal was about back in its beginning when it was finished in 1825. It put New York on the map as a gateway to the upper Midwest through providing access to the upper Great Lakes.

One doesn’t remember that except for the bustling methods of transportation that have replaced it along its route.

On one side are the continuous trains that shuttle goods back and forth.

Perhaps ironically, trains did not become popular until a little after the Canals were built, starting in the 1830’s.

On the other is I-90, and other busy roads with their trucks rumbling along.

Henry Ford popularized cars in the 1900’s, and trucks followed about the same time.

Between the competition with trains and cars, the Erie Canal has lapsed into a more recreational source of transportation.

At a couple of spots where we passed by, the Interstate had construction and lanes down to one lane.

We were actually moving faster than the backed up traffic at one point. That felt oddly gratifying.

One of the I-90 Bridges

Often, both rail and road disappear and one is left with a sense of nature.

Birds and wildflowers are plentiful along the Erie.

The calls of the various warblers, sparrows, kingfishers and other birds can be heard.

A typical scene along the Erie

The Pasture Rose was in bloom so much that one could occasionally smell the fragrance as you traveled along.

Very lush vegetation along the Erie

For part of our trip on the Erie, my sister accompanied us. It was nice to have an artist and biologist (she’s both) along on the trip. It was also nice to have an extra set of hands to go through the locks.

(Some of the pictures shared here are hers)

I asked my sister to catalogue what we had seen along the Erie in the 3 days she was with us.

Here’s her list of both flora and fauna.

All along the canal, the Cottonwoods were shedding cotton , and on the windier days the cotton filled the air.

We also saw otter, beaver and muskrat.

As we continued along the Erie, my thoughts drifted back to the commerce that was sent along its waterways.

When the Erie was finished, there were only 24 states. The US population was 12 million.

Today, the metro area population around New York City is 20 million.

Food, durable goods, and other commodities were much different then. You could ship something a month and it would not lose value.

Today’s economy is much different. it’s driven by different products requiring Just In Time Delivery, and a canal system would not work.

Times certainly have changed since my great grandparents lived. I wonder if any actually traveled the canal.

One thing we noticed: in June, there were a lot fewer boats transmitting the Erie. Most were our size, but there were some 70’ “gunboats” that passed us.

The canal system had different personalities as we traveled along its banks.

In the beginning, there were more small towns, with cliffs and rock cuts, and more meandering as the canal followed the Mohawk River

In the middle, there were levees and long straight stretches.

One part reminded us of the monotony of driving Interstate 80 across the Great Salt Flats of Utah.

We then started to descend through the locks and the terrain became more hilly. The canal returned to following the river.

It took us 4 days to transit the canal, and another to turn north on the Oswego Canal. Thank goodness I had laid a route in our chart plotter as the turn to Oswego can easily be missed if one isn’t paying attention.

Where the Erie and Oswego meet

We finally reached Oswego after 5 days. Up until this point, we had felt pressure to keep moving.

Now, our thoughts have turned to focusing less on reaching a destination and more about making the journey. We are at the Great Lakes, and we have 6 weeks before we have a stop in the town I call my home.

We will start taking our time now.

The next post will be our experience locking through the Erie.

By Tad Sheldon

I'm a retired Silicon Valley Technologist and Director. I teach skiing as a 4th (5th? 6th?) career for fun, and am passionate about Boating. I'm even more passionate about my family and friends. I volunteer occasionally for non-profit Boards, and currently serve as the Secretary of the Board for Western Division of the Professional Ski Instructors of America / American Association of Snowboard Instructors.

3 replies on “Experiencing the Erie Canal”

I can only imagine the thoughts coursing your mind as you pass cars backed up on I-90, only to find yourself channelled away, seemingly only moments later, to pass by a field of grazing beef cattle. A pleasure I’m sure I will never experience in person, but can live it vicariously through your meticulous journaling as you recall and catalogue your voyage through the Mid Atlantic, and uP the Trent Severn Waterway to your eventual destination at Mackinaw.


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