Q/A with Diane Kolifrath from Erie Canal Bike Tours

The Elevating Erie team has explored many means of upgrading bicycle infrastructure and services from both a transportation and recreational perspective.  Cycling is now the most popular form of outdoor recreation in the United States. Results from the Elevating Erie Survey illustrated this popularity, with 49% of respondents in favor of improving recreational cycling services.  While bike sharing is one of the means by which to increase bicycle tourism and access, there are other approaches to consider.  One of these is the bike trail shuttle service offered by Erie Canal Bike Tours.  Erie Canal Bike Tours was there to take cyclists back to DeWitt following our Spanning the Gap Bicycle Tour in June.  Elevating Erie recently talked with Diane Kolifrath, co-owner of Erie Canal Bike Tours.  We wanted to take a deeper look at this amazing new cycling service. 

EE:  What inspired you to start the Erie Canal Bike Tours?

Diane Kolifrath, Co-owner & Co-founder of Erie Canal Bike Tours

Diane Kolifrath, Co-owner & Co-founder of Erie Canal Bike Tours

DK:  My husband and I love cycle touring. Years ago, we spent a few days cycling on the Erie Canalway Trail, and we had to struggle with car shuttling, and finding our own way to the services we needed such as lodging, restaurants, stores and groceries, etc. And while we loved the cycling part of our experience, we found those challenges took a lot of fun out of our trip.

Many years and many cycle tours later, it occurred to me that the ECT was not realizing its potential as a world-class cycle touring destination because it lacked cycling support services like shuttle service, trip planning, ride support and information to connect cyclists to the services they need. As a cycle tourist, I felt I could meet those challenges and help to establish a network of vital cyclists’ services which makes planning a trip to the ECT easy and lets cyclists enjoy a hassle-free adventure!  

EE:  How does the Erie Canal Bike Tours work?

Erie Canal Bike Tours Logo

Erie Canal Bike Tours Logo

DK:  Erie Canal Bike Tours (ECBT) provides every level of service for anyone wishing to cycle the ECT. We offer full shuttle service along the entire 363 mile ECT, so we can get cyclists to or from their ride conveniently. We also offer a variety of fully-support touring packages, such as inn-to-inn cycling trips, bike & camp trips, and we even offer a “Cycle Touring 101” package to help those new to cycle-touring get their wheels spinning!

EE:  How does Erie Canal Bike Tours help facilitate bicycle tourism?  What are some of the advantages that it affords cyclists?

DK:  At ECBT we LOVE cycling and we think the ECT is one of the best adventures you can have on a bike! We are building a network of cycling resources all along the ECT to make sure that cyclist can connect with the services they need to ensure they have an outstanding experience. Our website is filled with great info to help with trip planning; maps, free itineraries, tips for packing, tips for cycling with kids, and much more.  In addition, we run exciting special events that bring cyclists to breweries, vineyards, state parks, and historical monuments.

Couple Riding with Erie Canal Bike Tours

Couple Riding with Erie Canal Bike Tours

EE:  Where would you like to see the Erie Canal Bike Tours go in the future?  What would you like to see happen in New York State?

DK:  The future of cycle-touring in New York State is very exciting. The state has committed $200 million to complete the Empire State Trail System which will provide over 750 miles of cycling/recreation trails, and which will position NYS as THE #1 cycling destination in the US. This investment is so significant because it establishes a very high priority on outdoor or “nature” tourism as a revenue stream. And when communities rely on “nature” as a significant part of their local economy, the need to maintain and preserve those natural assets becomes paramount, and that is a win-win for everyone!

At Erie Canal Bike Tours, we are thrilled to be part of this. We plan to not only continue delivering great cycling services along the ECT, but will be expanding our services each year with the goal of providing full cycling support to the entire Empire State Trail System and beyond!

Diane Kolifrath was born in Lawrence, Massachussetts, but lived most of her life in Southern New Hampshire.  She has a B.S. in computer Science and spent the last 25 years Managing IT teams, until starting Erie Canal Bike Tours. Diane currently resides in Syracuse.

Announcing the Annual Tour the Towpath Erie Canal Bike Ride

Celebrate the Erie Canal Bicentennial and kick off the World Canal Conference with Tour the Towpath, an event co-sponsored by the Town of DeWitt.  Tour the Towpath is an assisted interactive 36-mile cycling experience along the Old Erie Canal Towpath trail starting in Rome and ending in DeWitt.  Riders will have the choice of either a single-day ride on the 24th of September, or an extended two-day trip from the 23rd to the 24th.

Tour the Towpath Official Bicycle Route

Tour the Towpath Official Bicycle Route

Along the way, riders will have access to a host of amazing historical sites, quaint Old Erie Canal settlements, breathtaking nature parks, and charming local eateries and cafes.  Participants are encouraged to go off-trail and explore what these surrounding communities have to offer.  Along the way, they can collect raffle tickets for the Turn-Off the Trail Challenge.  This gives them the chance to win cool prizes while exploring the historical culture of Erie Canal communities.

Erie Canal Lock 21 in Rome

Erie Canal Lock 21 in Rome

Butternut Creek Aqueduct in DeWitt

Butternut Creek Aqueduct in DeWitt

Freedom of Espresso Cafe in Fayetteville

Freedom of Espresso Cafe in Fayetteville

Clinton Square, City of Syracuse

Clinton Square, City of Syracuse

As a special bonus this year, an extended ride will be offered beyond the trip’s culmination in DeWitt to all interested participants.  Sam Gordon, Director of Planning and Zoning for the Town of DeWitt, will lead a guided tour from DeWitt to reach the kickoff event for the World Canals Conference at the Syracuse Inner Harbor.  Conference events include a live glass blowing demonstration by the Corning Museum of Glass, musical performances, and boat tours of Onondaga Lake, with plenty of refreshments available from an assortment of food trucks. 

Onondaga Lake Inner Harbor

Onondaga Lake Inner Harbor

Glass Barge from the Corning Museum of Glass

Glass Barge from the Corning Museum of Glass

The Tour of the Towpath is a family-friendly event and will have tour guides as well as bicycle mechanics on staff to fully support the ride.

 

Event Recap: DeWitt Hosts "Tuesdays on the Towpath" Event Featuring Elevating Erie Sites

Last week’s “Tuesdays on the Towpath” ride featured a DeWitt route focused on two key Elevating Erie sites: the BRANCH and BOULEVARD. A turnout of over 15 riders and ideal weather conditions (unlike our “Spanning the Gap” –themed ride in June!) made for a great ride with lively, inspired discussion about the past and future of the canal corridor in DeWitt.

Our trip began at the Butternut Creek Trailhead near Wegmans DeWitt}

Our trip began at the Butternut Creek Trailhead near Wegmans DeWitt}

Our tour leader, Chris Manchester, Town of DeWitt Arborist

Our tour leader, Chris Manchester, Town of DeWitt Arborist

We made our way towards the BRANCH site, riding along Towpath road to Widewaters Pond. We discussed how the drainage channel along Towpath Road (literally named for its original use) is an historic remnant of the Erie Canal and part of the original canal route through DeWitt. Widewaters Pond connected this part of the canal to its former route down Erie Boulevard (aka the BOULEVARD site).

Widewaters Pond, Between Marshall's Plaza and Towpath Road

Widewaters Pond, Between Marshall's Plaza and Towpath Road

Today, Widewaters Pond is a remnant of the old Erie Canal. The Elevating Erie competition received many interesting proposals for the BRANCH site, running the gamut from skating rink to inspired restaurant attraction, to urban park and event space, to re-envisioning the pond as a diverse ecological playground! These ideas demonstrate how Widewaters Pond has the potential to be a new focal point of recreation, business, and social interaction for the entire Town.  

BRANCH Site: Eco Edutainment

BRANCH Site: Eco Edutainment

BRANCH Site: Ice Rink Concept

BRANCH Site: Ice Rink Concept

BRANCH Site: Knot Park Concept

BRANCH Site: Knot Park Concept

BRANCH Site: Green E.S.E Connections

BRANCH Site: Green E.S.E Connections

As our survey results revealed, the top idea for the BRANCH site was to see the pond re-envisioned as a park-like setting with sprawling greenways extending out into the surrounding neighborhood.

Winning Concept: Widewaters Eco Edutainment Park:

Winning Concept: Widewaters Eco Edutainment Park:

Continuing on our ride, we doubled back down Widewaters Parkway toward Shoppingtown Mall (another site we’d love to see revamped!), making our way towards the Orville Feeder Canal which parallels Butternut Drive.

Orville Feeder Canal along Butternut Drive

Orville Feeder Canal along Butternut Drive

The Orville Feeder Canal is a critical piece of Erie Canal history. This canal was dug at the same time as the Erie Canal to connect another important piece of man-made infrastructure: Jamesville Reservoir. The reservoir was constructed to assist in the control of water levels and flow for the Central New York section of the Erie Canal; the system functioned by a series of sluice gates implemented along its connective channel, the Orville Feeder Canal. This system helped to maintain canal activity for the entire region! The interconnected system is well aligned to create a greenway network in DeWitt: Jamesville Reservoir feeds Butternut Creek, which feeds the Orville Feeder canal near the new DeWitt Library .

Although our tour was set to conclude on Butternut Drive, the group opted to enjoy a few more leisurely miles along the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park. We biked 3.5 miles down the trail before heading back to reach our final destination, Trappers Pizza Pub. The extra miles along the scenic trailway, and of course, pizza, made for a great conclusion to an amazing ride!

Old Erie Canal State Historic Park

Old Erie Canal State Historic Park

The Tuesdays on the Towpath ride series will be going strong through the summer – check out similar events on their website or consider participating in the 36-mile Tour The Towpath ride in September!

Manlius Informed Series Features Elevating Erie

This past spring, Sam Gordon, Director of Planning and Zoning for the Town of DeWitt, was invited by the Manlius Informed Series to speak about Elevating Erie. This program is hosted at the Manlius Library and co-sponsored by the Manlius Senior Centre, and we were so pleased that Sam had the opportunity to share our work with this engaging, well-informed audience! We would like to send a big thank you to both the Manlius Library and the Manlius Senior Centre for their generous invitation and interest in the project, and for creating a video of the presentation for the public to view. Check it out!

We are so thrilled to see the Elevating Erie project featured among their panel of esteemed speakers! Check out the Manlius Library youtube channel for other videos of past events.

Exploring Ideas

Exploring Ideas

This morning we released the results from the public survey that was conducted as part of the Elevating Erie ideas competition. All in all we received over 1,200 completed surveys, with over 3,800 visitors from 38 states and 50 countries around the globe.