On Tuesday, we kicked off an official bike ride to explore the Gap in the Erie Canalway Trail between DeWitt and Camillus. Thirteen cyclists from different walks of life, and from as far away as Ithaca and New York City, gathered at the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park Trail Head in DeWitt. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, a wonderful conclusion to the thunderstorms that had just passed through.
We kick-started the event with a presentation from Sam Gordon, Director of Planning & Zoning with the Town of DeWitt, who introduced the Elevating Erie Initiative and the objectives of the Spanning the Gap bike tour, as well as our special guest Molly Garfinkle from City Lore. Daylight Blue Media also came along for the ride, documenting and experiencing firsthand the challenges of this ambitious 14 mile excursion.
We shipped off toward Agway Drive and then Shoppingtown Mall where we stopped to share the Elevating Erie Team’s hopes and dreams for the mall. Stay tuned!
Dark clouds were starting to gather overhead, so we pressed on towards East Genesee Street. The Erie Boulevard section in DeWitt presents daunting obstacles to cyclists: it has six lanes of traffic, absolutely zero bike lanes, and limited sidewalk infrastructure, so we zigzagged our way between Shoppingtown and East Genesee Street. There, we linked up with the existing bike lane (which is marked by official Canalway Trail Signage) which would take us safely to downtown Syracuse. So far, everything was progressing as smoothly as we could have hoped for. BUT THEN…
No sooner had we started down East Genesee, it began to rain, a drizzle which quickly turned into a torrential downpour, rocking our bikes with high winds and thick sheets of water. We were forced to take shelter from the storm under a tree. But it was no use. The rain intensified, drenching our clothes, backpacks, and shoes. Just when we thought we had seen the worst of it, it began to hail. All of a sudden, we were pelted with chunks of ice as big around as a pencil head.
As quickly as the rain and hail started, it ended, giving way to a sky filled with beautiful purple clouds and beams of sunshine peeking through, creating a rainbow at street level. The steam rising from the warm pavement added to the otherworldly nature of this scene, its eerie beauty an awe-inspiring sight to behold. We continued on, enjoying the cool breeze and warming rays of sunlight which quickly began to dry our waterlogged gear.
From East Genesee Street, we cut over to East Water Street just outside of Downtown Syracuse. Here, we stopped to recuperate and wring out our drenched clothing. The storm had completely passed over at this point, and we were in the free and clear.
Next, we ventured into Downtown Syracuse through Clinton Square, carefully avoiding parked cars and cross traffic along the way. Here, we stopped to discuss the potential of Downtown Syracuse as a bicycle tourist destination. Closing the Erie Canal Trail gap between DeWitt and Camillus will play a key role in attracting new businesses, residents, and bicycle culture related activities to the community, providing the impetus for a whole new era of development along Erie Boulevard, and hopefully the rest of Syracuse.
The next stretch of the trip was the longest and took us all the way out to the Town of Camillus. By this time we had unfortunately lost a couple of riders due to a flat tire and torrential downpours. Our original group of 13 was now 7. Despite these setbacks, we were determined to move forward. Along the way, we viewed Onondaga County’s Bridge Street reconstruction project in Solvay. This infrastructure project is meant to improve sidewalk connections to the State Fair Grounds as part of the greater Erie Canalway Trail project.
Wasting no time, we continued on down along the Erie Canal to the Sims Store Museum, admiring the beautifully restored 9 Mile Creek Aqueduct. You can practically feel the history of this location. It takes you back to a time in which the Erie Canal was the largest and most important travel network in New York State. While we did not have time for a full Sims Store museum tour, we still managed to meet with the operators, David and Liz Beebe. The view was spectacular with all the old canalway barges, boat houses, and wildlife that call the Erie Canal home.
At this point, we were all pretty hungry, so we said goodbye to David and Liz, and headed over to Krabby Kirk’s Saloon for dinner. Krabby Kirk’s offers a distinct Southern BBQ style menu filled with different catfish, chicken, pulled pork, and beef options. Needless to say, we ate very well that night.
At around 8:30, we unlocked our bikes, crossed the street, and piled them into the back of the trailer provided by Erie Canal Bike Tours. We piled into the back of the shuttle where Diane Kolifrath from Erie Canal Bike Tours was waiting for us. After such a long ride, it was nice to kick up our feet and relax. The return ride back to DeWitt was full of lively conversation about Erie Canal Bike Tours, a start up bike tours company which operates all along the Erie Canal Trail. They provide shuttle services and bike touring packages for groups of all ages. Do not miss their spectacular Fourth of July Celebration Event called Water Music NY, a seven day musical event that is part of the Erie Canal Bicentennial Celebration! It is sure to be an unforgettable event.
We arrived back in DeWitt at 9:20 pm where we parted ways. This was a fantastic adventure and learning experience for us all at Elevating Erie. We hope you will join us for our next bicycle trip! Don’t forget, Elevating Erie is also hosting the Tuesdays on the Towpath ride on July 18th at 6:00 pm. This ride will focus on Elevating Erie’s efforts to restore elements of the historical canal corridor in DeWitt. We can’t wait to see you there!