Wednesday, August 22, 2018

On the Waterfront

Gov. Cuomo! Before you build new canal boats,
take care of the ones you already have!
Just last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $24 million investment to expand Buffalo's waterfront. 

The stated goals: "promote economic growth by attracting more visitors, and offer new recreational and economic opportunities for residents."

One component of the project is $4 million for a replica 1825 packet boat (the kind of canal boat that carried passengers, as opposed to cargo, on the original Erie Canal."

First, let me say I am heartily in favor of introducing more people to the delights of canal boats.

Second, let me say how much we have benefited from state and local investment in attractive waterfront facilities. We've enjoyed quite a few in just the past week.

Town Docks We Have Known and Loved

Cliffs at Little Falls
Starting with Little Falls, a canal town set in a dramatic landscape. Steep green hills crowd close to the bank of the Mohawk River. At canal level, you’re boating past cliffs of sharp-edged, rusty-black rock.

The town's attractive transient dock is notable for its “boater lounge” where you can enjoy the wi fi and score some locally made gourmet popcorn, and for friendly volunteers who offer you a ride downtown.

Amsterdam, Canojoharie, St. Johnsville, Little Falls, Rome, Illion--all of these had a town dock (and/or a town marina). All were attractive, landscaped facilities with nice bathrooms and other amenities such as picnic tables, walking trails, public art. 

These Places Don't Come Cheap

The new "navigation center" in Rome's waterfront park resembles a giant sugar shack. $500K in state money this past year.
All must have involved a significant investment by the municipality (and/or the state), first to build, and now to maintain. (We saw a lot of mowing machines.)

Like Governor Cuomo's PR folks, I'm sure the advocates for these facilities imagined that nice docks at waterfront parks would attract visitors: transient boaters, people like us, who are passing through on big boats. Retirees, usually, with disposable income. Who can spread it around in the town.

We Heart Local Businesses

The Illion town marina transports you back to 1956.
(Can you spot the canal boat in this picture?)
Sounds good to us! Boaters need groceries, pharmacies, hardware stores (especially us solar boaters), beers to toast that we didn’t sink the boat, not to mention the all-important laundromat.

This past week, for example, we had dinner at Parillo’s Armory Grill in Amsterdam, a homey place that resembles your Italian auntie’s dining room circa 1986. 

We scored gourmet groceries at Peruzzi's (“The Sausage King”) Market in Canajoharie.  Sampled the award-winning IPA at Mad Jack Brewing in Schenectady. Shopped the farmer's market in Little Falls.

But I'd love to see the numbers on how transient boaters help these canal towns. At most town docks this summer, we’ve been the only transient boat. Or one of maybe two or three.  Hard to see how that makes a difference for the bottom line.

Get Outside, Get Healthy

On the other hand, I suspect that investment in waterfront parks has a big impact on the health and well being of local folks.  
Little Falls hangs out festive flags to attract your attention to its newly redeveloped "Canal Place."

We've spent the past few summers cruising the Erie between Macedon and Pittsford, and no matter the time of day, the canal towpath is always busy with walkers, runners, rollerbladers, bikers, moms pushing strollers, and so on.

Waterfront parks make it easy for people to get outdoors and get a little exercise, close to where they live, in a pleasant and interesting setting. I'd love to see a study that could tease out the health benefits of living near the canal as opposed to out in the hinterlands.

Anybody know of such a study?

In the mean time, this 2014 report addresses the economic impacts of the Erie Canalway Trail.

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