Erie Canal traffic 'booming'
With breakout at end.
For the first time in recent years, traffic is up on the state Canal System, and some workers at local marinas say they're on schedule to have their best season ever.
After flooding last year caused parts of system to close for much of the summer, first-time canal boaters like Paul and Jo-Anne Weakley of Williamsburg, Va., are a welcome sight for people running marinas and businesses that line the canal's banks.
The recent retirees expect the Erie Canal to become an increasingly important part of tourism in the state, Paul Weakley said Monday at the Ilion Marina.
"This is my first trip beyond New York City, and if I never go back to New York City, I don't care," he said. "But I want to do this again."
The couple said they are surprised they haven't seen even more boaters on their outing.
Strong Year So Far
High waters created a slow start this year, but traffic numbers have recovered and are slightly ahead of 2005, which was a much stronger year than 2006, said Carmella Mantello, state director of canals.
The Ilion Marina hosted 281 boats in 2005, but last year's flood problems resulted in only 142 boats staying in Ilion. About 250 boats have already docked in the marina this year, Harbormaster Don Sterling said.
The canal isn't scheduled to close this year until Nov. 15.
"I've just seen more people on the canal than ever before," Sterling said.
July has been the first month the marina brought in more than $20,000 in one month, Sterling said. A typical July brings in about $15,000, he said.
"I think we're going to have one of the best years in the history of the Ilion Marina," he said.
Business has been about one-and-a-half times better than an average year — and far better than last year — at the Lone Pine Campground & Marina at 600 16th Ave. in Sylvan Beach, Manager Brenda Clance said.
"It's booming up here," she said. "The boating has been doing really well."
Last year's flooding hurt the business dramatically, and so did this year's slow start, but the campground and docks have been full since Memorial Day, Clance said.
"I've been here 17 years," she said. "This is probably the best year I've had."
Canal traffic numbers were higher in the late 1990s and into 2000 but have decreased every year since 2002. National experts have said boating generally works in five-year, up-and-down trends, as people buy and sell boats, said Jennifer Meicht, Canal Corp. deputy director.
Mantello said the Canal Corp.'s goal this year is to beat 2005. If the weather cooperates, it could happen, she said.
"We're being cautiously optimistic," she said. "We don't want to put a jinx on the fortune we've had thus far."
Numbers are probably up because the recreational tolls were waived again this year, a record 150-plus events are taking place along the canal and any decreases caused by higher gas prices are being offset by local residents deciding to stay closer to home and boat the canal instead of driving longer distances, Mantello said.
Another factor has been that municipalities are becoming more involved with the canal by promoting it, starting businesses near it and trying to connect tourists to their existing businesses, she said.
"There's a buzz right now," she said. "The canal's alive. It's breathing. It is and can be the economic engine of Upstate New York."
And this year to date has been a good sign of that potential.
"We're hoping it's going to be a banner year," she said. "So far, we're on the right track."
AT A GLANCE
The following is the number of recreational boats that traveled the state's canal system each of the past five years. Estimates for traffic this year for the system were not available.