Erie Canal Deemed 'Non-Essential,' Repairs Cease
The Erie Canal has been deemed “non-essential” in the age of Coronavirus, so anyone planning to begin the Great Loop this year may be out of luck. The state has abandoned essential repair work due to the pandemic.
The Great Loop is a continuous waterway that recreational mariners can travel that includes parts of the Atlantic and Gulf Intracoastal Waterways, the Great Lakes, Canadian Heritage Canals, and the inland rivers of America's heartland. Anyone who completes the journey is then named an official 'Looper.' The Erie Canal is one of the most popular segments of the 5,000-mile route.
“Due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, the Canal Corporation has suspended all non-essential construction and maintenance activities; therefore, the New York State Canal system will not open for through-navigation of the locks on May 15 as previously announced,” the New York State Canal Corporation said Friday.
The corporation is a state agency responsible for the oversight, administration and maintenance of the New York State Canal System, which consists of the Erie Canal, Cayuga–Seneca Canal, Oswego Canal and Champlain Canal.
This probably means that at the very least the canal opening may be postponed until July or may not open at all for the first time since the system was completed 195 years ago. According to the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, a federal agency that promotes canal business and tourism, the abandoned repair work would take 60 days to complete.
“To support the canal’s continued use as a prime recreational waterway, the Canal Corporation is currently evaluating operational options to ensure New Yorkers will have access to the canal system, if even potentially on a regional basis, this season. We recognize that this is an extraordinarily difficult time and are sensitive to potential hardships canal stakeholders, as well as many other New Yorkers, may experience. The situation with COVID-19 is ever-evolving and we are trying to adapt our plans accordingly.”
The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor challenged the Canal Corporation to redesignate the canals as essential:
“Delays in opening the Canal System or opening the canals on a ‘regional basis’ will have significant negative impacts on the economy and social fabric of upstate communities and will impede a full New York State recovery. The Canal System generates billions of dollars in economic impact each year for canal communities and businesses. Negative impacts will be keenly felt by boating-related businesses and service providers, commercial operators, communities that rely on canal tourism and manufacturing.”
Clyde is one of the Erie Canal towns that depends on Loopers and other boating tourism. Clyde Mayor Jerry Fremouw lamented the closure news. “Most people traveling on a boat are related and/or reside with each other. There is no better way to practice social distancing than being on a boat with those you are already quarantined with. We all need to keep in mind that the canal system brings visitors to our community that support our local economy as well. This would just be one more setback for them in what has been a tough year already.”