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The Niagara County Department of Planning, Development and Tourism has released a draft report outlining a proposed route for a 16-mile Erie Canal Recreationway Trail from North Tonawanda to Lockport.

Samuel M. Ferraro, the department's commissioner, called it a long-range plan. The draft report doesn't say how much the project will cost or who will pay, although it suggests a combination of federal, state, local and private funding sources.

He said municipalities and county legislators will be asked to set up public information meetings in their communities this fall and into next year.

"A lot of what's in (the report) came as a result of discussions we had with the local communities," Ferraro said.

The trail is complete from the Lockport canal locks east to Middleport, primarily utilizing the old canal towpath. Some of it is paved; other segments are stone dust and gravel.

It's part of a statewide plan for a recreation area along the waterway's entire length. At present, 220 miles are completed.

Ferraro said the local goal is to connect Erie and Orleans counties. Parts of the trail will be limited to pedestrians or bicycles because of physical constraints and private land ownership.

Where feasible, the report said, a multiple-use trail would allow for pedestrians and bicyclists, in-line skaters and cross-country skiers as well as fishing access and even horseback riding "where permissible and practical."

A similar paved strip will be more difficult to install west of Lockport, Ferraro said. In some places, there is very little land between existing streets and the canal. He said the trail might have to be a lane of the road, similar to the bicycle lane on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Niagara Falls.

North Tonawanda's community development director, Michele A. Tow, said the city has completed a trail along the canal between Webster and Oliver streets and expects to finish the segment from Oliver Street to Payne Avenue shortly.

She said the 10-foot-wide asphalt path that will wind among the trees was paid for with a $35,000 state grant.

The Webster-Oliver segment was part of the $1.45 million Gateway Project, financed by the state Canal Corp. It also included a pedestrian plaza, street reconstruction and other improvements.

Maps included with the county report show the trail route along Sweeney Street to Tonawanda Creek Road in Pendleton via Old Falls Boulevard and Lockport Avenue. The report notes that most of this route encounters private property.

The route would continue along Tonawanda Creek Road to West Canal Road and follow to Feigle Road, where it would cross the canal.

The trail would run between East Canal Road and the canal bank to Bear Ridge Road and continue into the City of Lockport via that path.

Although most of this segment would be built on Canal Corp. property, Pendleton Supervisor William Boulden said that for much of the route, "You're talking about using some of the road. There isn't enough land between the road and the canal."

The report says the Pendleton-to-Lockport segment would use road shoulders in spots and be located at street level along the deepest-cut section of the canal because the old towpath is largely inaccessible.

Although he said he has "nothing against the project," Boulden noted there is a similar trail on the Amherst side of Tonawanda Creek.

"I can't figure financially why they would want to parallel the canal on both sides," Boulden said.

The report said part of the pedestrian trail in Pendleton would run alongside a 5-mile horseback riding trail for which the Wrangler Riding Club of Pendleton has a permit.

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