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Another Voice: Canals carry on as a common thread for progress

By Bob Radliff

From Canalside in Buffalo to Albany’s Corning Preserve, the Erie Canal is more than a reminder of where we came from – it’s a beacon of where we can go.
At the World Canals Conference (WCC) underway in Syracuse, we are honoring the history of canals across the globe, but we’ll also be celebrating the exciting and innovative activities taking place today on the world’s inland waterways.

The Erie Canal’s bicentennial, which kicked off this summer, is the perfect time to highlight the investments and efforts that have made the canal transformative across New York State.

Since the first shovel hit the soil in 1817, the Erie Canal has been about change. And as we honor the visionaries who conceived such an economic force, we look ahead to forge a strong future along our inland waterways for the next 200 years.

Many of the industry’s most transformative projects are right in our own backyard, including the historic Onondaga Lake cleanup in Syracuse, Buffalo’s Canalside revitalization, the Erie Canalway Trail – one of the longest off-road trails in the nation, and the restoration of significant canal sites in Lockport, Port Byron, Syracuse and Little Falls.

These projects have taken years of vision, leadership, collaboration and hard work – the very strengths that combined to build the Erie Canal – and they will take center stage at the WCC, alongside efforts in Scotland, Ireland, France, China, Amsterdam and elsewhere.

Today’s visionaries see canals as an opportunity to preserve our heritage, embrace our future and ignite our communities. The WCC brings together environmentalists, economists, historians, artists, advocates, engineers, legislators and enthusiasts in one place. Where else can you find that many disciplines coming together with a nod toward the past and a bold agenda for the future?

The Erie Canal is more than a National Historic Landmark, although we’re honored by the designation. It’s an agent for change.

The Erie Canal brings $6.2 billion in annual economic impact from non-tourism uses, resulting in more than 26,000 direct and indirect jobs, and $253 million each year in tourism impact, supporting 3,440 jobs, $78 million in labor income and $28.5 million in taxes in the upstate economy. It welcomes people of all walks of life. It provides us with our most important asset – water.

As a result, it has the power to transform our cities and ourselves.

We invite you to join us in celebrating the transformative power of canals. Syracuse is proud to host the World Canals Conference through Thursday. Visit for more information.

Together, we can work to create vibrant communities connected by our waterways and guide the re-emergence of the Erie Canalway as a 21st century river of commerce and culture.

Bob Radliff is the executive director of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.

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