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An interactive historical replica offers look back at Erie Canal days

Hundreds of people took an up-close look at a white and green 88-foot time machine along the Erie Canal on Saturday.

The Lois McClure, a replica of an 1862 canal schooner, will be open for public tours at several canal sites in Western New York through Aug. 1.

In what's being called the "Grand Canal Journey," the boat is part of an effort by officials from the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, the New York Canal Corporation and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum to inspire tourism and economic revitalization in canal communities.

The McClure arrived in the area Friday evening towed into Medina's port by two mules, as vessels had been in the canal's early days.

"This is literally a time machine. . .," said John C. Callaghan, of the state Canal Corp. "[Visitors are] stepping back into history."

The replica was built by the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum based on sketches of a wrecked ship that still sits at the bottom of Lake Champlain, Callaghan said.

The ship made its first public stop in Seneca Falls, and will travel over 1,000 miles before its trip is done, he said.

The ship's captain, Roger Taylor, said he's got an exciting yet easy job.

"There's not much navigation, just follow the road," he said.

Taylor, a native of Maine and a veteran of the U.S. Navy who lives with his wife on a canal boat in Europe, said the design of the boat itself was a rarity even in its own time.

Fashioned for traveling the canal, the McClure also has masts and sails that allow it to navigate other bodies of water, including the Hudson River, the Finger Lakes and Lake Champlain.

The boat becomes a sailing rig when it needs to, according to Taylor.

"It's a convertable," he said.

Lori Duell, project manager for the Lois McClure 2007 Voyage, said the cultural-based events surrounding the ship are aimed at raising awareness about canal resources.

Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor is one of 37 national heritage areas and can be a catalyst for economic revitalization if communities combine their enthusiasm with an entrepreneurial spirit, Duell said.

Medina residents Ed and Beth Matthews toured the boat Saturday afternoon.

Ed Matthews said he brings family and friends down around the canal because it's a place to go that provides various recreational opportunities.

"We've been looking forward to the clipper coming in here," he said.

John Mooney, also a Medina resident, said he believes events based on the canal's history can interest visitors and be used by communities to perk up their tourism industry.

"It's boats like this that will sort of refresh people on the canal," Mooney said.

The Lois McClure can be viewed from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today in Medina before it moves on to other sites in Western New York along the canal in the coming days. The vessel is scheduled to dock at these ports of call:

* Lockport: Tuesday and Wednesday

* Buffalo: Saturday and July 29

* Cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda: July 31 and Aug. 1

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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