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Capitalizing on the Canal ; Recreation upgrade for waterway improves historic state asset

New York's Erie Canal is not just something to read about in history books. It is still there, a sometimes beautiful, always valuable, waterway that, with other channels in the system, meanders along for more than 500 miles.

But it might as well be something that people could only read about -- or sing about -- if there was no way for the average sightseer to get to it.

That's an obstacle that has been overcome by the State Canal Corp.'s recent announcement that it has mapped a system of 100 launch sites across New York.

The Canalway Water Trail, which the corporation hopes to expand in the future, pinpoints the spots where people can launch their powerboats or paddleboats into the historic waterway. For free.

The system map, available on the corporation's Web site -- www.canals.ny.gov -- also lists the additional amenities found at each sight, including parking, picnic facilities, restrooms and, sometimes, camping areas.

Eventually, said Canal Corp. Director Carmella R. Mantello, the hope is to have a free boat launch along the canal system every 10 to 15 miles.

In a state that is scrambling to improve its image and promote tourism, it is good to know that we are taking more advantage of an asset that's been there for 185 years, something that presents an alternative to those who may have seen all they care to see of Manhattan or Niagara Falls.

Plans to add more sites to the trail, as well as more facilities and markers, are as yet dreams without funds. While the state is not exactly flush with cash these days, such a project would be worthy of some more support, especially if it could be leveraged with suitable private sponsorships.

New York's canals are not an asset to be squandered. The new trail map is a welcome effort toward putting them to their highest and best use.

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