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Gillibrand urges Erie Canal as national landmark

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand thinks the entire New York State Barge Canal System should be listed as a National Historic Landmark.

In a letter to the National Park Service, Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said the entire canal system, including the Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany, deserves a designation that she believes would increase tourism and economic development opportunities.

The Barge Canal, which opened in 1918 after 13 years of work, was an enlargement and in some places a rerouting of the original Erie Canal, built between 1817 and 1825.

Thus, the canal system has both a centennial and a bicentennial coming up, and Gillibrand said landmark status would draw more attention to those anniversaries.

The canal, Gillibrand wrote, “facilitated and shaped the course of settlement in the Northeast, Midwest and Great Plains, and established New York City as the national premier seaport and commercial center.”

Besides the Erie Canal, the system includes the Oswego, Cayuga-Seneca and Champlain canals, totaling 525 miles of man-made waterways.

The state Canal Corp. supports the request for landmark status.

Director Brian U. Stratton said there is already a 450-mile Barge Canal Historic District listed on the state and national registers of historic places. He said that makes his agency “proud stewards of this national treasure.” But less than 3 percent of the roughly 90,000 locations on the National Register also have landmark status.

Stratton wrote in a letter of support, “The Barge Canal is most deserving of the strongest state and federal historic recognitions. Listing as a National Historic Landmark will be the next, deserving step in appropriately honoring the prominent role that the canal has played, and continues to play, in the development of the nation’s economic and cultural heritage.”

The Park Service’s Landmarks Committee is expected to review the canal system’s nomination next month. If the panel approves, the park system’s advisory board will decide whether to forward the nomination to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who makes the final decision on landmark status.

The canal system will open to navigation for the 192nd consecutive year at 7 a.m. May 1. The season is to run through Nov. 20.