LOCKPORT – The final governmental permits have been received, and the owners of the Lockport Cave underground boat ride have the green light to construct a zip line ride above the Erie Canal.
Visitors will be able to travel nearly 1,000 feet back and forth across the canal while hanging as much as 65 feet above the surface of the water.
Thomas P. Callahan, owner of Hydraulic Race Co., the operator of the boat ride, said the target opening date is May 1 for the thrill ride.
The state Canal Corp. had approved a permit June 3, but the final approval had to come from the U.S. Coast Guard, which has authority over all federal waterways.
“This is actually the first zip line that’s been permitted over a federal waterway in the whole country,” said Blair Stanifer, the Coast Guard’s bridge management specialist at the District 9 headquarters in Cleveland.
He said even though the canal is a state-run facility, it is considered a federal waterway because it carries commerce.
And the zip line proposal landed on Stanifer’s desk because a pair of cables across the canal technically equals a bridge.
At any rate, he concluded there would be no commercial, navigational, environmental or social harm in building three wooden towers on the canal bank, two on the west side and one on the east, to hold the zip line platforms.
Lockport Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said the zip lines will be “a wonderful addition” to the city’s list of tourist attractions. Regardless of their historical importance, some may consider Lockport’s canal sites a little on the earnest side.
“The goal is to give visitors a whole day of things to go to,” McCaffrey said. “It adds an adventure element we’ve never had before.”
Callahan said he has not made any ridership projections.
The Canal Corp. permit allows use of the zip line in an area between the “upside-down” railroad bridge over the canal, so called because of its unusual design, and a point 325 feet east of the locks.
Stanifer said, “There’s a short line and a long line, so two riders will be able to ride at the same time.”
The zip line trip will start with the shorter line, which will be 365 feet long. It will send a rider generally east at an angle across the canal, with the ø-inch galvanized steel cable hanging 65 feet above the water at the center of the canal. The landing platform will be 26 feet lower than the departure point.
The ride back to a different location on the west bank will be longer, 590 feet, angled about 45 degrees from the east side landing platform. That cable will be 34 feet above the water at the center of the canal, but on the way the slope of the cable will drop the rider 42 feet.
Before the Canal Corp. approved the plans, it had the locations altered slightly to place more room between the rider and the water.
According to the plans prepared by Glynn Geotechnical Engineering of Lockport, riders must weigh at least 90 pounds, but less than 300 pounds. Also, no one will be allowed to take off on the zip line if there is a boat beneath them.
The state Canal Corp. permit will cost Hydraulic Race Co. $4,450 a year. That figure will be increased each year by 3 percent or the consumer price index, whichever is more.
The permit also allows the company to offer non-exclusive tours of the Flight of Five, the 19th century canal locks, two of which have been restored to working condition.
The Canal Corp. has the right to revoke Callahan’s permit at any time, and if it does, the platforms, each 11 to 13 feet high, will have to be removed at the company’s expense.