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For Immediate Release: 10/19/17
Contact: Office of Media Relations and Communications | (518) 471-5300 | public.info@thruway.ny.gov

THRUWAY AUTHORITY AND CANAL SOCIETY OF NEW YORK STATE ANNOUNCES 17,000th VISITOR TO
PORT BYRON OLD ERIE CANAL HERITAGE PARK IN FIRST SUCCESSFUL FULL SEASON

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul Commemorated Milestone By Touring Park Which Provides Glimpse into Authentic Life on Erie Canal in Mid-19th to Early 20th Centuries

Park Explored By Visitors Representing All 50 States and Countries Such As Australia, China, and India

The New York State Thruway Authority and the Canal Society of New York State today announced the 17,000th visitor to the Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park during its successful first full season of operation. Visitors to the park represented all 50 states, and countries as far away as Australia, New Zealand, China, India, and Israel, as well as several countries in Africa.

Thruway Authority Acting Executive Director Matthew J. Driscoll was joined by Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul to celebrate the successful season by touring the park which provides visitors an authentic glimpse into life on the Erie Canal in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries.

“The Erie Canal is a vital part of our state and country’s past and remains an important component and a driving force behind creating a strong economy across the entire state of New York,” Lieutenant Governor Hochul said. “Historical sites, like this, showcase to New Yorkers and visitors alike all that this great region has to offer."‎

Key historical components to the Heritage Park include the enlarged Erie Canal Lock 52 and the Erie House Complex, which dates back to 1895 and includes the Erie House Tavern and Hotel, a mule barn, and blacksmith shop. Guided tours provided by the Canal Society of New York State allow visitors a first-hand experience of the facility’s historic structures. The Visitor’s Center offers interactive displays and educational materials, including a model lock featured in New York State’s exhibit at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.

“The Erie Canal Heritage is a profound treasure integral to the history of New York State and the country’s expansion west and we are ecstatic thousands of visitors got to experience its history first-hand this season,” said Thruway Authority Acting Executive Director Matthew J. Driscoll. “The park’s success is directly attributed to the volunteers and community leaders that take tremendous pride in this piece of history.”

“The first full season at the Old Erie Canal Heritage Park was very successful and is a testament to the state’s continued investment in tourism,” Thruway Authority Board of Director’s Chair Joanne M. Mahoney said. “Tourism is an economic driver that is crucial to creating jobs and growing the Finger Lakes Region and I encourage everyone to stop by to step back in time and witness the history that is the Erie Canal.”

The park is operated by the Canal Society of New York and owned and maintained by the Thruway Authority. It first opened in 2016 and is operational May to October. The park is staffed by part-time local travel counselors and more than 40 volunteers.

In 2017, the Heritage Park was showcased at the World Canals Conference, held in September in the City of Syracuse which celebrated the bicentennial of the Erie Canal. The conference included visits to the park from hundreds of international delegates who marveled at the interpretation and preservation of the park.

Canal Corporation Director Brian U. Stratton said, “New York’s original main street, the iconic Erie Canal continues to offer history, recreation, beauty, and adventure after 200 years. The Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park is a perfect place for travelers and residents alike to experience an authentic 1800s-era canal site, and to learn more about what today’s enduring New York State Canal System has to offer.”

Senator Rich Funke said, “As the chair of the Senate’s Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation, it’s great to see the support behind such a unique tourist location in our state. The Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park showcases what life would have looked like in the Mid-19th Century. I’m glad the first year was such success. I look forward to visiting Heritage Park soon.”

Senator Pam Helming said, “The Old Erie Canal Heritage Park captures the history of a canal that transformed America and turned New York into the Empire State. I had the opportunity to visit the park recently, and I witnessed firsthand what a truly amazing place it is for our residents and visitors alike to see. Local volunteers worked for many years to make this project a reality, and they should be commended for their efforts. The park will help encourage tourists to visit Cayuga County, supporting our local job-creating businesses and driving economic development. I appreciate the support that the Governor and my colleagues have provided for this important project.”

Assemblyman Bob Oaks said, “The Erie Canal Heritage Park, at Lock 52 of the old Erie Canal in Port Byron,  has for the past year, been offering visitors a glimpse into authentic life on the Erie Canal in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries. The new visitor’s center with its interpretive displays has been a great addition to the historical significance of the area, making it a great tourism draw.”

Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell, Chair, Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development said, “The Erie Canal had a profound impact on New York State and New York City's development and economy, and continues to do so even today, 200 years after its creation. The thought of the Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park serving as a portal to an authentic experience on the Erie Canal in the mid-19th to 20th century is exciting and explains why the park has received visitors from all 50 states and many other countries. I applaud the New York State Thruway Authority for its involvement in ensuring that New York has a Thruway stop that is unrivaled.”

Cayuga County Legislature Chair Keith Bateman said, “The Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park in many respects represents not just our past but our future.  An experience that glimpses our history and builds on one of the major foundations of our future:  tourism.   Everyone in Cayuga County is grateful to the Lt. Governor for taking the time to recognize the importance of this first year of operation.  We look forward to many more years of successful operation and the visits of thousands of our neighbors from both the US and abroad.”

Kal Wysokowski, President of the Canal Society of New York State said, “Thank you to the Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation, as well as visitors and friends. What an incredible season for the Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park. From the unique design of the Visitor’s Center to the authenticity and craftsmanship of the restored buildings, the Park transports us to another era where the story of our country’s history and the site comes alive.”

Andrea Seamans, Volunteer Coordinator of the “Friends” of Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park said. “This season’s success happened through collaboration between the New York State Canal Society, a not-for-profit, and the New York State Thruway Authority. With the emphasis on the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Erie Canal, I envision this park becoming a world renowned travel destination.  As a result of this park, I visualize an economic upturn in our community.  We have many plans for our park, and we will continually strive to improve and have more to offer our guests.”

Other 2017 highlights included bus tours from regional canal and historical societies as well as community groups, and school tours, featuring hundreds of students from local school districts.

The park, located off the New York State Thruway eastbound between exits 41 (Waterloo – Clyde – NY Route 414) and 40 (Weedsport - Auburn – NY Route 34), is operated with the help of at least a dozen volunteers and eight counselors. The park is also accessible from NY Route 31 in the Village of Port Byron.

The Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park will close for the season on October 31st and is scheduled to reopen in April 2018.

For more information on the park go to http://www.newyorkcanals.org/preservation_portbyron.htm.

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