Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Don't overlook the Canalway Trail


We are blessed with incredible public assets in Niagara County -- from town parks to state parks – that allow locals and tourists alike to explore the Niagara Frontier and enjoy the outdoors.


One of those assets is, for vast stretches, lightly used: The Canalway Trail.


It may be more familiarly known as the “towpath” because back in the Erie Canal’s heydays of the 1800s it was walked by the mules and horses that pulled packet boats and barges. In the first half of the 1900s, it became a freeway of sorts for hoboes, who set about for income from harvests and odd jobs. 


Maybe it’s those original utilitarian purpose that keeps people away. Maybe it’s the misbelief that it’s not interesting enough. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s everywhere and everyday – something we pass over on our commutes and overlook because it’s just “there”.

Whatever the reasons may be, I encourage readers to cast those thoughts aside and appreciate the miles of trail awaiting you.

This column will periodically look at stretches of the trail, giving you insight into local history and natural history. We’ll begin by looking at the trail as it heads from the Orangeport Road bridge in Gasport to the Canal Road bridge in the town of Lockport. This is my favorite part of the trail.

Round-trip from the Orangeport parking lot it’s a good 4 mile hike. Moving at a fair pace, a hiker can accomplish the hike in an hour and 15 minutes, longer if you stop to rest, fish, or watch wildlife.

Getting there is easy. Most readers will make their way to Gasport on Route 31. Just to the west of the hamlet is Orangeport Road. Within a few hundred feet of getting onto Orangeport Road, you will cross over the canal. Once you do, quickly approaching on your right will be Berner Parkway. Take Berner all the way to its end. The turnaround there is the parking lot for the trail.

It’s called Orangeport because back in the 1800s once stood an inn that was frequented by canal boatmen – it was painted a bright orange as a means to attract attention and imbed the hotel in memories.

Upon walking out of the lot, go towards the bridge and continue heading that direction.

This portion of the trail is stone dust perfectly groomed by the Canal Corporation. You can walk, run, bike, or push a stroller with ease; it’s friendly to all types of use.


For the next two miles, you will be graced with pastoral scenes to the north. The closest road is Slayton Settlement, a mile north, so you won’t encounter houses on the trail side of the canal until you get to the next bridge. Instead, you’ll see orchards, small forests, and thousands of acres of crops.


The lack of civilization means the trail puts you close to wildlife. It’s not uncommon to see deer or turkeys coming out of the woodlots. In the spring, trees lining the trail are chock-full of warblers, the “butterflies of the bird world.” During the summer and fall, avian fishmongers love this stretch – kingfishers, green herons, and ospreys. You might even see a bald eagle fly overhead.

Enjoy the wildflowers along the path, especially in summer and fall. Many people derisively look at late-season flowers as weeds. They are not. The whole palette of colors is there, as you can see hawkweed, morning glories, chicory, and butter and eggs to name a few.

Along the trail you will see 3 different streams that get their water from PVC pipes that run from the canal. The purpose is to keep the streams flowing so farmers can use the water to irrigate their crops. A fourth creek doesn’t get canal water, flows under the canal, and has a wooden fence high above its culvert. This creek is one of the more interesting in the region as its natural gas is the reason why Jamesport was renamed Gasport in 1826.

Across from that creek houses show up on the south side of the Erie Canal. The first one might look familiar. Prior to the late-1990s it was Camp Margaret Castle, owned by the local Girl Scouts who also rented it out to Boy Scouts for their camporees.

Approximately 400 feet past that you will come to a pleasant picnic spot, a grassy area with boulders and a bench.

Further down the trail you will come upon the Canal Road bridge. This single-lane steel bridge was built in 1900 and is still in great shape. This is where most hikers turn around and head back.

Make it a point to hike the Erie Canal’s towpath this year. You might find yourself falling in love with this trail system, especially along this quiet, rural stretch.

Hope to see you on the trail!



From the 19 June 2024 Greater Niagara Newspapers

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