Chenango Canal Towpath Trail To Receive New Signage This Fall

Wynter Schnell, Maroon-News Staff

This fall, the Chenango Canal Towpath Trail will undergo a renovation with the installation of a brand new system of signs and markers that span all eight miles of the trail. According to a newsletter sent Tuesday, Sept. 8, the Hamilton Partnership for Community Development (PCD), a non-profit partnership between the Village of Hamilton, the Town of Hamilton and Colgate University, along with the Chenango Canal Association collaborated with Cornell University’s Design Connect program to design the new signage system in 2018. The team hoped to create new signs that would simplify the trail navigation and spur increased interest in the trail’s history and natural beauty among NY locals and visitors. This signage project was made possible by a grant from the Central New York Community Foundation, and the new signs are expected to be printed and installed by the end of October 2020.

The recreational path starts at College Street in Hamilton, then stretches over six miles North to Oriskany Creek in Bouckville. Even though the canal is no longer actively used for transport, many portions of the canal remain intact and can be viewed from the trail. The area around the canal has flourished with an abundance of flora and fauna in the decades since its abandonment. People who use the trail can experience the vast biodiversity of wild plants and animals along the path.

According to a 2018 report from the PCD, the Chenango Canal was built during the early 1800s. It operated from the 1850s until the mid-1950s when it was no longer efficient compared to other modes of transport. The canal was just under 100 miles long, ushering in substantial economic revenue and industrial development for the upper NY region. The towpath, which will receive the updated signage this Fall, was first built to accommodate the mules that pulled boats along the canal. Today, that same trail is in use as a hiking and biking trail.

While the natural habitats and ecosystems of the towpath trail have prospered, some users felt that updates to the trail were necessary. Mile markers and maps are slated to be installed along the trail’s entire length. Other additions will include new signs at the trailhead in the Village of Hamilton and at the Chenango Canal Museum in Bouckville which will outline a brief history of the Chenango Canal. A sign at Woodman Pond will also be installed with information for birdwatchers as well as QR codes that link hikers to the Chenango Canal Association’s audio tour of the Canal’s history.

PDC Economic Development Specialist Laura Caughlin is one of the leading figures for the signage project. She explained that the main goal for updating the towpath trails revolves around improving accessibility to high-quality recreation spaces in Southern Madison County.

“[To improve] the existing amenities, we have coupled with community education and outreach which helps us make sure that people know what’s there for them,” Caughlin said. “Having studied regional planning, I’ve learned a lot about the quality of life amenities and recreational spaces can really make a community flourish as well as attract young professionals and job-bringing businesses… These amenities attract workers, and workers want good places to live and raise their families. Improving the trail is just one more asset for our community that can help make us prosper, and this ties into the PCD’s overall mission.”

The PCD’s 2018 report outlines the design process for the new signage, detailing team members’ findings of a lack of “maps on primary signage and signage along the trail for orientation.”

“Moreover, the trail did not offer information that promoted the area’s beautiful wildlife and rich local history of the trail and town. Lastly, as an amenity that is used for a wide variety of activities throughout the seasons, the trail was lacking a series of easily identifiable trail-use symbol signs, one’s that designated various stretches of the trail to sets of appropriate activities,” the report states.

President of the Chenango Canal Association Diane Van Slyke discovered the canal 21 years ago while exploring the local forests near her home with her grandchildren. A Chenango Canal Association had been established a decade before her discovery, yet had disbanded after not being able to fund their organization’s required liability insurance. Van Slyke developed a greater interest in the canal upon talking further with locals and farmers. After securing the necessary state permits, she was able to transform the trail into what local communities know it as today.

“My role as President, along with the entire organization, is [to] volunteer. We run monthly meetings with a group [of] eight very dedicated individuals and we work to repair structural damage the path might face. We received a wonderful grant from the Central New York Community Foundation which made the new signage possible. The signs will help with direction, information and provide history. I’m the town historian for Madison, so I was actually able to author the historical information on the signs,” Van Slyke said.

Richard Cohen is a Hamilton local who has lived in the Village with his family for 46 years. Cohen’s parents were both birdwatchers who taught him about wildlife observation when he was a child. Cohen has been using the trail and exploring the Woodman Pond for as long as he has lived here, explaining that birdwatchers come from across central New York to watch birds by Woodman Pond. In order to enhance the trail user experience, bird watching signage will be made at the site which would include 14 of the most commonly seen birds.
Cohen spoke positively about the upcoming changes to the towpath trail.

“Even though the signage might not change my experiences here all that much, I think there will definitely be a community benefit [when the trail is updated.] For people who haven’t ever bird watched, I hope the updated signage might show them a few interesting species they haven’t yet learned about. The trail renovation will increase access, and I think people will come here who might not come here otherwise. [The updated signage] might compel more people to visit Hamilton, too,” Cohen said.