NYS Exposed: Why isn’t the Port Byron Canal Park on the Thruway open?

March 16, 2017 11:39 PM

ROCHESTER—If you travel the Thruway, you’ve surely noticed it, a big, brand-new visitor center built in Port Byron along the old Erie Canal.  The project has been finished for months but many drivers have contacted News10NBC wondering why the entrance to it from the Thruway is still blocked off to visitors.    

Susan Utter travels east on the Thruway often…years ago she started noticing construction near Port Byron, “when I first saw it, when they were first building it, I thought... oh... they're putting a new exit or entrance here, then the building went up and then after that...I've driven by I don't know how many times and it's never open” she says.  The barriers have been up for months despite a sign on the property saying work would start in the summer of 2014 and be done by the summer of 2016.  “Why did New York waste this money if they're not going to open it,” Utter wonders.   

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It turns out, The Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park was finished in September of last year and was open for 6 weeks last fall.  At that time more than 2,600 visitors made their way through the park but it’s now closed while the Thruway Authority works to find a permanent operator for the site.  

The project was funded through the Thruway’s Capital Program, which included $899,200 in Federal funding.  Here’s how the numbers break down:

o   Parking lot and trail – $3.1 million (includes the Federal funding)

o   Erie House Restoration – $3.2 million

o   Visitor Center – $3.2 million

Considering the cost of the project, one might think there would have been a plan in place as to who would operate it long before the project was complete.  “I'm afraid it's going to be another New York State boondoggle but we'll just have to wait and see,” Utter says adding, “we've got so much stuff tied to the canal so I think it's a wonderful concept, whether it was worth $10 million dollars, I don't know.”    

The NYS Thruway Authority says it expects an operator will be in place and the park will be open 3-4 days a week starting in May.  The plan is to coincide the park’s season with the navigation season along the canal which runs from May to November.  “Building on the momentum generated during last year’s abbreviated opening season, the Thruway Authority is preparing to welcome visitors back to the Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park for its first full season of operation. This unique park connects Thruway patrons and tourists to a setting rich with Erie Canal history and displays the impact America’s most enduring waterway had on economic and commercial development during the mid-19th and early 20th centuries,” says Spokesman Shane Mahar. 


Jennifer Lewke

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