Jul 29, 2013

Exploring the Erie Canal on the Emita II

Exploring the Erie Canal is one of my favorite summertime activities. I think the Erie Canal is one of the most under promoted treasures of New York State. The building of the Erie Canal is considered an engineering marvel on the scale of the pyramids.  In the early 1800’s when New York governor, DeWitt Clinton proposed building a waterway that would connect the navigable
Hudson River to Lake Erie by a 300 mile canal through the wilderness, Thomas Jefferson said, “It is a splendid project and may be executed a century hence… but it is a little short of madness to think of it at this day.”  With foresight, DeWitt Clinton claimed, “By this great highway, unborn millions will easily transport their surplus production, procure their supplies and hold a useful and profitable intercourse with all the maritime nations of the world.”  When the canal opened on October 26, 1825 it was an immediate success.

On a beautiful summer day John and I set out on a two-hour cruise on Mid-Lake’s Emita II.  It was the Emita’s birthday. The Emita II was built by Blount Marine in Warren, RI, and used as a ferry by Casco Bay (Maine) Lines before being purchased by Mid-Lakes Navigation in 1974. If it wasn’t for Mid-Lakes how would people be able to enjoy the Erie Canal and other local waterways? The company began in 1968 and has grown over the years to include a mailboat, sightseeing cruises and self-piloted canal boats. 

I love the juxtaposition of the Emita II cruising along the bucolic Erie
Canal at a relaxing pace and the speeding traffic on the nearby highways. The world looks more serene from the canal. On a canal cruise it is impossible to be tense or worried.  I relax completely enjoying the scenery – trees, birds, an occasional boater, and a person fishing on the shore. The Emita’s captain, Dan Wiles, son of Mid-Lakes founder Peter Wiles Sr., has an encyclopedic knowledge of the canal and its environs. I learn something new and interesting on each voyage. As we passed Onondaga Lake Park Capt. Wiles described the area it was in the late 1800s when the shoreline was dotted with popular hotels, restaurants, and amusement parks. One existing remnant is the carousel that thrilled young and old at Long Branch Park. Today it is a centerpiece at Destiny USA. 

But, as we all know, industry along the lake caused catastrophic
pollution.  However, things are changing again.  Monumental efforts to clean the lake are working.  The parameters for eating fish (we saw a lot of people fishing along the shore) from Onondaga Lake are the same as eating fish from Lake Ontario.  Sadly, a bad reputation is hard to rectify. As we entered Onondaga Lake, Dan Wiles suggested, “Look at this beautiful lake and count the boats enjoying it on this hot, summer day.”  After a pause, he added, “There is only one, the Emita.” It is truly a shame.
We saw a bald eagle, swans, and the great blue herons. Legend says that herons are the souls of former canal boat captains showing today’s captain the rocks and shallows to avoid.

Exploring the Oswego Canal has been high on my New York State Bucket List for years.  I am so excited to be booked on Mid-Lakes Oswego canal trip in September.  For more information on Mid-Lakes cruises call 800-545-4318 or log on to Midlakesnav.com.