CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — After years of planning and several months of work the town last week officially opened a 100-foot-long pedestrian bridge that spans the Erie Canal giving users a view of the Mohawk River and another access point to an inter-municipality trail.
The planning and grant applications for Clute’s Dry Dock Pedestrian Bridge began in 2012. The span was formally opened Nov. 19.
A recently completed parking lot is on the south side of Riverview Road about .5 miles east of the intersection with Male Road. A path from the parking lot takes visitors past the historic dry dock, up a handicap accessible ramp, and across the wood-planked bridge to the far side of the 1840 enlarged Erie Canal. A second ramp on the far side of the bridge allows visitors to connect to the five-mile-long Erie Canal Community Connector Trail.
The refurbished Connector Trail follows the canal towpath between Clifton Park and the base of the Northway’s Twin Bridges in the Town of Halfmoon. The trail has access points in Clifton Park at the Whipple Bridge in the Vischer Ferry Nature Preserve and from the end of Ferry Drive.
The new bridge is on the site of a mid-19th century farmer’s bridge. The original stone abutments for the farmer’s bridge remain in place and can be seen today.
During the active use of the Erie Canal, hundreds of farmers’ bridges crossed over the canal to allow farmers and their animals to connect to the fields and pastures that had been “cut off” by the construction of the canal. The Clute’s Dry Dock site was home to a small community which was found on both sides of the canal. There were a number of homes as well as a school. All the structures are long gone.
From a spot on the bridge, one can see the Mohawk River (Barge Canal), the pond for Clute’s Dry Dock, and towpaths for the 1840 enlarged Erie Canal from the original 1825 canal.
Funding for its construction, installation, and associated trail improvements came from a $416,400 Federal Scenic Byways Program award and grants totaling $225,000 from the New York State Canal Corporation.
Participating in the formal ribbon cutting was Town Supervisor Philip Barrett, New York State Canal Corporation Director Brian Stratton, Town Councilman Anthony Morelli, staff from the town Planning Department, members of the town’s Open Space, Trails, and Riverfront Committee, and representatives from the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway.
In his remarks Stratton, noted that in his nine years as Canal Corporation director he thought he had seen all parts of the state’s canal system but this location was one he had missed.
“It’s one of the few places where you can see all three phases of our canal system that began construction in 1817,” he said. “Here you can see the original canal known as Clinton’s Ditch, the 1840 enlarged canal, and today’s canal, the NYS Barge Canal. It’s also one of the few places where you can see the intact and enlarged canal with its beautiful stone walls that probably go back to 1845.”
Referencing the Canal Corporation’s financial support for the project, Stratton said the Corporation was very happy to provide funding through a grant from the governor’s Regional Economic Development Council Program.
“Just as New York works hard to make the canal system possible I think the town worked extra hard to bring this great bridge here,” he said. “This is a historic gem that’s going to connect trails and will one day connect Clifton Park to the Empire State Trail which is a 750-mile trail system.”
Stratton and Barrett both mentioned how trails, throughout the state, have experienced increased use since the coronavirus became a force this spring. Barrett specifically noted the bridge’s connection to the Erie Canal Community Connector Trail saying it will give those using the town’s extensive trails system more access to a trail they may never have experienced.
“We know people are enjoying the trail system more and more each year especially during this pandemic,” Barrett said. “The town has experienced the largest usage of its parks network ever seen, including the trail system, since March. This opens up a whole new access point to the (Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic) Preserve.”
He added that the bridge over the canal had been years in the making.
“This is a wonderful addition to the Preserve and a wonderful addition to the town as we continue to expand our trails and open space and parks and recreational network,” he said. “It’s important that we not only expand our parks and trails network but that we make it safe and accessible. This bridge will stand ready for many years into the future.”
The Vischer Ferry Nature & Historic Preserve is a 640-acre nature preserve owned by the New York State Canal Corporation and operated and managed by the Town of Clifton Park for public passive recreational uses. For more information about the Preserve visit: http://cliftonparkopenspaces.org/locations/vischerferry/