The New York State Thruway Authority Monday announced the opening of the Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park for the 2018 season. The Heritage Park, located at the site of former Erie Canal Lock 52, offers visitors a glimpse into authentic life on the Erie Canal in the mid-19th to early 20th centuries.
Opened in 2016, the seasonal attraction along the original Erie Canal gives tourists and canal enthusiasts alike a preview into the history of the Canal and its impact on the economic and commercial development of both New York and the United States.
“Two centuries after construction began on the original Erie Canal, the Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park stands as a testament to our state’s history and New York’s influence on the development of our country,” said Thruway Authority Acting Executive Director Matthew J. Driscoll. “I encourage all travelers to experience this gem located directly off of the New York State Thruway to go on a journey back in time.”
The Heritage Park’s centerpiece is the enlarged Erie Canal Lock 52, which visitors can walk through for a first-hand experience of the historic structure. Other attractions include the Erie House Complex, which dates back to 1895 and includes the Erie House Tavern and Hotel, a mule barn, and blacksmith shop. Free guided tours of the grounds are provided by the Canal Society of New York State.
The park’s visitor’s center offers interactive displays and educational materials, including a model lock featured in New York State’s exhibit at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The park also includes walking trails, refreshments and other amenities.
In 2017, the Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park welcomed more than 17,000 visitors during its first full season of operation. Visitors to the park represented all 50 states, and countries including Australia, New Zealand, China, India, and Israel.. The Heritage Park was also showcased at the World Canals Conference, held in the City of Syracuse, which celebrated the bicentennial of the Erie Canal. The conference included visits to the park from hundreds of international delegates.
Canal Corporation Director Brian U. Stratton said, “The history and heritage of the Erie Canal continues to inspire travelers from all around the world. We look forward to another season of visitation by motorists, cyclists and other travelers to experience first-hand the legacy of America’s most storied waterways.”
Kal Wysokowski, Canal Society of New York State said, “The Canal Society is very pleased to once again be a partner with the NYS Thruway Authority in the operation and management of Port Byron Heritage Park. Our goals this year include offering visitors a deeper understanding of extant structures like Lock 52 and the Erie House Tavern, while promoting the Park as a premier and lively educational center for the Erie Canal.”
Andrea Seamans, Park Volunteer Coordinator and Member of the Canal Society Board said, “The Port Byron Old Erie Canal Heritage Park is an amazing opportunity for visitors from the New York State Thruway and from the community by way of NY Route 31 to witness the marvels of engineering that built the Erie Canal.”
Visitors can access the Heritage Park directly off the New York State Thruway eastbound between exit 41 (Waterloo – Clyde – NY Route 414) and exit 40 (Weedsport – Auburn – NY Route 34). The park is also accessible from NY Route 31 in the Village of Port Byron. To ensure consistency with federal requirements, visitors will be directed to return to the route from which they entered the park. Visitors are given a token upon entering the park’s visitor’s center which corresponds to their particular entryway.
The park is operated by the Canal Society of New York and is open 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday through Sunday through October. The park is staffed by part-time local travel counselors and more than 40 volunteers.