Low Bridge, Everybody Down!

Written by Kayaker Chip on . Posted in The Erie Canal

Chip MacAlpine, Erie Canal, Kayaking, Sally Supernova, Wilderness Systems

On the western end of the canal between Buffalo and Rochester there are sixteen lift bridges, there is on additional lift bridge in Fairport, just the other side of Rochester proper. The Erie Canal that exists today is not the same that was originally built in 1825, in fact it was enlarged twice. The first time between the years 1835 and 1862 and the second time in 1918. Each time, the canal was widened and deepened to allow larger cargo vessels and in some places the path was changed, abandoning the previous incarnation. More modern technologies in 1918, allowed the canal to overlap with natural waterways that could now be controlled with the locks, control gates, dams and diversions. It was during this revision that the lift bridges were constructed as well. The portion of the canal west of the town of North Gates follows the original path. Rather than having to re-engineer existing roads with steep approaches or dig the canal much deeper than needed, lift bridges were created at the crossings so that when in its lowered position the roadway maintained close to the original height and vehicle traffic could cross. When boat traffic needed to pass though the operator of the bridge could be contacted and the bridges could be lifted. Nearly 100 years later it still works that way. Sitting low on the water in a kayak, however, I can clear the bridges by about six to ten inches and don’t have to contact the operators to raise them up. It is still a little weird being under the bridge when cars pass overhead though! I did get some looks and laughs from hikers, bikers and other nearby as I passed through the towns of Gasport and Middleport as people assumed I would wouldn’t make it.