Hospitality and heritage bring hundreds of thousands of tourists to the Erie Canal each summer. They come from near and they come from far, attracted to the region by different activities: biking, paddling, camping, hiking, shopping, sight-seeing, or simply to refresh and resolve to do absolutely nothing. The tourists are as diverse as the region itself. This includes a diverse range of personal mobility — some hindered by age and arthritis, others living with significant disabilities. As a tourist, there is nothing worse than having your group — whether family or friends — fragmented because one member in the group is unable to access a particular location. Everyone in the tourism industry knows the importance of being hospitable, and this includes accommodating those with disabilities.
As the Erie Canal Heritage Corridor strives to better accommodate all visitors, many local leaders have recognized the popularity of paddling and the need to provide safe and convenient access in and out of the water. The recent addition of three adaptive kayak launches has improved accessibility for the adaptive paddling community and all visitors hoping to paddle the historic canal.
BoardSafe Docks is the manufacturer of the adaptive kayak launch, an industry leader in customized marine access products. BoardSafe Docks’ inclusive design allows for persons in wheelchairs to safely transition into their kayak and out on the water. It also ensures that groups of family and friends paddle together.
The launch system has been engineered with specific adaptive features that have improved the paddling experience for the widest range of users. The launch can also be used with canoes and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs), making it a versatile option for towns, communities, and park systems looking for a truly inclusive launch.
The Erie Canal is one of the greatest civil engineering feats in our nation’s history. Nestled along the Erie Canal are 234 cities, towns, and villages that touch New York’s 524 miles of navigable waterways. The identities of its communities are all tied to their canal heritage. Historically, the Erie Canal created an economic structure by connecting its small canal towns, opening a water route to the midwest, and allowing for cheaper transportation of goods. The canal provided new opportunities for work and life for Americans living along the canal corridor. The waterway created a social connectedness between villages and served as the information highway for that era. The canal also became instrumental for social reform.
Today, the Erie Canal corridor is a national heritage landmark and a national treasure for each village because of its help in shaping American history. History and tourism are the crown jewels of each canal town. In-water activities offered along the canal corridor — specifically, paddlesports like kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding — offer a positive contribution to each town’s economy.
Tourism and paddling on the Erie Canal
There has been a tremendous increase in kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding over the last several years. COVID has added to paddlesports’ popularity. Visitor research completed for the Erie Canalway National Corridor in 2017 reported that 42% of visitors would like to canoe or kayak on the canal.
In the years since that research study has been completed, it’s very likely the percentage of visitors interested in paddling the canal has increased. However, most small towns have not improved their canal access points or made provisions to include the disabled community. Launches that have not been improved and launches that have been built in accordance with minimum ADA standards still exclude a large group of adaptive paddlers. Adaptive paddlers require a launch with specific adaptive features. Adaptive athletes find great joy in getting into their vessel and out onto the water with their family and friends.
Why paddle the Erie Canal?
Kayaking and other paddle sports are great options for visiting tourists who want to experience life on the water in the small canal towns. Fishing, relaxation, fun, and family, were the answers most often given when kayakers were asked about what draws them to the water. Kayaking allows for those who love the water to get out onto the water for less money than the cost of boating.
"We kind of just like going at our own pace, it's peaceful, and you can take kayaks into places you can't take other boats," said a paddler who used the Fairport Village Launch operated by the Erie Boat Company.
Benefits of a BoardSafe Adaptive Kayak Launch
The Village of Fairport is proudly equipped with a custom BoardSafe Adaptive Kayak Launch, part of a complete waterfront redesign at its Erie Canal’s entry point. GPI, the design engineer on the project, sought out BoardSafe Docks for their assistance in developing a design solution that would fit the adaptive launch into a designated space that rests next to their newly-designed boat ramp.
The launch system was designed with a concrete trench at the top of the launch that allowed for the installation of the bulkhead angle and related hinge pin. This space allowed the pin to be removed for an easy installation.
The customized scope of this project included an 8-foot-wide gangway that fit into the designated launch space. The chute was also designed to be 8 feet. The launch included an 8-foot by 20-foot floating dock and Clip-A-Launch 20S (designed for entry from one end). The cost of this project was $50,000 and was installed at the location of the Erie Boat Company, Inc., operated by Peter Abele.
The Erie Canal Boat Company offers kayak rentals and excursions on the Erie Canal and also has associated walking and bike trails along the canal. Their accessible boat company offers kayak, canoe, paddle board, pontoon, and bicycle rentals to people of all abilities.
The Erie Canal Boat Company is a recognized supporter of, and partner with, Rochester Accessible Adventures and the Adaptive Paddling And Cycling Centers (APACC) in the Upstate New York Regions. Together they host accessible paddle days, offer training, equipment, and inclusive programming to transform the Erie Canalway. Anita O’Brien, Executive Director of RAA, has a mission to ensure that people with disabilities who live or travel in the region have access to equipment and have the ability to enter the water as safely and easily as they deserve. She wants everyone to experience the greatness of the Erie Canalway alongside their family and friends. Anita O’Brien is currently working with BoardSafe to get more of their adaptive launches installed along the canal.
The BoardSafe Adaptive Kayak Launch supported the Erie Canal Boat Company in their mission and has helped make Fairport an inclusive destination for paddlers of all abilities. Tourism is on the rise in Fairport, which is becoming recognized as an inclusive destination.
The Village of Brockport installed their BoardSafe Adaptive Kayak Launch in June 2021. The adaptive system is located in downtown Brockport along the Erie Canal. One of the challenges for this project was a nearly 20-foot-high concrete wall along the entire area, meaning the gangway for this project needed to be engineered from the walkway along the wall and down to the dock.
Since the canal is considered a "navigable waterway,” the Erie Canal Corporation stipulated the entire dock system could only project a minimal distance into the canal. BoardSafe Docks identified a design solution that included a cantilevered walkway with support arms attached to the concrete wall. The walkway provided the solution as well as the necessary attachment point for the gangway that ran parallel to the concrete wall and attached to the floating dock. The adaptive launch was attached to the opposite end, allowing for safer and easier access for persons in wheelchairs.
A second challenge at this site was keeping the dock system in place. BoardSafe analyzed the options and recommended that two vertical I-Beam pilings be bolted to the concrete wall and piling guides be attached to the floating dock. This solution allowed the dock system to move up and down as the water level fluctuated, keeping the dock in the same position in relation to the concrete wall.
This custom project included a 5' x 6' landing, a 4' x 16' gangway, one 8' x 20’ floating dock, one Clip-a-Launch 16Dual that allows entry from both sides, and two custom I-Beam pilings and piling guides.
The total cost of this project was about $45,000.
Brockport is on the National Register of Historic Places and is known for its Victorian downtown district. The College at Brockport, State University of NY, is also located here and is recognized for offering the first Adaptive Physical Education Program in the country. It’s fitting that the Village of Brockport understands the need for equity and inclusion in providing an accessible waterfront and saw value in the BoardSafe Adaptive kayak launch with specific adaptive features, ensuring that paddlers of all abilities can experience the joys of paddling the Erie Canal.
The Village of Medina installed a customized BoardSafe Adaptive Kayak Launch, Floating Docks, Gangway, and Landing, completed in September 2021.
The first challenge identified by BoardSafe Docks was that the existing gangway didn't conform to ADA guidelines and was greater than a 1/12 slope. To correct this issue, a landing was constructed for the existing gangway to rest on and a second gangway added to connect from that platform to the floating dock. This concept was a cost savings for Mayor Mike Sidari in the Village of Medina because BoardSafe recognized they were able to use their existing gangway and not replace it with a more costly gangway. A replacement gangway would have been nearly 70-feet long.
The adaptive kayak launch in Medina was designed to attach to the customer’s existing floating marina. The marina’s freeboard was 16 inches, and the same height of a standard BoardSafe Dock. BoardSafe was able to size the docks and configure the launch to fit onto the downriver side of their dock system.
The components of this project included a customized landing platform for their existing gangway, a new 30-foot aluminum welded gangway, two 5' x 10' floating docks, one 8' x 20' floating dock, and one Clip-a-Launch 20S with a single side entry.
The cost of this project was approximately $65,000.
The BoardSafe Adaptive Kayak Launch appeals to adaptive paddlers and will help the village of Medina continue to grow as a tourist destination because of its accessibility to the water, downtown historic district, and painted murals project located behind their historic downtown buildings.
Although the needs and challenges of these three villages are all very unique and different, BoardSafe Docks was able to evaluate their needs and identify a solution to create an accessible launch system that includes specific features that will work for an adaptive paddler.
Build one and they will come
In addition to helping Erie Canal communities boost tourism and revenue, More Features = More Paddlers. Adaptive launches serve a wide range of paddling groups, making it safer and easier to enter and exit the vessel and the water. Adaptive launches are all about inclusion and human rights. Launches with specialized features increase social connection for adaptive paddlers and offer physical activity to contribute to the best medical outcomes. The Erie Canal has a great history for improving the lives of Americans who lived and worked on the canal and contributed to social reform. Today, the canal and villages have the ability to continue this work and ensure their launches are available to and accessible for everyone.
BoardSafe Docks is the industry leader in adaptive kayak launches and fishing piers, gangways and pedestrian bridges, rowing centers, and marinas. They specialize in design consultation, engineering, and manufacturing, and will work with you to ensure your project is accessible to the widest range of users and that necessary specific adaptive features are not overlooked.
You may learn more about BoardSafe Dock’s projects through our website at BoardSafeDocks.com or by calling 610-899-0286.