Syracuse Online

Erie Canal Towpath

Run Ends on Sweet Note

Published April 28, 2003 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

The abundance of running trails is a subtle benefit of living in Central New York. Dreaming of the hills of Highland Forest and the peace of Green Lakes has given many runners the needed energy to survive winter. With the arrival of spring, there is no better time to enjoy the promise of six months of trail running.

One of my perennial favorite trails is the Erie Canal Towpath. Formally known as the Old Erie Canal State Park, it has received designation as a National Recreation Trail. It starts near the mall in Dewitt, and stretches for 36 miles to Rome, incorporating an abandoned section of the Erie Canal.

I discovered the Erie Canal towpath following my first running injury twelve years ago. On a dark rainy March morning run, I stepped in a pothole and fracture my foot. Tow months later, the soft surface of the towpath provided a gentle return to walking and running.

The stone dust and gravel surface also provided a different running experience than the tracks and the roads. The absence of a crown at the side of the trail and the ability to run in the middle of the path further relieved the joints and muscles from asymmetrical motion, and reduced the risk of overuse injuries. So, when I contemplated marathon training, the towpath became my first choice for long runs.

Runners can start the journey at Cedar Bay Park picnic area, which provides facilities and generous parking space, or the Butternut area which hosts the zero-mile marker. The two areas are about a mile apart. The unofficial mile markers continue throughout the park, and many are posted at road intersections.

Green Lakes State Park lies about five miles into the run just off the towpath, to make up a nice ten-mile round trip. Adding a loop around one or both lakes extends the run to the mid-teens, incorporating gentle hills and a change in scenery.

The trail crosses main roads every few of miles, simplifying the task of hydration on a long run. A support vehicle can readily meet the runners at road crossings to supply drinks, food and dry clothing.

A support vehicle made a one-way run on the towpath a smart option when westerly winds hindered our return trip. Kirkville marked twelve miles, and Chittenango ushered the end of an eighteen miler, and in many ways the success of marathon training. There, we discovered the Hamlet, a quaint diner that served the best homemade cinnamon rolls in the world.

I return often to the Hamlet for cinnamon buns. Unfortunately, I use my Jeep both ways these days. However, with the return of spring, I have renewed my resolution to reach Chittenango on foot some day again, and enjoy the prized delicacies.

© 2003 The Post-Standard.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at