Visitors of historic landscapes enjoy the benefit of a natural setting, but lose out on what a museum might provide in terms of expert commentary.
By using modern tools, the Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway Coalition, Inc., has set out to change that with a brand new walking audio tour to help history seekers uncover knowledge most passersby will miss out on. The audio tour, powered by OnCell, briefly highlights the cultural, historical and natural significance of specific sites along the byway corridor.
The Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway stretches along 26 miles of Albany, Saratoga and Schenectady counties, following the route of the Erie Canal between Schenectady and Waterford/Cohoes. The byway played a significant role in the westward expansion of the United States, as well as during the Industrial Revolution, as a primary passageway.
Mohawk Towpath Scenic Byway Coalition, Inc., Executive Director Eric Hamilton said the audio tour idea originated from some of the other 150 sister scenic byway groups that began their own audio tours. Each byway holds its own sacred history, and using the latest technology for touring, Hamilton said, helps provide better understanding at what visitors are looking at. Hamilton said the coalition has been trying to find a way over the past five years to tell the byway story, and through looking at similar organizations, decided the audio tour fit best.
Hamilton said they partnered with OnCell in April. The tour can be accessed by any phone. When stopping at 14 different sites along the byway, visitors can call (518) 649-9990 and then dial the specific extension to hear a tour for each site. Locations include two spots in Colonie: the Old Military Crossing and Freddie’s Park. There are also stops in Cohoes.
Each audio segment is about two minutes long and most feature a local municipal official or historian related to the location to provide an authentic voice.
“Not only do you get the local story, but you get the local voice,” Hamilton said.
Town Supervisor Paula Mahan narrates the story for the Old Military Crossing in Colonie, once believed to be a place where Henry Knox lost one of his canons in the icy waters as he was on his way to Fort Ticonderoga in 1776, Hamilton said.
Hamilton said they are still adding small signs to each location, and some will have QR codes that can be scanned by smart phones to go directly to the audio recordings of that specific site.
While the audio tour can be accessed from anywhere, Hamilton urged that it only be used while walking along the byway, and not driving or biking.
“It’s trying to bring the story to whoever’s standing there, and that sort of story doesn’t go too well if you’re zipping by in a car,” Hamilton said.
The coalition is also working on making a brochure to accompany each tour to put at visitors’ centers and town halls, Hamilton said. They also plan to add more sites to the tour once it has started gaining followers. Hamilton said they won’t be able to see who’s calling the number, but will be able to see which recordings are listened to. They also suggest visitors leave a message by pressing 0, so the group can collect feedback on the tours.
While the tour is already up and ready to go, it will officially launch on Aug. 10 as part of the Eighth Annual Canal Splash!, which celebrates the history, cultural and beauty of the New York State Canal System and Erie Canalway Trail.