The entrance to Great Embankment Park is on Marsh Road in Pittsford. Follow the park road up the hill to a parking lot next to the Erie Canal.
Here you will find a small sitting area, a few benches, picnic tables, and a small boat & fishing dock. A simple park; perfect for a quiet picnic or to start your hike, bike, or paddle along the canal.
Creating the Great Embankment
Canal engineers created this embankment by building up the land to carry the canal over the valley.
As the historic place marker reads, “Erie Canal Heritage Trail: The Great Embankment completed 1822 is one mile long, 70 feet high across the Irondequoit Creek Valley.” Irondequoit Creek runs under the canal through a tunnel.
Before they came to this conclusion, though, many people at the time thought that taking the canal through Western New York would be impossible and believed traffic would have to use Lake Ontario to continue to Buffalo. James Geddes had a different vision.
To quote the Lockport Journal, “Taking the canal across the valley without adding one hundred and fifty feet of up-and-down lockage was imperative.” Because the Irondequoit Creek Valley is primarily sand, dirt had to be transported from other parts of the region to build up this new ridge.
From the same article, “The canal engineers realized that a 70-foot tall manmade berm would certainly be a weak link in Erie Canal maintenance. At each end of the mile long trough they placed steel guard gates. If there was a canal breach in this section, the large gates would be lowered to minimize water loss to the canal.”
Listen to this story from the University of Rochester, Episode 101: Bridging the Gap. “The relationship between humans and the environment is historically complex and marked with copious instances of exploitation. Human survival and progress is marked by the continuous use of natural resources to benefit human needs, often regardless of the potential damage to the environment. This pattern is evident in many industrialization projects over the 19th and 20th centuries, including that of the Erie Canal. This canal, which aimed to provide a direct waterway across upper New York State, garnered a lot of attention from citizens due to its impressive engineering and scale.”
More information about Great Embankment Park
Located in Pittsford roughly 13 minutes / 10 miles from Rochester (get directions)
More information: townofpittsford.org
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Water trails are either formally marked routes along a navigable waterway, or simply any waterway suitable for kayaks and small motorized watercraft.
Rochester railfans are incredibly lucky that passionate preservationists before us saw the value in retaining structures we can still appreciate today.
Have you been to Great Embankment Park?
Share with us in the comments. Your insight and experience is invaluable!