If you’ve been following this blog during recent months, it should be obvious that the Boilermaker is undergoing a change. Let’s call it an expansion of focus. We are no longer content with being confined to the month of July but instead have ambitions to be a year-round change agent. Blossoming outreach initiatives like the Boilermaker Urban Garden and the West Utica Public Market have certainly been tremendous steps towards this goal. However, did you know that the Boilermaker actually conducts another road race, a half-marathon at that? The Erie Canal Half, taking place on May 21st, includes a 2-person relay, 5k, and even a kid’s run.
The Boilermaker is a lot of things, but above all it is a celebration of the indomitable Utica spirit. The course itself winds its way from east to west, painting a stunning portrait of our eclectic neighborhoods. Unfortunately, it entirely bypasses the city’s oldest and most exciting district: Bagg’s Square. As one of our most promising areas of redevelopment in recent years, Bagg’s Square deserves the spotlight and that is exactly the Boilermaker’s vision for the Erie Canal Race which starts and finishes in the heart of Utica’s “oldest new neighborhood”.
Now for a brief history lesson. In the early 19th century, the Erie Canal was instrumental in Utica’s emergence as a manufacturing center. The Erie Canal’s original path roughly followed modern-day Oriskany Street, bisecting Bagg’s Square which sprung up as Utica’s original core, centered around Bagg’s Hotel. The race starts and ends in Bagg’s Square while following the path of the modern-day Barge Canal. In a very real sense, the Erie Canal Race traces the history of our city while giving a glimpse into our future, in the form of the Bagg’s Square renaissance.
In my short time with the Boilermaker, I’ve heard the same sentiment on numerous occasions, “If only we could sustain the Boilermaker spirit throughout the year…” The Boilermaker has grown into what it is because you embraced it. Here we have another opportunity to band together around a civic event, and showcase the best of our city. Let us embrace the Erie Canal Half and Bagg’s Square with the same fervor as the Boilermaker. Look it as a warm-up of sorts if you’d like, but this much is certain: the Erie Canal Race will be defined by how we, as a community, choose to embrace it.