See the city in a new way with a jaunt along the newly finished Onondaga CreekwalkIt was a few minutes after 8 on a clear late autumn night, and the sun had been down for hours. I found a parking spot in Armory Square, stretched out for a few minutes and headed across West Fayette Street, following the yellow line that serves as the guide for the newest cool place in Syracuse.
This place is free, it’s open 24-7, and it is different each time you visit. Welcome to the Creekwalk, a 2.6-mile-long public space that connects downtown to the lakefront, and a statement of how simple it can be for a town like ours to enhance urban living by connecting us to the natural environment.
We are a lakefront town with roadways that cut us off from the water. While there is a lot of talk about what Interstate 81 has done to the fabric of urban life, it is I-690 that keeps us from seeing, much less enjoying, our own waterfront. You can live in Syracuse for a long time and not even realize that it’s a town built on a lake.
This project changes all that. I decided to give the Creekwalk a trial run (literally) in the dark just to see what all the fuss was about. It did not disappoint. I jogged up the concrete path that led out of Armory Square, and a few twists and turns later I was chugging alongside Onondaga Creek on a nicely lit path, looking up at buildings and bridges, feeling the city slip away and reveal some of the natural world that still lies close beneath the surface of our streets and sidewalks.
Through the downtown portion I ran mostly on concrete, and then with the transition to the north side of the highway, the footpath underneath became mostly red brick. There were more trees, and the sound of automobiles diminished enough so that the quiet sound of the water could be heard.
One of the things you hear a lot from people who move to Syracuse is how quickly you can make the transition from the urban core to the country. In 20 minutes, you hear people say, you can be out in the country. Usually that means getting in the car. Usually it means leaving the city. With the long-awaited opening of the Creekwalk, you can now experience that same feeling without having to head for the ’burbs. That same kind of renewing vibe can be had just be taking a walk, or going for a run, or a bike ride.
The eastern and western suburbs have the Erie Canal. Liverpool has Onondaga Lake Park. And now, Syracuse proper has its Creekwalk. I wanted to run it at night because so many people had asked about how well lit the walkway is. I was pleased that the old-style lampposts provided more than enough light to see, and with the moonlight reflecting off the creek itself, there was plenty of illumination.
My friends who have walked or run along the creek in daylight tell me there are lots of people out there and it feels very safe. Even at night I can tell you there wasn’t a moment that gave me any hesitation. Not to say that women would feel comfortable venturing out alone there at night, but if you exercise the normal cautions you would apply to any park in the city, you’ll find a place with a lot to offer.
As you chug along toward the Inner Harbor there are a few moments when you smell something—this ain’t Skaneateles—and you know that we’ve been pooping in the lake for a century. But here’s the thing: We know that Onondaga Lake, and the creek that feeds it, are final ly getting cleaner. Now we have word of serious offers to develop the Inner Harbor. It’s a walk with a future.
And there’s this: Most of the things that make the Creekwalk cool were already here. When you jog or walk or bike along it you can’t help but be struck by how simple the whole thing is. It’s the leap of imagination and vision that took pieces of the town and figured out how to pull them together. A similar leap will have to take place when it comes to bridging the East-West divide created by I-81.
Now that the county and the city have done their part by building the Creekwalk, it’s up to us to inhabit it, to imbue it with an identity, and to keep it clean. (I didn’t see any trash, and I hope we keep it that way.) Too often good things in this town get run down and criticized, and as a result people fail to appreciate what we have right here.
This is a gem we should all be proud of. So teachers, take your students there. Workers, take your lunch break on the Creekwalk. Dogs, walk your people there. Students, when you hear your classmates worrying about how “sketchy” the city can be, get a good-sized group together and walk the creek. On wheels or on foot, it’s a place you’ll want to check out.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times. You can reach him at email@example.com.