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Buffalo’s Canalside: A fun afternoon without breaking the bank

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Western New Yorkers have longed for a closer connection to Buffalo’s waterfront and now, they finally have it.

My husband and I just enjoyed two hours at sun-drenched Canalside and didn’t spend a dime. We were surrounded by families and, like them, we learned a lot about the possibilities for joy along the water, without cost and without getting wet.

There are HUGE photo opportunities at Canalside: the BUF sign is available 24/7 and so is the inspiring sand sculpture made by local artist Eric Jones. On Sunday, there was a patriotic theme saluting the iron will of service members, but the theme will change during the summer.

A sand sculpture replicating the film poster of “Iron Will: Veterans Battle with PTSD,” made by local artist Eric Jones.

Children scrambled for rides aboard Buffalo’s historic solar-powered Heritage Carousel. Built 100 years ago in North Tonawanda, the carousel has seen a successful and painstaking four-year restoration.

It costs nothing to watch and listen to the wondrous park attraction. Riders will pay one dollar, or more if they wish, to take a spin.

Children riding Buffalo’s historic solar-powered Heritage Carousel.

There is a large, sandy area called “the beach,” which is set aside for children and adults who want to get their toes and hands in the sand.

Love to play chess, checkers or backgammon in the great outdoors? Tables already outfitted with the gameboards were waiting for players.

The Canalside boardwalk guides visitors along a host of other entertainment choices for which one can pay or simply watch others participate in with the spirit of adventure.

Visitors can rent a kayak, paddleboat or water bike, and tickets can be purchased to aboard several boat tours. A caricature artist-for-hire stands ready to capture people’s portraits.

Resurgence at Canalside also has food and drink for purchase with seating in the shade.

As we walked to the Commercial Slip, we spotted the Seneca Chief, a historic full-sized replica of the type of boat that opened the Erie Canal in 1825. It’s been a community boat building project that involved hundreds of volunteers who donate their talents to this day.

Brian Trzeciak, the executive director of the Buffalo Maritime Center, said people have been drawn to help and observe the project. It speaks to the historic roots of the Queen City.

“Buffalo is a waterfront city,” Trzeciak said. “This boat helps that image come to life.”

Trzeciak said the Seneca Chief will make an appearance at Canal Fest of the Tonawandas later this month and then set sail for Lockport, Medina, Brockport, and Rochester in August.

During our Canalside visit, we happened to catch the “I Love New York” traveling exhibit. It aims to educate New Yorkers and visitors about the adventures that await those who decide to vacation and staycation in the Empire State.

Buffalo native Tracey Wilson “emcees” the exhibit, which offers fun facts, a free photo and a flip of the prize wheel.

The free “I Love NY” roadshow will move on from Canalside, but will be featured next weekend during the Taste of Buffalo.

No trip to Canalside is complete without paying a visit and paying tribute to the men and women who preserve our freedoms. The Buffalo Naval and Military Park has grown dramatically in recent years: the ships, the monuments, the military hardware and the gardens.

Visitors can pay for a shipboard tour or simply walk along the waterfront, at no charge, reading the markers that delve into the nation’s and community’s many military connections, successes and sacrifices.

Keep your eyes open for extraordinary encounters during your expedition to Canalside.

We were prepared to get a view of Buffalo’s silent weekend visitor, the tall ship Lettie G. Howard, but we were less prepared to hear a rousing chorus of “Y.M.C.A.” from the pedal-powered Buffalo Pedal Tours trolley that rolled past us at the end of the afternoon.

All of it was fun, and all of it was free.

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Jacquie Walker is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1983. See more of her work here.

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