LOCKPORT — Jeff Degnan, one of the driving forces behind the effort to restore the Flight of Five locks, was celebrated Saturday as the seventh winner of the Key to the Locks award for his long service on the Lockport Canal Development Task Force and at the Niagara County Department for Economic Development.
The award ceremony, which was held at the Erie Canal Discovery Center, also honored the winners of the Erie Canal Song Contest.
Degnan said he was beyond surprised when he was named as this year’s honoree. The list of Degnan’s accomplishments and commitments read by past honoree Becky Burns left no doubt that he’s worthy of the award, which honors a local citizen who best promotes and exemplifies community spirit and heritage.
Burns cited Degnan’s involvement with projects to improve canal signage, brochures touting Lockport as the “Jewel of the Erie Canal,” preservation of canal district buildings and “being the mover and shaker” for the annual canal cleanup.
”He has a level of wisdom that brings richness to any committee he’s on,” Burns said. “Not everyone is a details person, but every project needs a details person. He takes his responsibilities seriously.”
“I’ve been very fortunate to be involved in so many projects,” said Degnan, who has participated in committees for the Canalway Trail, the Lockport Harbor and Marina project, the Lockport Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Management Plan and the Flight of Five Interpretation Plan.
Degan answered several of the questions that followed the announcement of the offer. Will he now have to get up early to open the locks each morning? No. Will the Flight of Five project start soon? An emphatic yes.
Degnan said final design work on the project will be done this year, with “lock work” in 2013.
”I’m very happy that we’re getting results,” Degnan said. “If we take these baby steps everyone will benefit. They will learn our history — that’s the legacy we’ll leave.”
The canal’s legacy was celebrated with the fifth annual song contest. “Doc Stuart” Shapiro won the contest for the third time with his entry “Digger N’ Haulers.”
The Discovery Center plans to sell a compilation CD of current and previous Erie Canal Song entries.