Fall, 2002

From the President

By David G. Barber

I want to thank the board for electing me to be the fifth president of the American Canal Society. I am honored to join this distinguished group and I am looking forward to working with all of you on our canal heritage.

Among the many groups and individuals that are included in our numbers, I want to particularly acknowledge those who are building the various canal parks and clearing the long neglected towpaths. This effort goes a long way to preserving the actual canals themselves. I believe an important part of preservation is making the structures and rights of way of the past useful in the present and future.

However, next to these towpaths are moist ditches that are getting no use. They once carried the commerce of a nation.

By contrast, right now in Great Britain, there are over two thousand miles of navigable canal with connecting rivers. Every year, many folks, like my wife and I, fly across the ocean to cruise them. Last year, our British compatriots reopened the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, which had been considered an "impossible" restoration. This year, they reopened the Rochdale Canal, the Union Canal, and the Forth & Clyde Canal. Not only did they reopen these, but they opened the Ribble Link, a brand new canal that had been proposed for 200 years. Currently, the British are reopening or opening new more miles of canal per year than was opened per year at the height of the canal era. They plan to continue at this rate.

This year, they also reopened the Anderton Lift, which had been out of service for 18 years. This lift is the predecessor of the lifts in Belgium and Canada. But, not only did they reopen Anderton, they also opened a brand new lift of a new design at Falkirk, Scotland. The opening was attended by the queen. Already, the Falkirk Wheel is the third most popular tourist attraction in Scotland.

In Canada, the Lachine Canal was reopened to navigation in May, 2002. The expectation was for 3,000 transits this season. Through early September, the actual number was over 5,000. They are now working to reopen the Solounges Canal (the next west) in three years. This will be followed by an on land development at each end of over $ 500,000,000 (cdn). Discussions are beginning about reopening the canal at Cornwall, Ontario. (The third canal west on the Saint Lawrence River.)

In the US, we now have thousands of miles of dry prism, derelict locks, and missing aqueducts. We have no towpath canals open for public navigation for anything larger than canoes and other portable boats. Where Britain has a major tourism industry, we have nothing. You really need to see the many marinas with hundreds of boats worth $ 1,500 per foot. It’s a real eye opener to see a half dozen busy pubs on a Saturday afternoon along the canal in downtown Nottingham. The tourist interest at places such as Foxton Locks and Braunston Junction is impressive. I’m very sure that people don’t come to see the structures. Canals without boats are dull.

I think that it is about time we did something about this. As a hiker, I have explored hundreds of miles of old canal. As an engineer, I see very little preventing their reuse. Whatever problems exist have been solved many times over in Britain. We are supposed to have more wealth and population.

New York City lies very close to the Delaware & Hudson Canal. The D&H is the most significant economic work in the valleys it passes through. There are even boats moored within feet of Lock 1. So why can’t we cruise from Eddyville to Port Jervis? A round trip would occupy a week.

Philadelphia is close to the Delaware Division and Lehigh Canals and much of the route is parkland. So why can’t the public boat from Bristol to Mauch Chunk?

Washington, D.C. is at the east end of 184 miles of C & O Canal national park. Folks are fighting desperately to repair one significant aqueduct to non-navigable condition. Efforts are underway to dig out the basin at Cumberland. Why aren’t these footnotes to a much bigger project?

The Muskingham is open to navigation from the Ohio at Marietta to Dresden and there are plenty of boats at Cleveland. Dresden is already a tourist attraction. Why can’t we rewater the Ohio and Erie Canal between? The summit level and Cascade Locks have lots of water.

What about Fort Edward to Glens Falls, Lake Musconetcong to Phillipsburg, Rome to Forestport, or even Harve de Grace to Harrisburg and Medford to Middlesex Village? There is little obstruction and much water flowing on all of these routes. I’m sure there are other examples.

Historic parks, replica boats and hiking trails are excellent, but isn’t it time we preserved our historic canals by using them for public navigation?

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