By David G. Barber
Recently, the mail brought me a real surprise. As a result of my annual support of the Waterways Recovery Group, the association of voluntary canal restorers in England, I received a DVD containing all 218 back issues of their publication, Navvies. I have been saving my issues over the several years that I have supported WRG, but now I can read all of the issues back to the first in October, 1966. If you would like to read the back issues, the plan is to put them on the internet at www.navvies.org.uk
I mention this because those of us who have traveled outside the United States and visited the waterways elsewhere know that waterways tourism is a big and growing business. In other countries, waterways are being preserved and restored because it makes economic sense. I plan to visit England this coming summer and actually cruise for two weeks on preserved and recently restored waterways. While travel to England is very interesting, I hate the fact that I have for buy air tickets before I can spend cruising time on a historic towpath canal
In the United States, however, we have closed most of our small waterways and are under funding our remaining major waterways. It is a fact that our railways and highways cannot carry the continually increasing volume of commerce. Yet, we as a nation are not spending the capital funds necessary to maintain and upgrade the Midwest waterways. If they close, there is nowhere for their freight to go.
Meanwhile, almost all of our historic towpath canal system is ignored or only being developed for the towpath route as a hiking / biking route. The two notable exceptions are both “steamboat navigations”, not towpath canals. The two exceptions are the Muskingum River in Ohio, which the state has been restoring for some years. On summer weekends, it is now navigable from the Ohio River to the uppermost lock at Ellis. The lock and dam at Ellis is currently under restoration. When that project is completed, the entire waterway will be open to its historic upper end at Dresden.
The other waterway under restoration is the lower Fox River in Wisconsin which is being restored between Lake Winnebago and Green Bay. In 2007, 4 restored locks are to be added to the three operational ones. The entire route is expected to be reopened in 2009.
These states are to be congratulated on these projects. They are rebuilding these routes because they expect boaters to use them. But, why aren’t we working on the many other possibilities?
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