A letter from the PresidentBy David G. Barber
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to rehike the downstream 14 miles of the Lehigh Canal. This is the first section I hiked in the research for my Lehigh Canal guide and I had not been back to most of it in 29 years. The changes that have occurred were most interesting and I regret that a tour of the section could not have been part of the World Canals Conference last fall in Bethlehem as it shows both the progress that has been made and the so far unrealized opportunities. The weekend before, the area had been hit by a severe late snow storm, but now the snow was gone.
On the first day, we started at Hope Road, which is at the west end and less known part of Easton’s Hugh Moore Park. Hope Road descends a narrow stream valley from the adjacent plateau and ends at Hope Lock. Silted in and unrestored Hope Lock (#46) is the eastern end of Section 7 of the Lehigh Canal. The section extends west to Dam 7 at Allentown. The site is interesting as there is a still occupied lock house with out buildings and a narrow masonry arch for the roadway under the abandoned grade of the Lehigh & Susquehanna Railroad (operated by the Central Railroad of New Jersey). The road at this point also provides access to the private Bethlehem Boating Club on the pool of Dam 8.
East of here the towpath changes side of the canal and we found that it was cleared and in use to half way along Island Park. Paralleling the canal on the north side, the closed two track, railroad grade was now a dirt access road to a boat launch area and parking lot to the east. The boat launch gave public access to the pool of Dam 8. Also at this site, a paved rail trail ascended northwest up a former branch of the CNJ and then northeast into the western side of Easton. East of here the mainline railroad grade had one track used for a sewer line and the other for a paved rail trail to River Road at which point there were athletic fields and ample parking.
Crossing the river, Section 8 of the canal in Hugh Moore Park has been seen by many and often by me, but it was interesting to see it drained for the winter and without leaves on the adjacent vegetation. We saw many features that are normally invisible. We also got to see both Lock 47 and the Outlet Lock without water and appreciate the restoration work on both and the towpath between. Beyond, a paved towpath along the river’s edge brought us to the river’s mouth and the junction with the Delaware Canal.
On the second day, we hiked west from Hope Road to Bethlehem. The first section to Freemansburg had been overgrown with washouts when I first saw it. Now it’s an open, stone dust surfaced, bike trail, with even a wayside with benches at Lock 45. Where the canal is paralleled by Farmersville Road, there was easy access to the towpath from two off road parking areas. At Freemansburg, the canal becomes watered and nicely landscaped with navigable height access bridges from the village. Cleared open dirt towpath continues past Bethlehem, but the locks are overgrown and without gates and the watered parts of the prism have much floating trash and downed trees. This is a popular walking/jogging/biking area.
My point is that this part of the Lehigh Canal is an example of many other canals where there is much progress in preservation, restoration, and public use. But opportunity exists for further improvement and especially for the restoration of public navigation. I applaud the progress and hope for more.
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