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Delaware Canal trail improvements a tribute to the third National Heritage Area in the U.S.

by Stewart Gross

A ribbon cutting ceremony by members of the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Tullytown Borough, and Delaware Canal State Park was held on September 5th on the Delaware Canal in Tullytown.

Improvements were made to the trail along the canal, primarily resurfacing it, since it had disappeared with time.

The trail was resurfaced with crushed argillite, to make it smooth for walkers, runners and bikers.

This writer can attest to this, since I ride my mountain bike on this part of the canal on weekends, now that it has been resurfaced.

I used to have to drive my bike up closer to Washington Crossing to enjoy the trail upgrade.

I spoke to Brian Green, the Trail Programs Manager for Delaware & Lehigh Valley Heritage Corridor. 

He came here from Utah to fill this new position at the D&L that oversees programs that help local municipalities in promoting, and protecting trails.

In addition to improving and maintaining trails, the D&L provides a trail patrol to see to user’s safety, much as a ski patrol does on mountain ski trails.

According to Brian, “New signage to help pedestrians navigate the canal, as well as painted crosswalks to the entry behind the Levittown Shopping Center, have been added for public safety. This canal improvement project was done as a partnership between Tullytown Borough, the PA Environmental Council and the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor.

So, another humdrum trail improvement story?

NOT AT ALL!

My interview with Brian turned into a history lesson on the canal’s integral part in the Industrial Revolution. 

According to Brian, the Bucks County section of the Delaware Canal was declared the third National Heritage area in United States history by an act of Congress in 1988, and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.

There are now 55 such areas in the country.

Why?

The canal fueled the Industrial Revolution in Philadelphia and New York. Barges traveled the canal, carrying coal from the mines in the central Pennsylvania regions of Luzerne and Carbon Counties to fuel industry in the mid-nineteenth century.

The job of the canal and its barges was to get the valuable anthracite to ships that then carried the precious cargo to fuel Philadelphia, New York City, and other areas of the eastern seaboard.

This made the canals historically significant in the development of urbanized America. 

The canal was integral because the ships that carried coal to fuel eastern cities could not navigate past the waterfalls near Trenton.

According to Brian, “Later, when the steel industry boomed, Bethlehem Steel and other major players in the iron industry were able to get the steel to Philadelphia, New York and Delaware almost exclusively by utilizing the canals.”

As the years rolled along, coal, steel, and lumber were eventually transported by the railroads that slowly began to replace canals by the turn of the century. The eventual transition over to railroads was welcomed by the central PA companies, since the canals were unusable when they froze during the winter.

The Lehigh Valley and Delaware Canals began operating in 1828 and passed their prime and stopped operating as passageways for heavy industry by 1930.

The purpose of declaring this section of the canal a National Heritage Area, was to promote the national story of how coal was transported and preserve this national heritage.

This section of the canal running through Levittown was eventually filled in and a 1,500 foot section of the trail was lost, which brought this alliance into action to restore the trail and help to remember the canal’s importance in the industrial development of the east coast of the United States. 

The goal of the D&L is to completely restore the historic trail by 2020.

This trail improvement project in Tullytown follows others in the area, such as the CSX Passageway in Morrisville and Tyburn Road Gap in Falls Township. A pedestrian tunnel and trail were built there as another local link in completing the D&L Trail.

PHOTO CAP: Pictured from left at the ribbon cutting ceremony, Brian Greene, Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor (D&L), Trail Programs Manager and Data Scientist; Patrick Starr, Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC), Executive Vice President; unidentified representative from Bike Bucks County; Bethany Hare, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Assistant Manager; Jakki Fitzmaurice, Chief of Staff to Representative John T. Galloway; Susan Taylor, Friends of the Delaware Canal, Executive Director; Nick Forte, D&L, Board Member; Elissa Garofalo, D&L, Executive Director; Andy Warren, Tullytown Borough, Manager; and Lizzie Hessek, PEC, Program Manager.