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