The Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor and St. Luke's University Health Network are partners in a "Get Your Tail on the Trail," a program they describe as "a family fun initiative – get off the couch and get active!"
The latest in the series, whose details are at tailonthetrail.org, was Saturday's Walnutport Canal hike, a two-mile walk led by D&L conservation coordinator Sherry Acevedo, assisted by Everett and Marilyn Kaul of the Walnutport Canal Association, and Dean Hower of the Northern Lehigh Trail Tenders.
Future related programs include an October 12 Rails-to-Trails history bike ride, a ride from the East Penn boat launch near Bowmanstown down to Slatington, LTR2T@hotmail.com.
Also on October 12, a history walk on the D&L trail with Scott Everett, D&L Trail manager, in celebration of the D&L's newest Trailhead in Lehighton. For more information, contact St. Luke's InfoLink at 1-866-STLUKES.
Meeting at the Walnutport Canal Pavilion at the southern terminus of Lehigh Street in Walnutport, the throng of nearly 40-largely composed of St. Luke's participants – crossed Lehigh Street to the stone lock house at Lock 23. Here, Acevedo gave an introduction to the Tail on the Trail program, an overview of the Lehigh Navigation system, and a primer on the environmental challenges to the local ecosystem.
Everett and Marilyn Kaul invited everyone into the lock house, one of only two stone lock houses surviving on the system – the other being at Freemansburg. The circa 1829 lock house is a three-story structure with a basement and it has been furnished in the 1880s period and turned into a museum. It contains records and photographs of the history of the canal lock and lock house. In 1998, the canal lock underwent a major restoration that made it one of the best preserved locks on the system. Two years ago, hurricane Irene damaged the upper drop gate.
From the lock house, Acevedo's 6-year-old daughter, Paige, led the group south along the canal towpath, turning at one point into a nature trail where her mom, Sherry, stopped to point out a growth of jewelweed.
"Jewelweed," she explained, "the sap within its stem is a natural treatment for stinging nettle and poison ivy." This member of the Impatiens family is recognizable by its orange funnel shaped flowers and triangular leaves with toothed margins. It is also called touch-me-not because its mature seed pods house a spring-like mechanism that suddenly releases when touched.
Passing through the trail, heavily shaded with tulip poplars, Acevedo stopped to point out a clump of a bamboo-like plant. "This is Japanese knotweed," she began. "It is a severely invasive plant. Each plant generates 200,000 seeds which are picked up by birds and passing animals, or fall into the river and spread downstream."
The city of Easton is using goats to control the spread of Japanese knotweed. They tried cutting it, but when it came back, it came back with a vengeance and stronger than ever. A licensed applicator is needed to remove the Japanese knotweed without harming the water supply."
The trail passed beside the piers of the former Poughkeepsie Bridge, an 1889 bridge across the Lehigh River for the Pennsylvania, Poughkeepsie and Boston Railroad. The Lehigh Coal & Navigation Company purchased it in 1909 and removed it in 1936.
Passing lock 24 which has not been refurbished, the group crossed a steel bridge at lock 25, where on the east side, they viewed the remains of a mule barn and lock house. The stone lock has badly deteriorated to a pile of stones. The mule barn has been cleared to expose it foundation.
The restoration of lock 25 was led by and discussed by Dean Hower of the Northern Lehigh Trail Tenders, the local branch of the trail maintenance arm of the D&L. He spoke about the last lock tender and the restoration effort, and displayed images of two wayside signs that are planned for the site – one discussing the life of a family living on the canal, and a second illustrating the plan of the site and its role in the Navigation system.
Anyone interested in working with the Lehigh Trail Tenders can email Dean at deanthebikeman@ gmail.com or call 610-462-0617.
For those with a bit of extra time and energy, they were invited to continue on the trail to Bertsch Creek, one of the few aqueducts on the Navigation system. The Bertsch Creek Aqueduct at lock 26 served to float the coal-laden canal boats over Bertsch Creek. The aqueduct is in disrepair, and because the right-of-way south of the aqueduct is not in public ownership, there are no plans to restore it.