Landscaping and a Welcome to Walnutport sign create a beautiful gateway between the Lehigh River and the canal in Walnutport. Last week it was dedicated to former Senator James Rhoades who provided much of the funding and always took a personal interest in the project.
Everett Kaul, president of the Walnutport Canal Association, gave a brief history of the area. He said the borough is 100 years old and there have been many improvements along the way. The restoration of the Lehigh Canal beginning in 1953 is one of the most interesting.
"The canal is beautiful, but we worked on it a long time," said Kaul.
The Lehigh River Restoration Association, now defunct, was the first to clean the waterways which led to the clear water in the Lehigh River enjoyed by the many people who use the river for recreation.
Walnutport was the second municipality to lease land from the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company. Work began on Feb. 20, 1954, 9 a.m., when the lease was signed.
Earl Francis Snyder began the project with $850 from the Blue Ridge Rod and Gun Club. It took 500 truck loads of ground to fill one break.
The canal association and the borough form a team that continues to improve the park, which includes 145 acres reaching two miles above and two miles below the locktender's house, said Kaul.
The locktender's house has been repaired and furnished in the manner of an 1880s home. Tours will be available at the Walnutport Canal Festival.
Lock 23 cost $200,000 to repair and it would need another $160,000 to make it a working lock which would be a good educational tool.
There is a pavilion with restrooms and a modern kitchen as well as a storage shed.
Each year a three day festival is held with a Haunted Woods on Oct. 16 this year, Towpath Trot fun run on Oct. 17, and the festival on Sunday, Oct. 18.
"We owe a debt to Sen. Rhoades," said Kaul.
Marilyn Kaul introduced many of those present for the dedication beginning with Dale Freudenberger of the Delaware and Lehigh Heritage Corridor, a partner with the Canal Association. She was pleased that Mary Edith Rhoades, the former senator's wife, was able to attend. Walnutport mayor Henry Kline was on hand. Representatives were present from Senator David Argall's and Rep. Julie Harhart's offices.
Marilyn Kaul said in 2006 the canal association received a Department of Community and Economic Development grant through Sen. Rhoades office. It was designated to buy a mule barn, which had been torn down by the time the association received the grant. A change was requested and approved to use the money for the Gateway.
Mertz Sign Company made the "Welcome to Walnutport" sign and C&D Landscaping created the landscape design. The boulders that make steps for planting were from the General Morgan bridge when the old one was demolished.
Five period light-post lamps were added to match those along the canal. Three bollards restrict vehicle traffic on the towpath. One lamp was added by Northern Lehigh Future Focus.
The grant covered the cost of materials and work was done by volunteers.
"We're sorry Senator Rhoades couldn't be here to see it, but glad you are all here," she said.
Freudenberger said the D&L is pleased to partner with the canal association and the community. The park preserves local history, provides recreation and revitalizes the community.
"Walnutport is pleased to honor him by dedicating this project to James Rhoades" Freudenberger said. "He showed up at local festivals and was always visible with his wife."
A plaque was unveiled. Carnations had been passed out to those in the audience who placed them beside the plaque.
Mary Edith Rhoades brought a "letter" from her granddaughter that she had to translate: "This is a note to you. Tell the lady or tell the man to have a good time and my Poppa is up there with God, the angels and Santa Claus."
So many of the Walnutport residents have become friends, she said, and hoped to see them all at the festival.
Bill Turk, president of borough council, said he has lived in the town since 1976 and saw the progress over the years. He has seen it become a 100 percent first class town.
"This area is what Walnutport is all about," he said.
Jason Breidinger, president of the Greater Northern Lehigh Chamber of Commece, recalled ice skating on the canal as a child.
Resounding applause gave the Kauls credit for the 50 to 60 years they have devoted to the borough.