Lehigh Canal towpath trail, picnic area opens
SHARON STANLEY/TIMES NEWS In the distance, Jeff and Erin Tuth, of Emerald, with their dog, Molson, approach the footbridge used to access the Lock 25 picnic area from the Walnutport Canal towpath.
Though it's quite a bit farther than the mere 350-400 yards, or one-tenth of a mile, that the average American walks each day, the distance on Walnutport's Lehigh Canal towpath to its newly revitalized picnic area at Lock 25 seemed well worth the trip to some last weekend.
For folks who parked at Lock 24's parking lot, it was a 1.7-mile round trip while for others, who parked at the Walnutport Canal Association's pavilion, it was a 2.6-mile round trip.
The Lehigh Township Rails to Trails, which aims to provide recreation for all ages in and around the township, held its grand opening recently with complimentary food and refreshments.
"Oohs" and "aahs" were heard throughout the day as one after another visitor, about 30 in all, crossed the grated footbridge from the towpath and caught their first glimpse of the level, grassy, shaded plot of land beside which the locktender's house once set.
Sheckler's Lock, as the area is sometimes called, was one of 49 locks on the Lehigh Navigation System, which stretched from Mauch Chunk, present-day Jim Thorpe, to Easton.
Visitor Stacey Walker of Walnutport said that though she often walks the towpath, she had never been far enough down it before to see the new picnic area.
"Now that I'm here, I think it's fantastic," she said. "It's very quiet and peaceful."
Walker, who was there with her six-year-old son, Troy "TJ" Matthew DeckerJr., said she feels it's important for children to attend these types of events "so they can learn their history."
LTRT President Nancy Thatcher said the project to revamp the picnic area came about after the LTRT's initial project, an old rail bed in Lehigh Township, was halted and remaining money from a grant for it needed to be used promptly.
She said two picnic tables, placed there by Boy Scouts years earlier, remained but that "nobody ever really used the area because it was overgrown."
After approaching the WCA about the project and receiving its blessing, Thatcher said LTRT purchased landscape fabric and stones, perennials, and other odds and ends before beginning work last spring.
She said members cleared out the overgrowth, removed a dead tree, planted flowers, applied preservative to the picnic tables, and leveled out the mule barn's foundation, where mules had been kept to pull the coal-laden canal boats. They also hired a local contractor to dump the stone and help level it.
"It's beautiful. It came a long way," said Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Executive Director Elissa Garofalo, whose organization helps promote the canal's towpath.