The Delaware Canal towpath has been around for the better part of 200 years but in the 21st century it’s been storm-tested more than ever.
The remnants of Hurricane Ida left a trail of destruction in its path, following in the footsteps of Hurricane Ivan (2004), Hurricane Irene (2011) and Hurricane Sandy (2012).
But the good news is, thanks to improvements made to the canal path after the three previous storms, the damage from Ida was kept relatively in check.
Portions of the 60-mile surface suffered erosion and, of course, fallen trees caused temporary shutdowns.
Yet when the skies cleared, much of the strengthened path had survived and remains open.
Delaware Canal State Park manager Devin Buzard expressed optimism that once initial damage assessment has been completed, repairs can get underway.
For runners, hikers, bikers and the like, that’s good news to hear.
“A lot of this now, we’re still in the assessment phase,’’ Buzard said in a recent telephone conversation. “Things like towpath banks that have fallen into the canal and a lot of debris up over the canal in multiple locations.
“For instance, there’s some severe damage at the Lumberville aqueduct, where the pedestrian bridge had to be closed due to structural damage. The good news is we’re already done with the design phase of the replacement for that aqueduct. That was an ongoing project and the funding was already in place.’’
That said, it will be a while before things completely return to normal.
“I would like to be optimistic through all this,’’ Buzard said. “We understand what the towpath means to our neighbors and visitors and just how important it is to everyone.’’
As was the case with previous storms, the paperwork for major damage takes time.
“Finishing design, executing all permits and agreements and then placing (the work) out to bid is not a swift process for the commonwealth,’’ Buzard pointed out. “We did sustain some significant damages, we’re still assessing the totality while at the same time concentrating our efforts on public safety like removing downed trees and regulating water into the canal.
“But I can say unequivically that the DCNR is committed to coming in here and making every effort to get this storm damage cleaned up, the towpath restored and eventually have the water restored to areas that lost water.’’
The work also depends on financial input from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).
Resurfacing the towpath after Hurricane Ivan with a stronger material no doubt helped prevent extensive washouts when water from the river went over the top into the canal this time.
“I think the repair efforts from the earlier 2000s flooding events have been modestly successful,’’ said Buzard, a Clarion, Pa. native and Penn State graduate. “There might have been more river water over the top in previous events. This one, there was a lot more rainfall (up to 10 inches in certain places) coming off the mountainside into the watersheds.’’
A tech-fiber matting lies beneath the clay surface to hold things in place and some it has been left exposed in places such as Lumberville. But at least the integrity of the path was maintained.
“It looks like snake scales,’’ Buzard said. “That was one of the repairs from the 2000s flooding events. During those events, they lost the entire bank out to the river. That’s a great example of previous repairs holding up excellently despite another flood event occurring.
“This time we’re going to take it a step further and attempt a better vegetative matting. We’re looking to harden the areas where the river naturally overtops. At some point, the river is always going to come up and over. The best thing you can do is have the river overtop where you want it to.’’
The plan includes hard surface (such as concrete/cement) “spillways’’ which would allow water to flow in and out at problem areas to prevent severe erosion or total collapse of the towpath wall.
Check out the Friends of the Delaware Canal website (www.fodc.org) for the status of areas affected by the flooding, including open areas and closings.
For the time being, Buzard recommends staying off the path from Easton down to Virginia Forrest (just above Center Bridge). It really isn’t worth the trouble with so many problem spots, which number roughly 30 at the moment.
“Right now I think all visitors should use extreme caution anywhere along the canal they might want to go,’’ said Buzard, who took over the local office two years ago. He’s been in the state park system for 10 years and this is one of his biggest challenges. “I wouldn’t say it’s overwhelmiing but this has affected a lot of people. Public service is very important to me and my staff. Everybody is pulling together and pushing through this. We’re hopeful for the future here.’’
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Run, Walk, Roll for Brain Injury 5K, Tyler State Park, Newtown. Contact www.BIAPA.org
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