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Remember: Allentown Park Log 12: Canal Park

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Allentown Park Log 12: Canal Park

Getting into Canal Park is a little tricky. The sign indicates a right turn off of Hamilton but I have always taken a left. After crossing the train tracks, all the way to the right is the big dam on the Lehigh. Straight ahead is a bridge and to the left a road that follows the canal. If you go down this road, you will eventually pass under this railroad bridge:

You will then cross the canal and if you take a left you will enter Canal Park proper at this sign:

If you go right, there are a series of parking lots that lead to a boat launch on the Lehigh.

Canal Park is surrounded by a highly urbanized area. It is also surrounded by an immense amount of the history of Allentown. The canal itself and subsequent railroad tracks were central to the development of the industrial period of our city. There is still an active railroad line here:

I offered the history of the canal itself in this blog post yesterday. Getting out of the car, my footsteps on the towpath, were weighted by that history. The idea that at one time this watery artery was so important to Allentown and to the coal industry on a whole was a heavy consideration. Now, we come here for recreation. The muddy boat prints on the towpath have been replaced with bicycle treads and imprinted running shoes.

Canal Park is Allentown’s park of contrasts; not only the constant contrast of our present and our history but of natural beauty and urban blight of recreation and appreciation. The Lehigh River rolls towards its end in Easton to your right as you walk the towpath with the canal to your left. This is the only major city park to include the Lehigh River. On a day like this, after a lot of rainfall, its presence does not go unnoticed.

This towpath rolls on to Sand Island in the city of Bethlehem. There are some excellent restoration plans moving forward on their end. You can read about them here. Along our side of the towpath many invasive species remain. I hope as Allentown moves forward with park renovation, a project to renew Canal Park includes removal of many of these non native plants.

This area is rife with wildlife. Dragonflies are in abundance in the canal. There are so many visible insects here it is hard to find one sitting still long enough to catch a picture. I got this guy:

Walking along a trail past the parking area, the boat launch on the Lehigh is reached. On this muddy afternoon, I took a rather comedic fall and ended up covered in mud. Across from the Boat Launch, the combined waters of the Jordan and Little Lehigh creeks meet their ends in the Lehigh River:

Further along, there is a derelict picnic area and some amazing views of the Lehigh River:

Turning back, under the railroad bridge, is a spillway on the canal where a wall once stood to serve a lock. You can see Sacred Heart Hospital and parts of downtown in the distance:

Heading back into main Canal Park there is a boathouse on the left, which is advertised as a place to access canoes for a spin in the canal. On this afternoon it was shuttered and truthfully, it looks as if it has been shuttered for some time:

On the right, a set of stairs leads to a pavilion:

The pavilion is in disrepair. Another set of stairs from the pavilion leads back down to the Boat Launch. It became a more frequent observation, the longer I walked through Canal Park that many of the picnic tables, benches, and other recreational devices were in disrepair. I would have loved to be able to ride a canoe in the canal that afternoon. I hope Allentown sees the potential in the development of this park after the success both Bethlehem and Easton have had revitalizing their parts of the canal.

I managed to capture a picture of a young bird sitting on a bench by the shuttered boat house:

Driving back towards the railroad tracks, a few families of Canadian Geese were roadside. While I attempted a few pictures from my car, one of the parents hissed, bobbed its head and attacked my car.

Crossing the bridge in the middle of Canal Park leads to some trails on the side of the Lehigh River. The trails are not well maintained and the lone picnic bench to be found here as been recaptured by nature:

After crawling under a few tree branches and sliding on my butt a bit, I was given an awe inspiring view of the Lehigh River at the exit of an old canal flume.

Canal Park is my favorite park in the city of Allentown. To see it sit in its current state is sad and frustrating. This area, in my opinion, could be the new jewel in Allentown’s park system. (Sorry Lehigh Parkway) As the plans move forward for park revitalization, I hope the city sees the same potential I do down there. Heck, I volunteer to help. What a place Canal Park could be. It is still, as is, a gorgeous spot that provides the ever more rare opportunity to steep yourself not only into nature for an afternoon, but into the long history of Allentown. Check it out.

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Anonymous monkey momma said...

This place looks pretty cool. Is it safe for a woman to walk the trail with some kids? (I mean in terms of criminal activity.) I hate to be a nervous nelly, but if the park is in disrepair, it may not have been overtaken by just plants and wildlife! Was anyone else there when you visited??

June 15, 2009 at 10:16 AM  
Blogger michael molovinsky said...

again, these posts are an amazing contribution to our park system; documenting the jewel's of allentown. i've come to the unfortunate conclusion that by merging parks and recreation, the city now is putting its emphasis on recreation, i.e, destination playgrounds. andrew, forgive my political statements, but "friends of the parks" is a beard to justify an agenda. i humbly suggest that you start a true friends of the parks, so that you might be able to show your children, some of these treasures you're discovering, before they're gone.

June 16, 2009 at 7:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live near the sand island (bethlehem) access point. I do the canal to river paddle loop as much as possible. great area and people minus the trash and lack of upkeep on the property. had no problems yet besides a random geese w/ young, and if you keep moving they leave you alone. I'd feel safe due to the high use of the canal trail. Tons of wildlife if you look close enough.

April 23, 2010 at 7:35 AM  

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