Good news is the water levels in the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers have receded from last week’s rain which brought widespread flooding to our region. Though the rivers are still running muddy, high and fast; the flooding wasn’t as bad as expected or so they say. This must mean that it is safe to once again head out to our canal towpaths which were part of the rivers just a few days ago. Not so fast! Sections of both the Lehigh and Delaware Canal Towpaths are closed. Both towpaths are part of the D&L Trail, a National Historic Corridor.
The Delaware Canal Towpath is closed from Easton south to Wy-Hit-Tuk Park in Northampton County, a distance of over 2 miles. Several sections of the towpath were washed away. Also, the trail suffered damages further south in Bucks County. This is especially sad and troubling for the Delaware Canal and Towpath which had recently undergone extensive repairs. The 60-mile state park was officially re-opened July 23, 2010 after over $30 million in repairs were done from severe damage due to three major floods in 09/04, 04/05 & 06/06. Sections of the canal and towpath were closed for years while repairs were made.
The Lehigh Canal Towpath in Freemansburg is also closed. There were a few wash outs and places where the towpath is severely rutted. Miles of the trail through Bethlehem Township were also damaged. The once level and easy walking or bike riding path is now a mountain bikers’ delight. At Lock #44 in Freemansburg there is still a foot of water in the usually dry lock. Heading east into Bethlehem Township, the first few hundred yards of the trail are uprooted. Some sections of the trail look good but there were many wash outs and tree roots are exposed along much of the trail. There are a few downed trees; and leaves and debris decorate trees and brush along the trail and river.
Severely hit was the section of the trail along Wilson Avenue, where residents had to be evacuated on Friday due to the flooding. Also severe damage occurred once again at the end of Hope Road near the Bethlehem Boat Club.
Some of these same sections in Bethlehem Township were damaged from the late September, early October 2010 storm, but suffered worse damage this time around. That storm left us with over 8 inches of rainfall; fortunately the rivers were very low due to drought conditions or the damage then may have been more severe. Over 5 inches of rain had fallen from 2 storms last week and led to the recent flooding of the rivers which were already running high from melting snow.
So the problem now is repairing the damages. Today, crews in Freemansburg and Bethlehem Township already began doing some repairs and clean-ups. Also crews were out gathering information on the damages which had occurred. These damages could be in the hundreds of thousands and possibly more on the Lehigh Canal Towpath alone. Where will the money come from? No declaration of emergency was ever enacted in Pennsylvania but the towpaths are part of a National Heritage Corridor and the towpath along the Delaware is also in a state park. Unfortunately, with cuts to federal and state budgets the local municipalities may have to eat most of the costs.