Susan Taylor speaks in measured words. After 30 years directing a nonprofit organization, she understands the significance of clear communication.
Susan retired this summer as executive director of the Friends of the Delaware Canal, which works with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to restore, preserve, and improve the National Landmark canal and its surroundings. “Our primary goals are to ensure the canal is fully-watered from Easton to Bristol and the towpath trail is usable over its entire length,” according to the mission published on the Friends’ website.
While a fully watered canal has not materialized, the Friends have done projects that make a difference, Susan said this summer.
So for three decades, Susan has dealt with storms, floods, leaks, wall failures, pump expenses, invasive plants and insects and obstructions along the 58.89-mile canal. It is the only remaining, continuously intact canal of the great towpath canal building era of the early- and mid-19th century. She has raised funds for repairs and enhancements, has organized social and educational events and has led hundreds of walks and paddles along the waterway.
The Friends’ group grew out of the Delaware Valley Protective Association (DVPA), founded in 1933, after the canal boats had stopped running. Even then, local residents feared that a highway could be built.
They viewed the neglected canal and towpath as historically valuable. In 1940 the group persuaded the state to take over the canal and it became Theodore Roosevelt State Park thanks to Gifford Pinchot and other environmentalists.
The Friends’ group was officially established in 1983 with Betty Orlemann at its head. Susan Taylor took on the job eight years later.
At the time, Susan, who had majored in advertising at Penn State, was selling wire and cable for a company in East Norriton. It’s not a strange background when you consider what Susan says today, “I don’t think a single day went by when I didn’t find anything in my sales experience to help me.”
In 1991, in the first week on the job, she discovered that she had to raise $5,000 in two weeks, part of the $100,000 the Friends were raising to pay for dredging equipment.
“The Friends had an angel,” Susan said. Two days after she had the news, a man called. “He wanted to know how he could help,” Susan said. Another two days and a check for $5,000 arrived.
Next, the Friends took on restoration of the Locktender’s House, Philadelphia’s Pew Charitable Trust provided most of the “bricks and mortar” money, Susan said. “To this day, we never pinned down the date it was built.”
The Locktender’s House was turned into the canal visitor center. The Friends used part of the Pew grant and a legislative initiative to create displays. “I’m proud to say the exhibits have been there since 1994,” Susan said.
The Friends announced that Michael D. Ginder has stepped into the executive director’s role.