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Delaware Canal State Park in focus for state initiative


Cindy Adams Dunn took a trip down alongside the Delaware Canal on a recent Friday to draw attention to a major effort to rebuild failing infrastructure in Pennsylvania, including the state park system.

Dunn, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) secretary, was joined by Deputy Secretary for Parks and Forestry John Norbeck and other top representatives from DCNR, the Bureaus of State Parks and Forestry, nonprofit interests, and state legislators.

It was part of an effort was to advocate a proposed four-year, $4.5 billion infrastructure project by the Wolf administration called Restore Pennsylvania.

The project, a bond issue, would be funded by taxes on the Marcellus Shale industry. While there is general agreement across the aisle over the need for such an effort, the project is expected to meet opposition from a reluctant Republican-led legislature over funding.

The tour along a major stretch of the 60-mile long Delaware Canal State Park started at the Tinicum Aqueduct, targeted for repair that will address damage accelerated by recent heavy rains. The Thompson Neely farmstead and Bowman’s Hill Tower were also stops on the tour as the group wended its way downstream to finish at Washington Crossing Park, completing not only a trip down the canal, but one that visited the fragile remnants of the nation’s historic treasures now in the trust of the commonwealth.

The Thompson-Neely house served as a regimental army hospital during Gen. Washington’s military campaign in 1776. Bowman’s Hill Tower, built around 1930, marks the purported military post lookout during that campaign, and Washington Crossing Historic Park is the site where Washington crossed the Delaware in what would be a decisive battle, turning the tides of earlier defeats into a greater promise for the American Revolution.

All sites are targeted for repair and restoration under Restore Pennsylvania.

Dunn stressed that there is a $90 million backlog of maintenance projects along the canal, including many structures “well over a hundred years old.” The repairs will include aqueducts, trails, bank restoration, bridges and buildings.

When asked about restoration of the towpaths for biking and walking, DCNR State Park Manager George Calaba stated that the crushed red argillite surfaces that were washed away in prior floods of 2006 and 2011 are being replaced with “stabilized turf,” a mixture of soil, stone and grass seed has shown promise at being more flood-resilient.

At the Thompson-Neely farmstead, state Sen. Steve Santarsiero and state Rep. Wendi Thomas joined the group. Santarsiero stated Pennsylvania comprises the only oil and gas industry sector in the country that does not pay a tax on energy extraction. He added that the cost has already been factored into the price of natural gas since producers pay it in every other state in the union, and most of the time that is the gas that most Pennsylvanians purchase.

Marci Mowery, president of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forest Foundation, stated that at $29.1 billion, Pennsylvania ranks fifth in the nation in terms state spending on outdoor recreation and employs over 219,000 people. She added that the industry is key to the state’s economy and informs the need for investment.

State Rep. Wendy Ullman, also on the tour, spoke of the impact not only on recreational opportunities but on the ecosystem as well. She stated that the canal needs to be drained to make the repairs, and that take s a toll on the wildlife that depends upon it.

Ullman, whose 143rd Legislative District in Bucks County contains the longest stretch of the canal, stressed that both recreation and ecosystem can be restored, “but only if the canal, the aqueduct – all the moving parts – are in repair.”