Written by Jeremy Ebersole, National Park Service Northeast Region Heritage Areas Communications Coordinator
I was very privileged to spend a beautiful day last week getting my feet dirty and exploring the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor with Executive Director Elissa Garofalo. We traversed about half the length of the Corridor from the small wooded town of White Haven in the north down to the bustling streets of Easton in the south, stopping to chat with friends from partner organizations, take in stretches of the D&L Trail, and enjoy the sights along the way. What I saw throughout the day was not only incredibly interesting but a lot of fun as well.
Our first stop was in White Haven, a canal-meets-railroad town best known today for rails-to-trails hiking and great paddling opportunities. These attributes are getting another leg up thanks to the construction of a new trailhead for the D&L Trail, which will provide improved access to and from the town and the shops and restaurants it provides to trail users. And on a hot day along the trail, what a benefit it will be to be able to hop just a few blocks away to the brand new White Haven Area Community Library, It’s getting ready to open in the old Lehigh Valley Railroad Engine House thanks to initial support and assistance from D&L.
As we headed south along the gorgeous drive to Jim Thorpe I heard the fascinating saga of this “Switzerland of America,” renamed in the 1950s to honor the man many call the world’s greatest athlete. Just outside of town we visited the Lehigh Gorge trailhead and learned of the dedication and perseverance used to connect the D&L Trail to the town across the Nesquehoning Trestle over the Lehigh River thanks to an innovative “rail plus trail” scheme that takes trail users safely mere feet from the railroad.
After a quick photo stop at the lovely Lehigh Canal Park in Weissport and a delicious lunch stop at Lorenzo’s Pizza in Bowmanstown, I heard about the vast soil depletion of the Lehigh Gap area as a result of local zinc smelting and the subsequent ongoing effort to reestablish vegetation in the area. After years of trial and error, I discovered at the nearby Lehigh Gap Nature Center, the struggles are certainly paying off with some attractive and healthy vistas.
Our final stop was at the headquarters of the D&L in Easton’s tranquil Hugh Moore Park, sharing a building with the National Canal Museum. I arrived just a tad late and missed an Immersion Day, the annual spring-time educational program that will reach 2,000 students this season by using canal stories to meet a number of state education requirements. I also got a quick glimpse of a few of the over 100,000 items in D&L’s archives. From local history, to documents tracing the rise and fall of canals, to intriguing artifacts like old miner’s tags, this collection was impressive indeed.
The D&L is just one of 20 active National Heritage Areas in the Northeast Region of the National Park Service, stretching from Virginia to Maine, and almost 50 across the country. All of these critical regions are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally-important landscape. It is a grassroots, community-driven approach to the important work of heritage conservation and economic development through, in Elissa’s succinct words, “connecting, preserving, revitalizing, and celebrating.” The Park Service provides technical, planning, and limited financial assistance to the heritage areas, and last week overlooking the Lehigh River and seeing the smiles on residents’ faces, I could not have been prouder of the work we’re doing together!