The Dog Days of August have finally descended and it's time to get out of the city and cool off! But the beaches are crowded and time is limited so what better plan than to call up some friends and head out to scenic Mercer County, New Jersey, to explore the Delaware & Raritan Canal!
Now a part of the New Jersey State Park system, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Delaware & Raritan Canal was once a major transportation link between Philadelphia and New York. Boats could navigate the Delaware River to Bordentown, and again from New Brunswick to the Hudson along the Raritan River. In the early 19th Century, the distance in between was excavated to create a 44 mile long canal. This water-highway allowed goods, and especially coal, to be shipped without loading the cargo on and off railroads and for many years reigned supreme as one of America's busiest navigational canals. Initially the barges were towed by mules along a tow-path but by 1843 the animals were replaced by steam engines. However, by the end of the 1800's, the stately pace of canal traffic was overtaken by the more efficient rail system and in 1932 commercial shipping was totally discontinued.
Although the D & R Canal was maintained as a water supply system by the State of New Jersey (a function that continues to this day), it fell into disuse until 1974 when the State Parks Department opened up the main canal and its offshoots, 60 miles in all, for recreational use. Today visitors enjoy jogging, hiking, biking and horseback riding along the old tow path and intrepid souls, like myself, venture out in rented canoes and kayaks to experience the canal from the water! What fun to paddle on a lovely summer day and see turtles sunning themselves on submerged tree trunks with birds chirping above! The banks were graced with majestic shade trees and beautiful wildflowers and every now and then a bridge or an old wooden structure came into view.
After all that fresh air and exercise it was time for something to eat and an outdoor barbecue was just the ticket. It was a perfect summer outing and another example of the hidden wonders that often lie just around the corner, you only have to look!
With many thanks to Chris and Lisa for organizing such an amazing day!