Trails have been integrated into this historic community using canal towpaths, stream corridors, and abandoned railroads.June 01, 2004
In the small town of Delphi, Indiana, scores of people have diligently volunteered for the past nine years to fully develop our local stretch of the Wabash & Erie Canal for its historic, cultural and economic values. It is the only accessible watered section of the canal left in Indiana. Our DREAM of preserving the canal and telling its story started with a group of local historical leaders in 1971.
I grew up near the canal. In my early days most of the community disliked the canal. It was thick with mosquitoes, trash and stagnant water. There has been such a transformation of this historical resource in the past 38 years that you would have to have lived here like I have to appreciate what a dedicated group of talented volunteers have accomplished. Progress developed slowly at first but gained momentum in the 1990s.
Our Wabash & Erie Canal is now dredged and clean. We receive 3 million gallons per day of groundwater, pumped from the local limestone quarry. It is a beautiful waterway that begs people to try fishing, walk its towpath trails and join our annual festivals along its banks.
We have slowly acquired about 150 acres of land -- all donated --and developed a 10-mile trail system and two popular canal-side parks, one with historical buildings that form a Pioneer Village.
With cooperation from the city and the Indiana Department of Transportation we built a Canal Conference Center housing a prize-winning interpretive museum, dedicated July 4, 2003. We appreciated the tremendous assistance of TEA-21 program funding from INDOT. We raised more than $325,000 to match INDOT's commitment of $1.35 million. We did it! It's operational! And it attracts many visitors year around.
Our capable volunteers have restored two historic bridges destined for demolition. They now serve as foot bridges to connect towpath trails that are part of the official state Wabash Corridor Heritage Trail.
We have established an archives program that already has gathered and cataloged important historic canal documents, pictures, maps and books, with a goal of creating a valuable reference and research center.
In 2008 we built a playground life-size canal boat for our Canal Park. It rests on land to serve as an educational activities center. This full-sized playground boat for kids and adults will be available year around. In 2009 we brought a canal boat into service that carries passengers.
We are proud of these accomplishments –all completed without any paid staff. But our DREAM to have that authentic canal boat now includes a new dock and historic warehouse that houses the replica boat as might have been seen in the 1850s. Since the boat arrived our attendance has nearly tripled.
We are in a campaign to raise money for additional amenities along the trails. The interpretive sites along the canal and towpath are being populated with interactive and static displays true to the canal era.
Our campaign called THE TOTAL CANAL EXPERIENCE and our aim is to bring the canal experience from the indoor museum to the out-of-doors. We have designed a large number of attractive interactive exhibits and interpretive panels to be installed at significant sites out of doors – right along the towpath and in Canal Park. And seasonally we have docents acting as a canal crew while providing a quality historical re-enactment of the life and times of Indiana's canal era.
Together these investments help make a tourism package that has the potential of attracting more and more visitors. We are growing even in a poor economy. We are offering a tremendous asset to Delphi and our rural Carroll County economy – all without the use of local tax revenues. Our DREAM is coming true. We view all this with deep satisfaction. But there is work yet to be done and new goals yet to realize. Check us out.
--Article by Dan McCain