BY STEPHANIE GROVES
DELPHOS — The Delphos Canal Commission held a meeting Monday night to inform and hold an open discussion with a diverse group of interested citizens about a strategic plan for the Miami and Erie Canal.
Miami Erie Canal Corridor Association Executive Director and facilitator of the committee, Neal Brady led the discussion with a presentation outlining the ‘Strategic Plan to Restore the Miami and Erie Canal in the Greater Delphos, Ohio Area’, which is comprised of six main goals, objectives, action steps and cost estimates. The plan addresses trails, green spaces, open public areas, education, economic development, history, aesthetics, water flow, signage and other issues that will help to shape the future of the canal.
The canal was constructed from 1825-45 and propelled the economy of Western Ohio to new heights, enabling the transportation of farm goods and basic materials to all parts of the young nation and the world. It increased Ohio’s population by 4,000 percent from 1800-50.
The first settlers in Delphos, established between 1836 and 1842, were German pioneers and construction workers drawn to the work being done on the canal. Soon after, the industrial revolution made its way to Delphos with merchants and industrialists propelling the city into a major port along the Miami and Erie Canal, with transshipment facilities for railroads.
By 1879, there were over a hundred factories churning out goods, which were transported, beginning in 1912, by the first transcontinental paved highway, the Lincoln Highway. Since 1987, the Delphos Canal Commission has maintained the goal of restoring and utilizing this section of the Heritage Corridor to spur economic development of Delphos and the surrounding areas.
After the presentation, residents took part in an open forum where committee members, Brady, Greg Berquist, Lou Hohman and Steve Dorsten fielded questions ranging from funding the project to large item littering.
Dennis Pathoff asked about funding the plan.
“How do we fix the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) problem for the canal program?” Pathoff added. “How do we gain priority?”
Dorsten fielded this question.
“The county park systems will be in charge since the funding is shifting,” Dorsten said. “We will have better control.”
Dorsten elaborated on the effect of the plan’s first goal, which is to stabilize the banks of the canal.
“We can accomplish a lot on a local level, he said. “We get that done and you’ll have what you want.”
Bob Ulm spoke on canal littering, a topic that has not been addressed in previous meetings. Ulm believes that serious steps need to be taken in reinforcement of large item littering. In keeping with goal 6 —Promoting Appreciation for the Canal—monitoring the canal, increasing fines and punishing offenders to the greatest extent of the law would make an impact.
Hohman explained that citizens have been throwing grass and weeds into the canal. In addition, there were Christmas trees pulled from the canal this past year.
“So where do we go from here?” Brady asked.
Safety Director Greg Berquist gave a brief synopsis of the past conversations and future goals. Berquist said that for many years they have been looking at projects to connect Spencerville to Delphos. In the next few years, with the help of the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), the city will have a walking path through Delphos, connecting Waterworks Park to Stadium Park. In addition, the commission would like to leverage paths to the schools.
“With the exception of Jefferson High School, each school is 3 or 4 blocks from the towpath,” Berquist detailed.
At the end of the meeting, committee members agreed the first goal of the strategic plan is to create a voice by educating and informing the constituents who will be proactive in the cause.
Hohman said that the first step is to design a flyer or brochure explaining the plan, showing comparison photos of a south portion of the canal with a revitalized north section of the canal and listing state and local contact information. The flyer or brochure will serve as a vehicle to gain the interest of the community and empower the residents with the resources to be proactive and contact representatives with concerns regarding the “Strategic Plan” for the canal.