MONT CLARE - Lock 60 is currently in the process of being restored to be the only restored and functional canal on the Schuylkill River.
The restoration process started last September with the official notice to proceed. The physical construction began in March of this year. The construction company, Road-Con, Inc. of West Chester, spent a lot of time behind the scenes drawing plans, getting engineer approval and gathering materials.
Construction included the lock itself, the lock tender's shanty (or lock keeper's shack) and the bridge crossing over the canal leading to the lock tender's house, the Schuylkill Canal Association's (SCA) operation base.
"They have exactly one year to complete the project so they have to be done by September 9," said Betsy Daley, executive director of the SCA. "There's a very good chance they'll be done by then."
The construction of the canal can currently be viewed at Lock 60. The Schuylkill is being held back by "porta-dams", which are tarps with a large metal frame held in place by sandbags. The floor of the lock is drained, and the bridge and shanty are already completed.
The official public grand opening of the restored Lock 60 is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 16, with Sunday the 17th as a rain date.
"It should be a full day of history, fun, water recreation and music," said Daley. "It will be a similar type of day as Canal Day, except centered around the lock opening."
SCA treasurer, board member, and member since 1982, Neal Thorpe said she's "looking forward to a lot of friends coming to the formal opening," including Harrisburg legislators and people from Upper Providence and Phoenixville.
The time between the completion of the construction and the grand opening will be used by members of the SCA to familiarize themselves with the lock and to practice its operation.
Lock 60 will be accessible to recreation boats, including canoes, kayaks and jon boats (row boats). For boaters going through the lock, the SCA "will most likely charge a small fee, something similar to $5 per boat," said Daley.
Boats must be thin enough to fit through the lock, which is 18 feet wide, 110 feet long and no more than five feet deep.
"You could probably get seven to 10 boats comfortably through without any difficulty," said Daley.
The restored lock will be used by the annual sojourners next year. Rules specify boaters must still vacate the river 200 feet above the dam before entering the canal, but they can then make portage and enter the forbay.
"We're going to try and put some kind of access on the river there," said Daley.
Daley expects the canal to be "initially very popular, something that will draw recreational boaters who want to experience locking through." She's hoping people will come to the lock and use it on a regular basis as part of enjoying the waterway.
Lock 60 will initially be open once a month for the public during the SCA open houses, which are held from 1 to 4 pm on the third Sundays of the month. Canal season runs April through October. The canal will be more frequently open when the SCA acquires more staff.
"I think we all anticipate once the lock is open, more people will become interested and involved in the area," said Daley. With the popularity of the canal having increased over the years, so have its operational costs. The SCA is always interested in new members willing to volunteer their time, at home or on site.
"For 22 years, I've given all my spare and volunteer time to the SCA, and I'm very proud of what we've accomplished," said Thorpe.
Federal funds aided the restoration through the Transportation Equities Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which supports transportation enhancement through, and is administered by, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). Upper Providence served as the grantee for the project.
Costs for the restoration totaled approximately $750,000. The construction costs of the whole project were $670,000. Pre-construction costed about $60,000, and the feasibility study was $25,000. $667,000 were federal funds. The state contributed $3,000. Additional funding was from the state, grants, and private contributors.
"The SCA has been planning this since our 1992 master plan as one of the goals and objectives of the organization to restore the lock back to a canal-era setting," Daley said. The SCA Board of Directors have been working on the project since 1995.
A feasibility study was conducted on the canal in 1997. The study concluded it was feasible to restore the lock itself because the lock was in good condition and the floor of the chamber was in very good condition.
Lock 60 has been around for a very long time and carries a multitude of history. The original lock gate and other artifacts were recently discovered in the water. The canal was built in 1839, with an expansion of a larger lock in 1846. The last boat that went through Lock 60 was in the mid-1920s when the Schuylkill Navigation System no longer used it for commercial business.
In the early 1960s, the lock was filled in when the state instituted a de-silting project. The silt from the river was used to fill in the canals. Only the last mile of Lock 60's 3 1/2 mile canal was filled in due to the efforts to save the canal by locals. The canal historically flowed to Lock 61 in Oaks, but that location was completely covered over.
The dam adjacent to Lock 60 was constructed in the early 1800s when the navigation system was first put in place.
"It was a stone-filled wooden crib dam that was built by the Schuylkill Navigation Company when they built the whole navigation system. It was replaced and rebuilt sometime between 1860 and 1880. What's there now is the original timber crib dam over-packed with concrete, which was done by the Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO) when they became the owners around 1950-60," said Daley.
With the lock completed, boaters will be able to paddle a five-mile loop. After locking through, boaters can paddle the 2 1/2-mile canal and turn around. The SCA encourages paddlers to row out on the river after the dam then use the canal to come back to their cars, making a nice, easy water trail loop.
The SCA is currently undergoing an interpretation plan. They want to enhance parking and the overall visitor experience. One plan includes labeling the lock house, parking, and trails with signs.
By 2007, the Schuylkill River Trail, which continues to Philadelphia, will connect with the canal trails and onto Phoenixville.
Lock 60 and the canal park can be accessed via the tow road from Route 29 on the Phoenixville-Mont Clare Bridge.
For more information on the SCA or to become a member, call 610-917-0021 or visit www.schuylkillcanal.com.