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The D&L Blog

Delaware & Lehigh - Along The Trail: Allentown's Canal Park and Historic Bethlehem

Trail blog #5

Written by: Jay Marsden

Driving into the City of Allentown toward Canal Park was a bit different than steering toward other trailheads I have visited thus far.   To reach the D&L Trail in Pennsylvania’s third largest city, I drove my Toyota tightly underneath a trestle off Albert Street and over an old canal lock and into the park.  Upon my arrival, I found a lush site on the east side of the city and the trail quietly unfolded itself.

Once I got out of my car and pulled my steel framed bike down off the roof, I

overheard a man say “I’ve been living here for ten years and I never knew this park was even here.” I quickly realized that I had never been to this section of Allentown before let alone to this particular park.  That’s when it dawned on me why this section of trail is overlooked.   This little outpost is a hidden gem that needs to be uncovered.  It’s sort of a diamond in the rough right now even though there are several signs that direct you toward the trailhead. Good thing because this section is a vital link connecting Northampton to the north and Bethlehem to the south.  Plus there’s an impressive view of the Hamilton Street Dam and well preserved locks.

My next stop of the day is one of my favorites:  the City of Bethlehem. Nestled along the Lehigh river between Lehigh University and Moravian College, the area has got great flair but at the same time hosts some of the most substantial industrial history in the state. Once the home of Bethlehem Steel (the nation’s second largest steel producer) as well as the Lehigh Canal and Lehigh Valley Railroad; this city is the perfect mix of a youthful college town and a rich historic district. This combination of youthful spirit and inspiration from the past creates a very unique and beautiful dynamic that fills the area with fine dining, good bars, great shopping, and an excellent music and art scene.

OK, more on the city later, its time to get back to the trail. In Bethlehem, the D&L Trail runs through the area known as Sand Island, an extremely well maintained city park that bustles with activity.  As I rode into the park I was greeted by fishermen, runners of all skill levels, two full court basketball games, at least four tennis matches, and some sort of concert or performance being prepared at the Ice House (a restored building from the industrial era) and this was only a Thursday night.  It just all felt so healthy to me.

Another cool aspect of this area is the view across the river where the now dormant blast furnaces of Bethlehem Steel loom.  One of the most humbling views of our industrial past can be found along the path from the Trail Tender’s Native Plant Preserve project.  Here invasive plants were eradicated and replaced with indigenous plants and a walkway was laid in order to get a better look at the blast furnaces across the river.

Bethlehem has two distinct sections separated by the Lehigh River. The north side of town, with its distinctive Moravian heritage, is well-known for its attractions in the colder months.  In late fall the 5k Turkey Trot held after Thanksgiving is a must. It is a great course to run your first race or set a personal record.  Johnny’s Bagel’s on Main Street is one of those places that adds to the college feel I was talking about earlier.  They provide endless bagels at the end of the race for all participants (this is how I got hooked).   In the winter, the town is bustles with holiday activity and the Moravian Book Store is a great place to warm your bones. But in August, Musikfest, a 10-day music festival, fills the sweet summer air along with good food, good tunes and good company. I don’t know, it might just be me, but Bethlehem seems to know how to have a good time and if you haven’t been part of it, it’s time to change that. Musikfest starts August 3rd and there are some big names coming this year including two of my personal favorites, MGMT and Atlas Sound. Check them out and come join me!

Now, if you have been following my blog and you read my first entry where I mentioned my “hodgepodge assortment of hobbies” you should also know that I have been riding a skateboard of one shape or another for most of my life. It’s one of those things that once it gets into your blood, you’re hooked. So before I close, I want to give a mention to a great thing that the city of Bethlehem is doing for area youth.

The Bethlehem Skateplaza, which is located on the south side of town just across the road from the Sands Casino and Resort, is unlike any other skate park in the surrounding area. This park’s main focus is to provide action sports athletes with 40,000 SF of stellar features to practice their sport for free. This is a ground breaking part of the action sports community.  The park’s urban setting is maintained perfectly for skateboarding or bike riding. In the coming months, phase two of the four phase project will be completed adding staircases, benches, and all sorts of different everyday urban features to ride, keeping many of these kids out of the streets.

I cannot state enough how great this asset is to the youth of the area. On the Thursday night I visited, about 25 people were having fun, being healthy, and performing their sport in a protected place. By the end of the evening not only had I conversed with almost every skateboarder there, I felt welcome. Isn’t that what we want for our children: for them to have fun, be healthy, and feel comfortable while doing it? If you are interested in helping out this great cause consider buying brick for the next phase of the Bethlehem Skateplaza at