The D&L Blog

Delaware & Lehigh - What is a Trail Tender?

This letter comes from Beth Masiado, a D&L Trail Tender who has devoted countless weekends, year-round to maintain the trail:

Inevitably on a Friday afternoon when wrapping up the work week someone in the office asks me, “So what are you doing this weekend?”  I instantly reply, “trail tenders.”  I get the same puzzled look every time, with the turned up eyebrow followed by, “What the heck is a trail tender?” I briefly explain the purpose of our mission only to get a barrage of questions such as: “Isn’t there poison ivy?” Yes, all over the place. “Ticks?” Of course. “Snakes?” Occasionally. “Bugs?” Only in the summer. “Do you get paid?” Nope. And then, “So, why do you do it?”

Why do we do it? For me personally I have always loved the outdoors.  I enjoy hard physical work, and I have an appreciation of the rich history the Lehigh Canal holds. Since I was a little girl my father, who is now 90 years old, has told me tales of playing on the canal as a little boy, running along the top of the locks, jumping onto the canal boats, and diving off the back into the canal. When the opportunity arose, they would hold on to the back of the canal boats as the lock filled up and got a rush of a ride when the gate was opened.  Then they had to run like the wind to avoid the wrath of the lock tender.  And the not so fond memories of being sent to the canal with a bent up bucket to pick up all the coal he could muster to help heat their house for the upcoming winter.  He was puzzled for quite a while how his mother always knew when he was swimming in the canal and finally realized that his hair was coated black with coal dust… a dead giveaway. He remembers the towpath when there was no honeysuckle monoculture, no Tree of Heaven, no graffiti, and no vandalism.

The Trail Tenders come from all walks of life. We leave behind the stress of work and everyday life and enter a different world.  One where the only background noise you hear is the lonesome wail of the trains passing through and the gentle rustling of the Monocacy Creek as it joins the mighty Lehigh River.  A world where the serene canal boasts turtles that sun themselves on fallen logs, frogs hidden along the shore bellow their tune, and where you can see sunfish and giant carp swimming merrily when the sun shines just right through the water.  A world where deer drink quietly at the canal’s edge as dusk falls and blue herons stand guard one-legged, and you can enjoys the chorus of birds and ducks of all varieties.

In the Lehigh Valley over the past year the Trail Tenders have uncovered two beautiful locks (42 and 43) that were so overgrown with brush and vines that no one even knew they were there.  Their history and workmanship deserved to be on display, and now passersby stop in awe during their walks and bike rides to enjoy them.  I often wonder if they are aware of what all took place where they stand and the important role the locks played.  As Trail Tenders we have pulled out quite an extensive collection of car and truck tires, bicycles, scooters, air conditioners, chairs, clothing, and countless plastic and glass bottles from locks.  I have made many friends and learned much through the year, most importantly the difference between invasive species and native species.  We battle constantly to rid the towpath of the overgrowth of invasives that surround it. 

It is never-ending hard work and there is no paycheck, but the shouts of “thank you” and “we appreciate all you do” from the passersby on the trail are our constant reward.  And that occasional piece of coal I find and tuck inside my jeans pocket reminds me of why I am there.  It is a small piece of days gone by, and we are doing our part to preserve its history. That is why I am a trail tender…..