The Borough of Wharton celebrated the completion of a 16-year-long project to restore Lock 2 East, an integral part of the former Morris Canal, and the adjacent Lock Tenders House, with a ribbon cutting ceremony during its annual Canal Day festival Saturday.
The NJTPA Board of Trustees worked with the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) to allocate $3.4 million in federal Transportation Alternatives Program funds for the project, which totaled $4.7 million.
David Behrend, NJTPA Acting Executive Director, called the site an “important piece” of the planned Morris Canal Greenway, which is envisioned as a 111-mile continuous trail connecting the Delaware River in Phillipsburg to the Hudson River in Jersey City, closely aligned with the former canal. Wharton and Morris County officials are actively involved in the Morris Canal Working Group, which the NJTPA coordinates, and participated in the agency’s 2018 Morris Canal Greenway Corridor Study, which developed the route and design for the planned trail.
“Thanks to projects like this one here today – and partners across six counties – we’re gradually making that vision a reality,” he said.
The Morris Canal opened in 1831 connecting Phillipsburg to Newark and was extended to Jersey City in 1836. The canal included a system of 23 lift locks and 23 inclined planes to overcome an elevation change of 1,674 feet.
John Manna, President of Wharton’s Canal Day Association and the restoration project’s coordinator, explained that the original lock gates and walls were bulldozed into the lock when it was decommissioned after the canal closed in 1924.
Through careful excavation, the lock components were unearthed and used to rebuild the structure. Once the Lock 2 East restoration project is completed in a few months, it will function as it once did more than 100 years ago, raising and lowering the water level by 8 feet. Manna’s dream is to one day have a replica canal boat built to illustrate how Lock 2 East functioned. The Lock Tenders House, once in ruins, was also reconstructed and will serve as a museum once it opens later this year.
“I think future generations will benefit from this restoration,” Manna said. “I think it will stand the test of time.”
Wharton Mayor William Chegwidden thanked the many partners that made the project possible, including the NJTPA, NJDOT, Morris County and the New Jersey Historic Trust. He also thanked Manna for all his work over the years.
“This has been a long project and really, I give so much credit to John Manna here. He has kept this thing rolling, he has been our boat captain,” Chegwidden said. “I said let’s make Wharton a destination and we did.”
The NJTPA and NJDOT are accepting applications for the next round of Transportation Alternatives Program funding. Applications are due November 3, however anyone interested in applying must schedule a pre-application meeting by September 30. For additional information visit njtpa.org/TASetAside.