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The Suburbanite
  • St. Helena offers trip through time

  • The St. Helena III offers its riders a gentile ride on the waterway filled with the sounds of nature and the clip-clop of the horses pulling it along the canal. There are no waves to rock the boat and no motors to interrupt the sounds of birds and frogs.

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  • The Ohio and Erie Canalway system offers a long and vital history for Ohio. It stretched from Cleveland on Lake Erie to Portsmouth on the Ohio River. The city of Canal Fulton offers many ways to celebrate the history the canal provides. Among the most popular offerings is a ride on the St. Helena III.
    The St. Helena III offers its riders a gentile ride on the waterway filled with the sounds of nature and the clip-clop of the horses pulling it along the canal. There are no waves to rock the boat and no motors to interrupt the sounds of birds and frogs.
    “The boat tour takes about an hour and travels down an original section of the Ohio and Erie Canal, it turns around at the Lock IV turning basin,” said Keri Lantz, programs director at the Canal Fulton Canalway Center. “We offer public rides, charters for groups and special event cruises including dinner cruises. Last year, we had 4,700 people take the cruise."
    Lantz notes that attendance was down in 2012 and she attributes that to the summer's stifling heat.
    "A typical year for us is to serve between 5,500 and 6,000,” Lantz said.
    According to a historical perspective from the Canal Fulton Public Library, the canal was used as a commercial shipping route. Canal boats were used to ship produce and many other items all the way to New Orleans using the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers or to New York City using Lake Erie and the Hudson River in New York.
    Many villages were founded along the canal once it was completed. From 1826 to 1836, 25 villages sprang up along the banks of the canal in Stark County. Canal Fulton was one of the first.
    At one time, there were more than 300 canal boats traveling the Ohio and Erie Canal. The most common canal boats were freight barges and passenger boats or a combination of both. Today, according to Touring Ohio, there are only a few original boats left and those used for touring purposes are reproductions.
    The St. Helena III is one such reproduction. It docks and departs from the Canal Fulton Canalway Center and can carry up to 60 passengers. The trip is 2 miles long, round trip.
    Today, the vessel is pulled by two Percheron draft horses. In the1800s, a mule team commonly used to pull the boats.
    “The St. Helena III’s maiden voyage was in 1992 after retiring St. Helena II in 1988,” said Robert Hodges, program assistant and administrative assistant for the Canal Fulton Heritage Society.
    The replica canal boat looks and feels like the real thing, but Hodges admits that it's sturdier.
    “While the II was made more historically authentic using white oak, the III is made out of ferro-cement," Hodges said. "It is made to look authentic in terms of color, length and layout, the material it's crafted from is made to last longer."
    Page 2 of 2 - The boat does get dry docked for maintenance during the winter.
    The horses used to pull the boat belong to the Canal Fulton Heritage Society and are stabled just a short distance from the Canalway Center.
    The venture is a partnership between the Canal Fulton Heritage Society who owns the boat and the horses and the city who employees the people who work at the Center.
    The crew for each cruise includes a captain, a steersman, the people driving the horse team, a pikeman who turns the boat around and a historian. Most of the time, the crew consists of four people serving in multiple capacities. For instance, the captain may also be the historian or serve as a steersman.
    Another working partnership is between Stark Parks who maintains the Towpath Trail and the city of Canal Fulton who helps maintain the section of the canal. Lantz said the combination of the trails, the boat and the Center bring thousands of people through the area every year.
    “Over 18,000 people either used the trail, rode the boats visited the Center or the Museum last year,” said Lantz.
    There’s still time to cruise the canal.
    Tours are open through mid-October. Visit www.cityofcanalfulton-oh.gov for details.

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