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Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the D&R Canal State Park

By Linda Barth | Posted March 6, 2024

A variety of events are planned throughout 2024 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Delaware and Raritan Canal Park.

In 1974, most of the Delaware and Raritan Canal was declared a New Jersey state park, which is now used for canoeing, kayaking, cycling, fishing, horseback riding, birding, walking, jogging, and enjoying nature. On October 10, 1974, the New Jersey State Legislature approved the creation of the D&R Canal State Park and the D&R Canal Commission. Canal Watch, the nonprofit friends group that supports the park, is helping to sponsor the celebratory events this year.

Griggstown Canoe Rentals, NJ

The D&R Canal State Park at Griggstown, where folks can rent canoes and kayaks. File photo: The Montgomery News.

Speaker Series

A speaker series is planned, with the first already scheduled. The featured speaker at annual meeting of the D&R Canal Watch on Sunday, June 16 at 2 pm will be canal historian Capt. Bill McKelvey and will feature vessels that plied the D&R Canal. 

Mules pull a barge along the D&R Canal. Photo from the Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission.

In 1976 Captain Bill wrote “The Delaware & Raritan Canal: A Pictorial History,” a photographic treasure trove of historic views of our canal. Two years later he followed that successful book with “Champlain to Chesapeake: A Canal Era Pictorial Cruise,” which included many photos of the D&R as well as the other inland waterways along the East Coast. This event will be held in the Fellowship Hall behind the Griggstown Reformed Church on Canal Road.

The Story of the D&R Canal State Park

James C. Amon, the first executive director of the D&R Canal Commission, will paint a picture of the preservation of the the D&R Canal, and its transformation into a state park. The date of this speaking engagement will be announced soon. Amon with speak about the status of the canal from 1970s through the early 2000s, when he retired from the commission. 

The D&R Canal State Park became the most frequently visited state park in New Jersey under Amon's leadership.

The commission started with virtually no money (the first several annual appropriations were $50,000—a sum that even then was small), no recognition (almost no one knew there was a D&R Canal, much less a canal commission) and a fair amount of hostility toward the idea that a separate commission had all this power. (The hostility came from the surrounding municipalities, the surrounding counties, the Division of Parks and Forestry and the NJ Water Supply Authority.) 

Amon was able to work with all of them and create the wonderful park that we all know today.

Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park

Poems for the 50th Anniversary

In the park’s 25th anniversary year, the Canal Watch organization published a book of poems about the historic waterway. This year, thanks to Penelope Schott and many talented poets, the organization has published a new book of canal poetry.

This new volume contains 50 poems, some new and some from the original publication. Just search Amazon books for “Poems for 50th Anniversary of the D&R Canal State Park and the D&R Canal Commission.”

Scavenger Hunt & Collectible Mug

In addition, park staff will sponsor and conduct a scavenger hunt. Details will be available in the spring.

Finally, the Canal Watch has created a collectible mug for the 2024 celebratory year. Designed by park historian Vicki Chirco, the mug will be available at all anniversary events for a cost of $10.


Stonebridge at Montgomery

An Exhibit on the Blackwells Mills Canal Association

The Van Harlingen Historical Society will celebrate the park’s anniversary with an exhibit entitled, Griggstown & Blackwells Mills Ephemera from the 1970s.

Librarian Candy Willis said the exhibit will feature the founding of the Blackwells Mills Canal Association in 1971 and the village of Griggstown, including newspaper clippings, postcards, notecards, site plans, and more from the 1970s. 

The exhibit will open on March 23 when the Gulick House, 506 Belle Mead-Blawenburg Road, opens for the season.

Visit to view the list of activities, which will be updated as the year goes on.

If you have any suggestions or ideas for other celebrations and festivities, please send them to Linda Barth at ■


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