St. Helena III to begin new season in Canal Fulton

Amy L. Knapp
amy.knapp@indeonline.com
Canal Boat coordinator Rob Hodges speaks about the St. Helena III. The replica canal boat will open its season next week.

CANAL FULTON The St. Helena III is set to take to the waters of the Ohio and Erie Canal.

The historic reproduction, which will begin its season June 12, offers riders a glimpse into how early settlers traversed the canalway during its heyday.

The canal was used as a commercial shipping route with boats carrying goods to New Orleans using the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers or to New York City using Lake Erie and the Hudson River in New York.

From 1826 to 1836, 25 villages sprang up along the banks of the canal in Stark County. Canal Fulton was one of the first.

Those taking a ride on the St. Helena III are treated to a two-mile roundtrip ride along a stretch of the Ohio and Erie Canal that runs from St. Helena Heritage Park to Lock IV and back. The boat, a 27-ton replica constructed of concrete and wood, is pulled by two horses - Isabelle, a Belgian horse, and Dan, a Percheron draft horse.

City on the canal

Growing up in the Manchester area, Rob Hodges had no clue about the history-laden city just down the road until a ride along the Towpath gave him a glimpse of the canal and the historic town.

“I fell in love with the quaint small town and the canal history,” he said.

Hodges, a history major, began working on the canal boat during the 2007 season and served as captain from 2009 to 2010.

The next year, he joined the Canal Fulton Canalway Center staff. Last year, he was hired as the canal boat coordinator.

City officials are excited to be able to offer the rides amid the coronavirus concerns.

City manager Mark Cozy isn’t sure how the public will respond, but the city, which owns and operates the canal boat, is happy to be able to offer the experience to visitors.

Several summer events in the city and surrounding areas have been canceled, including the city’s annual Canal Days festival.

Even though boat operations have changed to comply with social distancing and other COVID-19 related regulations, city Parks and Rec Director Carla Rante said offering the rides is filling a void left by the many cancellations.

“It’s something we can open up and do safely,” she said. "Come visit us. Walk around. The shops are open. Get an ice cream cone and enjoy a ride on the canal boat."

Rante, who joined the city staff earlier this year, has fielded a number of calls about the canal boat tours. People stopping in the Canal Way Center also have been interested to know when the rides will begin.

Keeping everyone safe

Several safety measures have been put into place including reducing the number of passengers. The boat will carry half of its normal capacity, with 25 passengers permitted.

Normally, removable bench seats are used for passengers. This year, folding chairs will be offered to those taking a ride.

Hodges said the chairs offer flexibility for seating arrangements to maintain social distancing and allow for families to sit together, as well as they are easier to clean after each use.

Visitors and boat operators will be required to wear a mask. The city will supply masks if a passenger doesn't have one.

The days of operation also have been reduced. Previously, the boat ran twice a day, seven days a week. This season, rides will be offered at 12:15, 1:30 and 2:45 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Hodges said the goal is to sell out the rides. If the demand is available, they may expand the trip schedule.

Officials are trying to figure out if they can host special event rides like they have in the past, such as dinner cruises. They are still working on the logistics.

In the meantime, Hodges and his team, including city community service director John Murphy, have been working to ready the boat for its maiden voyage of the season.

While in dry dock, the boat has undergone repairs including a new coat of a concrete compound produced by Lindsey Precast. It also has been painted.

Through a partnership with Stark Parks, the canal has been cleaned up. Cozy said with the record high flooding last summer, debris including sunken logs and lawn chairs were clogging the canal. Remnants of a beaver dam also caused problems for the boat last year.

Hodges said they try to keep the ride as close to historically accurate as possible, but there have been some changes, including a cement boat, which holds up better than the all-wood boats of yesteryear, and horses pulling the boat instead of mules.

Four crew members including a steerer, a historian who provides information about the canal and boat, and two drivers, who handle the horses, are on each trip.

The city employs about eight to 10 crew members - typically high school and college students - for the season, Cozy said. Many are returning for another season, while some are new.

Besides enjoying the ride, visitors also can visit the St. Helena II housed in the St. Helena Heritage Park. The boat sailed the canal from July 26, 1969, until 1984 when it was unable to be repaired.

Reach Amy at 330-775-1135 or amy.knapp@indeonline.com

On Twitter: @aknappINDE

Take a ride through history

The St. Helena III canal boat will begin taking passengers on the Ohio and Erie Canal on June 12.

Tickets are $9 for adults; $8 for 60 and older and veterans; $5 for children 6 to 17; and free for children 5 and younger with a paid adult. Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling the Canal Fulton Canalway Center at 330-854-6835 or day of the ride at the center at 125 Tuscarawas St. NW, Canal Fulton, in the St. Helena Heritage Park. Officials are asking customers to pre-purchase tickets.

John Murphy, Canal Fulton community service director, works on the St. Helena III in dry dock as the city gets ready to begin offering canal boat rides next week.