What’s 17 miles long, 540 ft wide and connects Cape Cod Bay with Buzzard’s Bay? Answer: The Cape Cod Canal
I thought I’d write a little about the canal because it’s a beautiful area and it’s fascinated me for years. I have had a goal to bike the length of it since I moved out here 30 years ago. Still haven’t done it. Maybe this year.
The canal is spanned by 3 bridges, the Cape Cod Railroad Bridge, the Bourne Bridge and the Sagamore Bridge. I was amazed to learn that there are traffic lights at each end of the canal to regulate vessels that are over 65 ft!
The idea of the canal was first considered by the pilgrims back in 1623. William Bradford surveyed the area trying to find a way to reduce travel time to the new trading post he established and there the matter ended until 1697 when the General Court of Massachusetts took the first formal request to build a canal under consideration. Over a series of years the area was explored and surveyed numerous times. Even George Washington got involved as one of the surveyors on the project but each time the project fell by the wayside.
The first attempt to actually put shovel to ground and try to dig the canal did not come until the late 19th century. Any previous attempts had been doomed by either money or the shear immensity of the project. It would take someone with real vision and audacity to get behind the idea.
That man finally stepped forward in the form of August Belmont Jr, American financier and thoroughbred racer and June of 1909 construction finally began. Almost immediately the engineers ran into difficulty. The builders had “tons” of obstacles to over come and I mean that quite literally. The builders soon discovered huge boulders in the path of the canal left over from the retreat of the glaciers after the last ice age. That problem was tackled by blasting and dredging but it made for slow going. Add to those headaches are the problems inherent in trying to complete a major outdoor project with New England weather to contend with and , well you can see how the canal could be called the original “Big Dig”.
Still the engineers plodded on and finally the canal was opened partially in 1914 and finally completed in 1916.
From 1916 to 1935 the canal muddled along. It was narrow and shallow and navigation was difficult. There were numerous accidents that marred the reputation of the waterway. Finally the government stepped in and under the US Army Corps of Engineering the canal was widened and deepened until it became the widest sea level canal in the world!
Today in addition to being a commercial and recreational waterway, the area has been developed into a heavily used recreation area for biking, walking, skating and fishing. It has benches set at scenic areas along the canal where people like to sit and watch the boat traffic. There are access roads on both sides of the canal that make it easy to reach the best fishing spots.
So now I just have to get a bicycle!