The cargo and fishing and pleasure-boat lines that once made the Delaware this region's main highway grounded long ago; now we have to pay the Delaware River and Port Authority $5 just to drive a car across, more for trucks. And try finding a public boat ramp -- or marine fuel stop -- in all the miles between Northeast Philly and New Castle, Delaware, or Penn's Grove, NJ.
It didn't used to be like this. A casual visit to the Delaware's overgrown banks show the ruins of the old "finger" piers that used to carry traffic between the wharves and private parks that lined the estuary from below Wilmington to way above Philadelphia.
Most of that vanished as oil refining and other heavy industries took over key real estate in the early 1900s, poisoning the water and driving people away. But the water is clearer now. True, DuPont Co. and other riverside industries still get busted from time to time for not meeting their promises to keep cutting acidic run-off. But then again, the authorities are also still closing Jersey Shore beaches on the Atlantic due to human-waste bacteria. And that doesn't scare millions of humans away.
So why is the Delaware still off limits? Big industrial and shipping concerns, which still use the river, are in no great rush to share. And the environmental rules that helped improve water quality haven't helped public access. Read more here in my article about Deemer's Beach, a rare Delaware riverside property with a storied past that is now For Sale. Pictures by Michael Wirtz here. If you're not already a Philadelphia Inquirer subscriber, promo code W72C will get you in this week.