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There are a few isolated states that do not, in one way or another, depend on a river, canal, or harbor as part of their transportation infrastructure. There is virtually no navigation on the Colorado or Rio Grande Rivers in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah or Colorado, and regular steamboat service doesn’t get as far up the Missouri to Montana as it once did; however, for most other states their rivers, harbors and barge canals are vital.

On that recent trip discussed earlier in this series, one destination was the old Erie Canal and its often side-by-side companion, the New York State Barge Canal. On that same trip, we crossed seven other remnants of New York canals that once served as the state’s key means of transport before railroads. My wife and I watched large boats lifted through canal locks, saw barges on the Hudson, crossed canals in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Ohio, and Connecticut, and visited a number of Pennsylvania and Maryland canals, some of which are now national parks. In Indiana, we made a donation of books to the Wabash & Erie Canal Park in Delphi. The Illinois State Barge Canal is often in the news, not related to shipping, but because of large foreign carp that migrate up the Mississippi and Illinois River and then enter the Great Lakes, devastating local game fish. 

Vital Shipping LanesDrought nearly closed the Mississippi to navigation last summer; only a very wet Hurricane Isaac in September refloated marooned tugs and barges. The nation’s river systems are vitally important shipping lanes, including the Ohio/Missouri/Illinois/Arkansas/Tennessee Rivers and their navigable tributaries, along with the Susquehanna, James, St. John, Sacramento, Hudson, Columbia and other river systems that supply cheap transport of coal, grain and other products to and from up-stream cities. Perhaps the most important of these systems is the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway—the North Coast—with all its city harbors in both Canada and the U.S., from Duluth and Chicago to Buffalo and Rochester. These lakes and their connecting rivers and canals (the Sault Ste. Marie, the Welland, and so on) are vital to landlocked cities otherwise limited to land transportation such as road and rail. 

Consider the major U.S. harbors used for international transport, shipping U. S. raw materials to other nations and handling intermodal shipments to and from foreign ports. Were the Ports of Los Angeles (San Pedro and Long Beach), San Francisco Bay, Portland and Seattle unavailable, Asian goods would cost far more, being transported through the Panama Canal to Gulf or Atlantic harbors. 

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