Paddling into obsolescence at a leisurely pace

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Reflection on the water of billowing smokestacks at the Conesville Power Plant on the Muskingum River — like everything and everyone, destined for obsolescence.

We hadn’t yet paddled out of Coshocton when the Conesville Power Plant smokestacks came into sight. From there they look so close, but veteran Muskingum River paddlers know better; Conesville is more than five miles downstream of Coshocton.

That’s about an 80-minute paddle if you’re in a hurry. I never am. To me, that defeats the purpose of canoeing. It’s about the journey, not the destination.

My canoe partner for this trip, Ken Arthur, was OK with that. He’s all about exploring and discovery.

It was Ken’s first ever glimpse of the Conesville stacks — at least from the river. But, for both of us, it might have been the last time seeing them belching smoke. American Electric Power plans to close the 62-year-old coal-burning power plant at the end of May 2020.

According to a Coshocton Tribune article written by Leonard Hayhurst, the Conesville plant has become obsolete — another casualty of the flagging domestic coal market. It has been a slow painful death.

“In October 2017, the plant was devalued by the Ohio Department of Taxation, going from $72.2 million to $34.7 million due to coal-fired plants being not as valuable in the energy market as natural gas facilities,” Hayhurst wrote in October 2018. “This resulted in close to $2 million in revenue lost to local entities. The hardest hit dollars wise was River View Local Schools at $1.18 million annually and the biggest percentage drop was to Franklin Township which lost more than half of its annual budget at $87,193.”

Paddle upstream — physically and in time — and a similar scenario played out about 100 years ago.

Railroads had rendered canals obsolete. That included the Walhonding Canal, which I mentioned in previous columns. (Earlier in this trip, Ken and I portaged Six Mile Dam on the Walhonding River, where Lock 5 of the canal had been.) Six Mile Dam, which is between the town of Warsaw and Coshocton, was repurposed. The canal was reengineered to channel water down to the Village of Roscoe to power a hydroelectric plant. That also became obsolete; no doubt a casualty of coal-burning power plants.

Now the dam has become obsolete. It’s become a liability due to an undermined wing wall. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has slated it for removal around this time next year.

Traveling upstream even further in time — more than 2,500 years ago — Greek philosopher Hiraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Clearly, this stretch of the Walhonding and Muskingum rivers will not be the same. It will be much different without the dam and Conesville’s belching smokestacks.

Time will have changed us as well. This canoe trip served as a reminder that all of us are destined for obsolescence. As I said earlier, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

This was one of a series of five columns on my September 2019 canoe trip from Mohawk Dam to Dresden, Ohio on the Walhondong and Muskingum rivers.