By Maggie LaCoste
One of the best-known and most popular bike routes in France is dealing with an environmental tragedy that will impact the route for many years to come. A microscopic fungus called canker stain was first discovered on trees along the canal in 2006. This fungus is easily transported so it quickly spread along the Canal. There is no cure for the fungus and once a tree has been infected, it dies within several years. Through 2011, over 2500 trees had already been destroyed. Since there is no treatment for this fungus, a decision was made last year to ultimately destroy and replace all 42,000 plane trees that line the canal.
The Canal du Midi was built between 1667 and 1697 and is regarded as one of the most technologically significant canals in the world, incorporating lock staircases, reservoirs, aqueducts, dams, bridges and tunnels. The 240 km canal connects the Garonne River near Toulouse with the Etang de Thay on the Mediterranean. The Canal was closed to commercial traffic in 1989. In 1996, the Canal was named a UNESCO World Heritage site and since that time, the Canal has been a popular destination for bicyclists, hikers, barge cruisers and artists, all who marvel at the majesty of the endless banks of plane trees.
A major redevelopment project is underway to replace the beautiful plane trees that were planted in the 1830’s to help stabalize the canal banks. The “Replanting the Canal du Midi” program plans to replace the plane trees that line the banks of the Canal from Toulouse to Etang de Thau, preserving the renowned beauty of this popular area. From 2013 forward, the plan is to cut down 4,000 diseased trees a year, replanting them as they are cut down. The scope of this project is enormous and expensive. It is projected that the effort will span 10-15 years and cost over 200 million Euro. Fundraising campaigns are already underway, as is an extensive media plan to educate the public of this important project and the need to preserve the natural beauty of this World Heritage site.
So if you are planning on bicycling along the Canal du Midi, you will witness first-hand the huge project underway along the Canal.
As the scope of this project unfolds, I will keep you up to date on how it will impact travel along the Canal pathways. Needless to say, it will have an impact on bicyclists visiting this area. I for one am planning to bike along this route in 2013. In the meantime if you are interested in reading more about the project, there is a website that has been set up to provide information to the public. It can be found at www.replantonslecanal.fr.