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A Canal worth to discover (by canoe)

Text en photos: Geert van Beurden / Michiel Rotteveel


New waterways in Twente.

In February of 1889, the Dutch part of the Almelo-Nordhorn canal was completed and was part of a larger plan that aimed to improve waterway connections between Twente and the surrounding region.

The main reason for this was the increasing industrial activities, which required the transportation of coal and agricultural goods between Twente to the Ruhrgebiet. The historic waterways such as the Twikkelervaart, Regge, Dinkel, Schipbeek, Overijsselse Vecht and other small streams were getting too shallow to use. This was partly caused by the skippers themselves, who build dams to capture water so they could travel further upstream.

In 1876, The Overijsselse Vecht could no longer be used for goods transportation by boat. The Dutch and Prussian government decided to build a waterway that would connect the Dutch and German Canals. This would enable the important goods transit function between Nordhorn and Zwolle. The "Alte Picardie" was the first connection (with the Ems) for this.

At the end of 1884, some 200 young men from the “Polder” started digging the 28KM long canal by hand. At the bottom, the canal was 7.5 meters wide and at water level, its width was nearly 14 meters. This allowed ships to a maximum of 150 tons to use the canal. Apart from digging the canal, 5 Locks, 10 drawbridges and several other waterworks were build. Some of these waterworks were needed to allow small rivers and streams that crossed the canal to follow their way and maintain the water household function for the surrounding region.

Finally in 1904, the German part, which was largely dug by prisoners, was completed and with that the Almelo – Nordhorn canal now had a length of 33 km.

The canal and modern infrastructures.

Shortly after the opening of the canal, new plans were developed for improved shipping connections. This resulted in the building of the Twente Canals, suitable for ships larger than 150 tons. Road and railroad connections also quickly improved. These developments reduced the economical importance of the canal. After World War II the canal was used by just a few peat skippers and eventually in 1960 the canal was closed. Locks and bridges were no longer operated.

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Today’s situation.

From an economical point of view the canal was not a success, but over the years the canal has evolved into an important -lint shaped- nature monument with a rich flora!
Some 300 species, almost a quarter of the total Dutch flora, grows in and around the canal. Add several monuments, bridges, and locks to this and you have a serious potential for recreation and tourism.

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Flora and Fauna.

In several locations, the canal has large botanical values. Despite the canals straight line through the countryside, 10 different soil types cross the canal, resulting in a large variety of plants. Some of the 300 species are extremely rare and during June and July, the shores of the canal are a feast for the eye.
The bird population around the canal is less spectacular but alert canoeists may spot the occasional kingfisher or see some of the birds of prey that hunt along the canal.
Although there are some facilities for fishing, the fish population in the canal is poor and made up of mainly perch, pike and bream.

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New Developments.

The cultural and geographical elements that are part of the canal have prompted the “taskforce Water”, from the “Stichting Cultuur Historische Evenementen” (CHE), to try and make the Canal Almelo-Nordhorn the backbone in the development of the recreational use of this 3000-hectare large area.

The taskforce initiated two studies, both done by the University Twente: "Kanaal Almelo-Nordhorn een kanaal met toekomst" and "Driedubbel pleidooi voor vorming cultuurhistorisch landschapspark kanaal Almelo-Nordhorn".

Simultaneously discussions with the surrounding communities, the water board "Regge en Dinkel" and the Province are ongoing. On request of the "taskforce Water" the re-opening of the canal is part of a study requested by the "Regio Twente" and the "Landkreis Grafschaft Bentheim".

Also organizations like the “ANWB” and the Verein Grafship are involved in the discussion. The "Verein Grafship" from Nordhorn is trying to re-open some of the old canals so that small ships have a direct route between Germany and the Center of the Netherlands.

The “Almelo- Nordhorn Canal” is an important link in that chain.

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Used literature:
Goïnga, Kl., "100 jaar kanaal Almelo-Nordhorn", 1989;
Provincie Overijssel, "De botanische waarden van het kanaal Almelo-Nordhorn", 2002;
Report & research:
Werkgroep Water CHE, "Kanotochten in de heerlijkheid Almelo en omstreken", 2004.