These days, a car zipping down the interstate can get you where you want to go, but back in the day, canal boats were one of the best methods for transporting both people and goods from place to place. Illinois homeschoolers can gain hands-on experience with this old-fashioned form of transportation with a ride on the LaSalle Canal Boat at Lock 16 of the I&M Canal.
The first part of a visit to Lock 16 is a mule-tending class, where visitors learn about Larry and Moe, the strong creatures who pull the boats. Next, participants board the boat, and a period-dressed guide talks about canals and life in 1848, when the I&M Canal opened. The guides are happy to answer questions as you travel down the canal and back, but you can also just sit back and enjoy the peaceful scenery. The boat trips take about 60 minutes. After the ride, visitors can take a walk around the nearby area to explore the silhouettes of historical people associated with the canal.
Tickets are $8 for kids, $14 for adults and $12 for seniors. Children under 3 ride free. A 2-adult, 2-child family pack is offered for $38. A guided tour of the historical silhouettes is available for an additional fee. Groups over 20 qualify for a free teacher ride and discounted tickets for additional chaperones. For $425-450, groups can reserve the entire boat for a private tour, which accommodates up to 70 people.
A field trip to the LaSalle Canal Boat is an ideal complement to studies of the 1800s, when canals were a major source of transportation in the United States. A good book to read before a visit to the LaSalle Canal Boat is "The Amazing Impossible Erie Canal" by Cheryl Harness. Although this picture book is about the Erie Canal, not the I&M Canal that you will be visiting, it will help children understand the importance of canals during the 19th century and the work that went into building them.
The Lock 16 Visitor Center, which includes a cafe and gift shop, is located in Downtown LaSalle at 754 First Street, LaSalle, Ill. The canal boat boarding spot is a few blocks away, just south of the I&M Canal. The Visitors Center is open 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily, but is closed on Sundays from November through April. The boat runs from late April through early November. Call 815-220-1848 for information on the LaSalle Canal Boat.