Canal Towpath Resurfacing Underway

By May 22, 2019News

Visitors accessing the C&O Canal National Historical Park (NHP) at Edwards Ferry (Mile 30.8) will find a smooth surface running to Whites Ferry (Mile 35.5) – the first five miles of the towpath to be resurfaced as part of the Park’s proposed multi-year, 80-mile towpath resurfacing project.

The resurfaced towpath near Edwards Ferry

It’s a far cry from the old clay and gravel surface that required hikers and cyclists to negotiate long stretches of muddy, treacherous ruts waiting to catch the tires of unsuspecting bikers, and the rocks and tree roots capable of sending hikers sprawling. By the end of 2019, the Park plans to resurface another 17 miles from Brunswick (Mile 54) to Packhorse Ford (Mile 71.4) near the Shepherdstown Bridge. Another 16 miles (from Mile 42.2 near the Monocacy Aqueduct to Brunswick) will be resurfaced in 2020.

Two funding packages totalling $4.05 million are supporting this work, a joint commitment from the Federal Government and the State of Maryland’s Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP). The C&O Canal Trust’s advocacy to the state in support of the Park’s towpath resurfacing proposal contributed to receiving the TAP grants.

We just completed our advocacy work seeking a third year of funding for this project from the same sources, which will resurface towpath from Seneca Creek Aqueduct (Mile 23) to Edwards Ferry, and Whites Ferry to Lock 26 (Mile 39.3) in 2020. Over 500 people signed an online petition in support of continuing the project, speaking passionately about not only their love for the canal, but also the economic benefit the C&O Canal NHP provides to the surrounding communities.

“I think these improvements to the C&O towpath are a very good idea,” said Ezra Deutsch-Feldman, a Washington, D.C. resident. “I was just biking on it this weekend, and it’s clear that the newly-resurfaced sections are a much nicer, safer ride than the sections that haven’t been repaired in a while (this was especially true in the mud after the recent rain). I’m sure that there are many, many others like me who love using the towpath to get out of D.C. and into Maryland — spending tourism dollars in the local economy as we go.”

Much of the towpath slated to be resurfaced this year was severely damaged during the 2018 flooding. It is expected that the repairs, which include grading for better drainage and a new stone dust surface, will make the towpath more resilient during future heavy rains and flooding.

In addition to our advocacy work, the Trust also raises funds to supplement the federal and state funding for towpath resurfacing. Private contributions are used to ensure that resurfacing projects are “shovel-ready” – often a requirement for federal infrastructure funding. We have also contracted with Jack Paulik of Alder Valley Consulting to provide engineering and project management consultation on towpath resurfacing to the C&O Canal NHP maintenance staff. Paulik was involved in the development of the Great Allegheny Passage trail and is using that experience to help create a safe, smooth surface on the towpath.

To make a gift in support of towpath resurfacing, visit www.CanalTrust.org/towpath.