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C&O Canal Trust Works to Make Park Accessible and Inclusive

Lock 2 in Georgetown by Paul Graunke

American essayist, author, and briefly National Park ranger, Edward Abbey once said, “The national parks belong to everyone. To the people. To all of us.” For those of us who love our national parks, who cross off a park with a “bucket list” level of commitment each time we visit, this statement rings true. Our national parks allow people to explore the natural world and wonders around us, a window into the past and the breathtaking beauty of lands preserved. And yet, while everyone is welcome, so many, especially those of differing backgrounds, often experience barriers preventing visitation. The C&O Canal National Historical Park (NHP) offers so much incredible history for visitors of all ages and backgrounds to explore. But there are many who have yet to visit our local national park, or who have not had the opportunity to experience its historical and natural resources.

As the official philanthropic partner to one of the most visited parks in the country, the C&O Canal Trust actively works with the National Park Service to build a canal community that reflects and celebrates the diverse populations of people who live throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia, as well as neighboring states and beyond. Montgomery County, for example, is considered one of the most diverse counties in the United States, with people of color comprising about 59% of the total population, as of 2020.

Through expansive programs, the Trust is growing partnerships with community organizations that demonstrate the diversity of our canal community. We welcome hundreds of people each year to public volunteer events, Canal Community Days as well as hundreds of underrepresented and underserved youth and families to the Park for outdoor education and recreation opportunities through Canal For All.

Through Canal For All, we provide opportunities for education, stewardship, and volunteerism that are safe, welcoming, and inclusive for all. We work with our community partner organizations to introduce youth and young adults from underrepresented communities to our park’s incredible natural and historic resources. To date, more than 2,000 individuals have joined us for fun and educational programs.

The Trust’s impact and diversity have expanded in notable ways. Several new community organizations have joined as partners, expanding the program’s demographic reach to include adults with Down syndrome, LGBTQ+, military families, and at-risk young people. Since Canal For All’s inception, the Trust has partnered with organizations such as Girls Inc., Community Bridges, Arc of Washington County, PeaceJam American University, Outdoor Afro, Girls Who Hike, and more. We work with each of our partner organizations to provide culturally appropriate and relevant programs – a tailor-made experience that allows participants to explore the Park in a way that feels comfortable, welcoming, and inclusive.

“The C&O Canal Trust’s growing programs help to engage the next generation of park stewards and members of our community who are underrepresented in national parks. We believe deeply that the unique historical, natural, and recreational resources here in the C&O Canal should be accessible to everyone,” says Trust President & CEO Lauren Riviello.

Each year, the Trust works with our Park colleagues to provide programming through nationally recognized events, including National Kids to Parks Day and Latino Conservation Week. By engaging young people, the Trust is ensuring the future stewards of the C&O Canal while also reducing barriers that often prevent young people and those of different socioeconomic backgrounds from participating and learning about the C&O Canal.

PALS DC Camp at Carderock by PALS Programs

Latino Conservation Week 2023 by Trust Staff

Accessibility to national parks across the country is often a barrier to visitation. The National Park Service has made significant efforts to provide alternative options to experience parks. At the C&O Canal NHP’s Historic Great Falls Tavern, Williamsport, and Cumberland Visitor Centers, video resources for the public include close captioning. Visitors can also request ASL interpretation and listening devices for ranger-led tours at no cost. Service animals are also permitted everywhere in the C&O Canal. At Great Falls, the trail to the overlook at the falls is wheel-chair accessible through ramps made from wood and cement. For those who enjoy camping, at Antietam Creek and McCoys Ferry, there is an accessible site at each location with a picnic table and fire ring. The Park’s Towpath Resurfacing project has also contributed to a safer and more accessible path. Before work began on resurfacing, the towpath was riddled with rocks, roots, potholes, and other debris that made traversing the trail rather dangerous. For more information about accessibility in the C&O Canal NHP, visit the Park’s page here.

The newest addition to the Trust’s Canal Quarters interpretive program is fully ADA-accessible. Lockhouse 21, also known as Swains Lockhouse, is located in Potomac, Maryland and interprets 1916 – the year the National Park Service was formed. As an ADA-accessible structure, Swains features accessible parking, ramps, bathroom, kitchen, and picnic area facilities. The lockhouse also has a single-sized Murphy bed located on the first floor.

In addition to this, the Trust offers virtual lockhouse tours of Lockhouse 10 and Lockhouse 22 and plans to expand virtual tours to include all of the lockhouses, in an effort to improve accessibility to this unique interpretive program.

We are always looking for ways to further expand our commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. To read more about our dedication to DEI, please visit our page here.

Community Bridges by Francis Grant-Suttie

Girls Who Hike by Trust Staff

TeenWorks by Francis Grant-Suttie