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Charissa Hipp

Roy Sewall’s Legacy of Leadership and Stunning Photographs

By Photography

Photo by Roy Sewall

Roy Sewall, a founding leader of the C&O Canal Trust and a masterful photographer, passed away on January 17, 2023. Most people in our canal community are familiar with Roy through his beautiful photographs, shared widely by the Trust over the past 15 years.

“I became a serious photographer in 2001,” Roy wrote on his website, www.roysewallphotography.com. “I started with the Potomac River and the C&O Canal, and they were the subjects of my two books in 2005 and 2009. This area became a part of me forever.”

Not everyone knows that Roy was the first chairman of the Trust Board of Directors, serving the organization from 2007 to 2010. “He was the person I relied on the most when we were launching the Trust,” said Matt Logan, former president of the Trust. “He was the perfect partner.”

Roy shared many of his photographs with the C&O Canal Trust. They capture the beautiful scenery along the C&O Canal and our unique Canal Quarters program. “A Sewall photograph was distinct and perfectly taken,” said Francis Grant-Suttie, vice chairman of the Trust’s Board of Directors, who was fortunate to study photography with Roy.

We aspire to Roy’s high standards as an organization and as canal enthusiasts. Roy’s love for the C&O Canal will live on through the images he captured over the years. His family remains in our thoughts. You can read his obituary here.

Photo by Roy Sewall



Where do the Turtles Go During the Winter?

By Nature

Take a walk on the C&O Canal towpath in the spring or summer and you’re likely to spot turtles sunning themselves on logs in the canal or perhaps along the towpath. Have you ever wondered where those turtles go during the winter months?

Photo by Jan Branscome

Turtles brumate during the winter, similar to hibernation in mammals. Brumation is a semi-dormant winter cool-down that allows turtles to survive when food is scarce and temperatures are much colder. During brumation, turtles can still move but they live off of stored fat and their metabolism slows.

The canal is home to three different types and several species of turtles: the Eastern Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina serpentina), Basking Turtles, and the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina). 

Photo by Paul Graunke

Eastern snapping turtles are a common find throughout the C&O Canal. As their name suggests, these omnivores have long necks, quick reactions, and are aggressive on land. These large reptiles are almost exclusively aquatic: they occupy the canal and the Potomac River except for land travel during the spring and early summer for mating and nesting. Females lay an average of 50 eggs between April and November. Snapping turtles can be identified by their flat oval brown shell, wide flat heads, bulky limbs, and long alligator-like tail. They weigh between 10 and 35 pounds and are the largest freshwater turtle in Maryland. Eastern snapping turtles dive down to the muddy bottom of the canal and the Potomac River in the winter, remaining alert to light and temperature.

Photo by Jan Branscome

Basking turtles are a frequent sight throughout the canal and in slow-moving or still portions of the river where they can be viewed swimming and sunning themselves on logs or rocks. These turtles rarely ever leave the water except for nesting in the spring and early summer. Eastern Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta picta) can be identified by their olive-brown to black shells with red markings on the edge, yellow spots on either side of their black head, yellow stripes along the jaw and through the eyes, and yellow or orange belly. These omnivores are just 4.5 to 6 inches long.

Similar species include the non-native Red Eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans), and native Northern Red-Bellied Cooter (Pseudemys rubriventris) which are both slightly larger than Painted Turtles. The presence of a red oval-shaped marking behind the eye helps identify Red Eared Sliders from the narrower yellow lines on the Red-Bellied Cooter’s head. Red Eared Sliders are omnivores and are typically 8 to 13 inches long. Red-Bellied Cooter’s are omnivores as juveniles and herbivores as adults, growing 10 to 12.5 inches in length. All basking turtles stay buried in the mud beneath the water during the winter months, occasionally rising to the surface for food or air. 

Photo by Garner Woodall

Eastern box turtles are the most terrestrial turtle native to the C&O Canal. They are named for their boxy, high-domed shell and they have the ability to close up their body using a hinge on the shell’s underside. These omnivores can be found throughout the Park, in both forested and open habitats. Like all other turtle species in the C&O Canal, they are most active in the spring and early summer. Box turtles are usually dark brown with gold or orange blotched patterns on the shell, orange scales on the head, neck, and front limbs, and have brown or red eyes, which differ based on the sex of the turtle (typically red for males, yellow-brown for females). They grow to be 4.5 to 6 inches in length, burrowing deep under the soil and leaves to brumate during the winter months.



C&O Canal Trust Board of Directors Names Lauren Riviello as New President and CEO

By News

Lauren Riviello by Trust Staff

Williamsport, Md. – The C&O Canal Trust’s board of directors is pleased to announce it has named Lauren Riviello as its new president and CEO. Riviello has more than a decade of nonprofit leadership experience and is deeply passionate about the Trust and its mission. She has served as the Trust’s director of development since February 2021 and will assume the role of president and CEO on April 1, 2023.

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Photo Contest Winners of 2022

By Blog, Photography

In 2022, we received many wonderful photo contest entries. From iconic nature pictures to mesmerizing sunsets to beautiful day trips along the towpath, our community of canal enthusiasts shares gorgeous highlights of the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

These are your favorite photos—our monthly photo contest winners! Check them out below and reminisce with us about 2022.

Submit your photos of the Park to be considered for our monthly photo contest here.

Canal Community Story: Charissa Hipp

By Canal Community Story

Celebrate your love for the C&O Canal by sharing your personal story about the Park. Each story will take a look at a person’s relationship with the C&O Canal. Whether an NPS ranger, a volunteer, or a visitor, everyone has a story to tell about the canal! If you want to share your story, fill out the form below, email it to us at info@canaltrust.org or post it on your social media feeds with the hashtag #MyCanalStory. We could use your story here on our website!

Tell Us Your Canal Story

Canal Community Story: Charissa Hipp, C&O Canal Trust Director of Marketing & Communications

In 2016 I began spending a lot of time in the C&O Canal National Historical Park, often with my youngest of three children in a jogging stroller. At first, our excursions were a way to get outside for exercise and fresh air, but they soon evolved into something special. The more time we spent in the Park, the more we wanted to be outdoors and immersed in nature. We needed nature in our lives and spending time outdoors became our special time together.

My daughter and I started piecing together sections of the towpath in Washington County and soaking in the natural beauty of our surroundings throughout the year. As she grew into toddlerhood and became more alert, we really started enjoying wildlife—from deer to woodpeckers, great blue herons, barred owls, turkeys, butterflies, turtles, snakes, a bear, and even a fisher cat. We’ve had many memorable wildlife sightings.

When my daughter started walking and talking, our canal adventures continued, often with her hiking alongside me. She began asking many questions about plants, and we consulted the iNaturalist app after each outing, armed with photos of things we had seen. Eventually, we started to recognize specific vegetation. And now, every springtime, we look forward to the Virginia bluebells, bloodroots, Dutchman’s breeches, trillium, and the emergence of other spring ephemerals signaling that warmer weather is on the horizon. 

As I reflect on our time in the Park, I’m flooded with memories of the special moments we have shared on the towpath. Whether it’s crunching through fall leaves, standing still like a statue to quietly watch a great blue heron, soaking in the warm sunshine as it sets in a pink cotton candy sky, or trudging through the snow and breathing in the cold winter air, our time on the towpath has been intertwined with unforgettable moments. I’ll never forget witnessing a hummingbird swoop in to enjoy some nectar along bluebell alley or watching a large group of swallowtail butterflies encircle my daughter’s stroller like something from an enchanted forest in a Disney movie. 

Last year on New Year’s Eve, my daughter and I hiked from Weverton to Harpers Ferry and back. I was tired from holiday preparations and festivities, and as soon as we got on the towpath, my six-year-old daughter’s words completely shifted my outlook. “Look, mama, see how beautiful the bare sycamore trees are along the river with their white tips,” she pointed out. Without taking a breath, she continued, “Look, there’s perilla, and over here is some moss growing on a log. This is going to be a great day!” She was right because we’ve never been out in the Park and wished we had stayed home instead. Every day on the C&O Canal has been a day well-spent, enjoying and appreciating nature together. I hope she sees the importance of protecting and preserving this place so future generations can marvel at its beauty and wonder.

Canal Community Story: Joseph and Susan Adams Regalbuto

By Canal Community Story

Celebrate your love for the C&O Canal by sharing your personal story about the Park. Each story will take a look at a person’s relationship with the C&O Canal. Whether an NPS ranger, a volunteer, or a visitor, everyone has a story to tell about the canal! If you want to share your story, fill out the form below, email it to us at info@canaltrust.org or post it on your social media feeds with the hashtag #MyCanalStory. We could use your story here on our website!

Tell Us Your Canal Story

Canal Community Story: Joseph and Susan Adams Regalbuto

Who would have expected to see Siberian Husky dog teams racing by, or wild turkey footprints in the snow, or cascading waterfalls frozen in ice? Winter walking on the C&O reveals many surprises.

With appreciation for William O Douglas’ vision of preserving the towpath and Thomas F. Hahn’s remarkable Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal, we ventured out to section walk the 184.5 mile length of the C&O Canal in both directions. The total mileage would have been 369 but we couldn’t resist adding a few more miles to explore side trips. Since we’re both retired and in our 70s it seemed like the perfect time to explore this historical gem.

Starting on the first day of winter in 2020, we averaged around 13 miles each day, 6 – 7 miles in each direction, returning to our car and driving home to Burke, Virginia, or to a hotel in Cumberland, Maryland, for the night. Two very special nights were spent in a lockhouse, where we set off on our walks from the lockhouse front door. The adventure lasted for 29 days of walking in an out-and-back pattern, usually walking twice a week, and visiting all 74 locks.

Although we were familiar with the lush greenery of the Canal towpath in three seasons, we had never seen the canal in the winter, without leaves blocking the views of Potomac River and the distant hills of West Virginia. Stone foundations hidden behind thick growth in other seasons now basked in the sun. The outdoor historical museum known as the C&O Canal was visible in all its winter glory.

Leaving behind the bustle of Georgetown, (Mile 0) we headed upriver on our journey through history, stopping at every lock and lockhouse to read the descriptions and marvel at the engineering.

The powerful roar of Great Falls (Mile 14) made it clear why six locks were needed within one mile – so canal boats could bypass the dangerous drop in elevation. Further upriver Edwards Ferry parking lot (Mile 30) was flooded with icy water; frozen puddles glistened on the towpath.

The Monocacy Aqueduct (Mile 42) is described as one of the most beautiful structures on the canal, with seven arches of pink quartz sandstone. Amazingly, this 1833 aqueduct is still standing after nearly 200 years of hurricanes and floods. We tried to visualize the aqueducts filled with water, allowing the canal to cross over rivers. Many of the C&O’s eleven aqueducts served as scenic spots for our lunch stops.

Near Brunswick (Mile 52) an old stone bridge over a culvert had collapsed and the towpath ended in a chasm. National Park Rangers constructed a temporary low wooden bridge, and we were relieved to find a way to continue our trek. The low bridge allowed us to view a culvert from below instead of walking over it. Hahn’s guidebook lists 241 C&O culverts, built so that streams could cross under the towpath. Some of the culverts are beautiful works of art, often missed by those treading on top of them.

Lots of caves in limestone cliffs appeared on this winter walk, no longer hiding behind deciduous trees. We explored several of the lower caves near Ferry Hill (Mile 72), walking upright for 30 feet into one of them. In another cave we saw hundreds of tiny stalactites forming on the walls and ceiling. The caves had the good earth smell of a newly tilled garden after a rain. High on the cliffs, cascading streams were now beautiful frozen waterfalls. This was a cold, windy day but because the river took two huge S turns, we never faced into the wind for long.  A red fox with a bright white tail tip scampered across the trail in front of us, apparently oblivious to wind and cold.

We heard a new sound at Mile 84 – the thundering roar of water surging over a dam. As we rounded the bend, Dam 4 and the giant lake it formed came into view. The canal disappeared at this section, because canal boats could easily navigate the still water of this “slackwater” lake.

At McMahon’s Mill (Mile 88) the parking lot was so icy and that we used trekking poles and moved gingerly. The towpath itself offered safer walking, although with 5” of new snow, the progress was slow. Fresh tracks of deer, racoons, and smaller animals crossed our path. We were initially baffled by fairly large three-toed tracks that turned out to be wild turkey tracks. The towpath in this section came within yards of the Potomac River and steep cliffs came right down to the towpath. At times the river curved so sharply that we saw rope burns carved into the limestone cliffs, from the mules pulling the canal boats around the bend. At Milepost 92.25 we celebrated the snowy half-way point of our adventure.

In late February of 2021 our walks were abruptly halted by two weeks of ice and snow. We optimistically drove to Williamsport (Mile 99) to continue on our route, but the trail was too icy for safe walking, even with trekking poles. The snow and ice were followed by a weekend of rain, and the Potomac flooded over its banks. On our next walk we watched entire trees hurtling downstream, and small “islands” of tangled bushes and chunks of land careening down the river. By the end of our day’s walk the river had risen to within a few feet of the towpath. We later learned that downriver, at mile 89, the towpath was impassable due to the high water.

We were impressed by the remarkably good condition of Williamsport’s Lock 44 and its lockhouse. We also examined the Conococheague Aqueduct, several weirs and a railroad lift bridge. The weirs are stone water chambers built beside locks to direct water away from the canal during high-water periods. The railroad lift bridge allows canal boats to pass beneath the movable tracks. This half-mile stretch includes more canal structures than anywhere else on the towpath. We tried to imagine towns like Williamsport at the height of the bustling canal activity as goods traveled downriver on the canal. In an interesting side note, Hahn adds that Williamsport was the capitol of the United States for 24 hours during the Revolutionary War!

In the Four Locks section (Mile 108) it was humbling to stand on the towpath looking upstream at Locks 47, 48, 49 and 50 and marvel at their construction and their endurance through all the years of floods. At the old mule barn, where mules lodged for the winter, we learned that mules were a cross between female horses (for their size and temperament) and male donkeys (for their strength and endurance – and their ears!) We also saw the tiny wait house at Lock 50 where lockkeepers could take refuge during storms.

We stepped back in time to the late 1800s as we entered our lodging at Lockhouse 49. Squeaky timbered floors were covered with colorful braided rugs. Comfortable old rocking chairs and beautiful wooden tables also welcomed us. There was no running water for faucets, showers, or toilets, but we knew this in advance and we didn’t mind the walks to the outhouse. The lockhouse logbook was filled with impressions from both the young and old, from East Coast to West Coast. It also warned us of mice activity, so we gratefully returned all our food to the car! We would have gladly extended our stay in this peaceful place, but the towpath beckoned.

We trekked beside a very long lake aptly named Big Pool (Mile 112). It was at least 1½ miles long but it seemed longer with all the tiny flies that attached themselves to our pants, shirts, packs and shoes. As soon as we reached the end of the lake the flies miraculously disappeared. We met two other walkers on this section and their only comment was – “wow, some flies!”

At Mile 118 two beaver dams and two beaver lodges were clearly visible, with much evidence of saplings gnawed by beavers. Little beaver or muskrat trails led from the canal across the towpath to food sources in the field beyond.

At Hancock (Mile 124) we were greeted with a clear, sunny sky and a warm breeze. What a change from the snowy days when the temperature dropped into the 20s! During our walks we chose the most scenic spots we could find for lunch – beside an aqueduct, on the front step of a lockhouse, at the picnic table of a campground. On this day we sat on a log on a rise overlooking the Potomac River. We lingered over lunch in the sun, with expansive views of the West Virginia shoreline. Hancock is the most northern point of the canal and is only 1.7 miles from the Pennsylvania border. On our next day’s walk, we’ll be heading southwest. We now understand why the words “upriver” and “downriver” are used instead of “north” and “south” – because the Potomac River carves deep bends in all four compass directions.

To preserve six bat species living in Indigo Tunnel (Little Orleans, Mile 140), the Western Maryland Rail Trail detours onto the towpath for two miles. We walked up to look at the tunnel that was blasted through Germany Hill. Although we didn’t see any bats, we did see the bat gate that was erected at each end of the tunnel to allow bats to enter but to keep larger critters out.

The biggest challenge of the trip was the drive to the parking area of Bond’s Landing (Mile 150). After 30 minutes of negotiating rocks and water on a steep pothole-filled dirt road, we came to a rocky stream that was too deep to cross. Well out of cellphone range, we decided the safest route was to leave the car on Kasecamp Road and walk the remaining 1½ miles through streams and rocky hills. Apparently, we needed a four-wheel drive and not our little Toyota Prius. It took us three hours from our house to reach the towpath. To eliminate long driving distances for the last sections of the walk, we decided to spend the final three nights in Cumberland. The Fairfield Inn and Suites, located literally at the end of the towpath, became our new base camp.

What a fun section of strangely numbered locks – 62, 63 1/3, 64 2/3, and 66 – all within a half mile (Mile 154). The upriver end of the canal, with Locks 67-75, was built before this section; the numbers 62-66 were reserved for five locks in this area. However, to save money, Lock 65 was eliminated. The numbers saved for the five locks were then evenly divided between four locks, resulting in the fractions. Therefore, there are only 74 locks on the canal but the furthest upriver lock is named Lock 75!

We saw very few fellow walkers through the winter months, but we did meet three distance walkers pushing “Chariots,” much like Baby Joggers loaded with gear. They were walking across the country from Delaware to California on the American Discovery Trail. We later learned that they successfully reached their destination – the Pacific Ocean.

We were excited to walk through PawPaw Tunnel (Mile 155), one of the greatest engineering feats of the mid-1800s. It took fourteen years to complete the tunnel, drilling through almost ¾ miles of solid rock. The sound of water dripping, falling, and flowing; the sight of light at the end of the tunnel growing larger and larger; the smell of wet dirt and tiny little mushrooms on the walls – these were totally different sensory experiences for us. With our headlamps we searched in vain for bats hanging from the six million bricks that lined the tunnel.

Just for fun, we walked across the Oldtown toll bridge (Mile 166) to eat lunch sitting on a stone wall in Greenspring, West Virginia. This low wooden bridge, the shortest bridge crossing of the Potomac River, is one of the very few private toll bridges in the country. Charge for cars: $ 1.50.  When we asked the woman in the toll booth if there was a charge for walkers, she replied, “Free as you go.”

The next day was filled with sights and smells: eight deer, three horses, dozens of cows – some with calves too young to leave their mother’s side – countless turtles, a rabbit, and lots of farm scents! We detoured to a little gated cemetery maintained by the Cumberland Historical Cemetery Organization. The Organization’s President, who was changing flags on the flagpole, proudly gave us a tour of the Pollack family gravesites.

A cacophony of sounds suddenly exploded from the trees and we searched for tiny birds hidden among the branches. Instead, the noise heralded the 17-year return of the cicadas. Croaking frogs and screeching Pileated Woodpeckers added their own sounds to the buzzing cicadas. The earth smell gave way to a vegetation smell and green buds appeared on the trees. Soon the expansive view of the Potomac River and the far shoreline will be hidden again behind foliage.

The view coming into Cumberland (Mile 184.5) was a memorable sight, with church steeples in the near distance and blue hills in the far distance. To commemorate the completion of our walk, we raised a toast of Paw Paw lemonade bottled in Cumberland, as we reminisced about our very special winter walk through history.

Canal Trust Staff to Host Walks for Walk Maryland Day

By News

Walk Maryland Day by Charissa Hipp

Wednesday, October 5 is the 8th annual Walk Maryland Day. Members of the C&O Canal Trust staff will be hosting walks throughout the C&O Canal National Historical Park (NHP) during the day. The public is invited to attend these walks and participate in Walk Maryland Day, a celebration of Maryland’s official state exercise. With 347 miles of trails in the park, the C&O Canal NHP is the ideal place to enjoy the outdoors and take a walk.

  • 10:00 a.m. – Point of Rocks, 2 miles round trip
  • 11:00 a.m. – Billy Goat C Trail, 2.8 miles round trip
  • 5:00 p.m. – Brunswick Boat Ramp, 2 miles round trip
  • 5:30 p.m. – Cushwa Basin at Williamsport, 3 miles round trip
  • 5:30 p.m. – Little Tonoloway at Hancock, 2.7 miles round trip
  • 6:00 p.m. – Railroad Bridge Bridge Parking on Canal Rd. at Sharpsburg/Shepherdstown, 2-3 miles round trip
  • 6:00 p.m. – Dam 5, 2-3 miles round trip

Participants are encouraged to register as a Sole Mate on the Walk Maryland Day website.