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Paw Paw Tunnel

C&O Canal: Western Region Highlights

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Paw Paw Tunnel by Garner Woodall

Paw Paw Tunnel by Garner Woodall

The western section of the C&O Canal National Historical Park begins in Hancock (mile marker 124.0) and travels through the mountains of Maryland in Washington and Allegany Counties to Cumberland (mile marker 184.5). This section of the park is very rural, with beautiful vistas and a woody retreats. In Cumberland, the C&O Canal ends, but joins the Great Allegheny Passage, which travels to Pittsburgh, PA. View a video about the western end of the C&O Canal, part of the C&O Canal Scenic Byway, here.

Walk or Ride the Towpath

The towpath is the spine of the C&O Canal National Historical Park. The C&O Canal was built in the mid-nineteenth century as a transportation route to bring goods from the Ohio river valley to eastern markets. (Learn more about the canal’s history here.) The canal boats were towed up and down the canal by mules on a path that ran beside the canal basin — hence the term “towpath.” Today, the towpath is a 184.5 mile long recreational path ideal for bikers and hikers due to its flat nature with very little incline. It is the main path to take while you explore the Park.

Visit the Paw Paw Tunnel

One of the engineering marvels of the C&O Canal, the Paw Paw Tunnel is almost exactly 6/10ths of a mile long and is constructed of almost 6 million bricks. It cut 6 miles off the length of the Canal, by tunneling through a mountain. The alternative to building the Tunnel was to make the Canal follow two of the Paw Paw Bends, a twisting 6-mile long section of the Potomac River. Be sure to take a flashlight if you journey through the tunnel — it’s dark in there!

Marvel at Historic Aqueducts

Four of the Park’s eleven aqueducts stand along the C&O Canal – some of the most impressive of the canal structures that stand today. Aqueducts transported the canal over streams and tributaries. The aqueducts are all different – the stone they were constructed with varies, including red sandstone, grey limestone, white granite, white and pink quartzite. They stand testament to the engineering ingenuity and devoted labor that went into the canal’s construction and the important role it played in the growth of our country. The Sideling Hill, Fifteenmile Creek, Town Creek, and Evitts Creek Aqueducts stand in the western region of the Park.

Visit the C&O Canal Museum at Cumberland

Housed in the historic 1913 Western Maryland Railway Station, the C&O Canal Visitors Museum provides a hands-on way to experience the history of C&O Canal. Featuring an exhibit area with interactive and educational displays about the history of the C&O Canal and Cumberland, visitors can explore a model of the Paw Paw Tunnel to learn about the day-to-day life of the canal families and glimpse the entrance of a coal mine to learn about the main product shipped along the canal. Exhibits are on view of a model lock, boatbuilding, and Cumberland as a transportation crossroads. Children will enjoy several interactive exhibits – most notably Mutt the mule.

Explore Canal Towns

The western section features two Canal Towns, each a unique stop full of quaint shops and eateries, and a storied past with a direct link to the C&O Canal. Don’t miss Hancock (mile marker 124.0) and Cumberland (mile marker 184.5).

Visit the Green Ridge State Forest

Directly adjacent to the canal for nearly 18 miles is Green Ridge State Forest. At 47,560 acres, Green Ridge is the largest contiguous block of public land in Maryland – offering 50 miles of hiking trails and 200 miles of both dirt and gravel roads through the forest. Today, visitors have an array of entertainment options: hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, mountain biking, paddling, etc. Abundant wildlife in the state forest include deer, turkey, black bear, and unusual plants.

Get Active

The C&O Canal National Historical Park offers four seasons of outdoor recreation opportunities! Nestled along the Potomac River, you can hike, bike, fish, climb, camp, paddle, boat, ride horses, and more. Ride bikes on the smooth surface of the Western Maryland Rail Trail or ride all the way to Pittsburgh on the Great Allegheny Passage.

Have the Full C&O Canal Experience

The C&O Canal is surrounded by dozens of unique heritage, cultural, and recreational opportunities! You can visit one of our ten Canal Towns, drive the C&O Canal Byway, or explore the history that is part of the Passages of the Western Potomac Heritage Area. The western region of the C&O Canal runs through Washington and Allegany Counties, so be sure to check out these tourism websites for more to do in the area.

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Cushwa Basin

C&O Canal: Central Region Highlights

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Cushwa Basin in Williamsport

Cushwa Basin in Williamsport by John Gensor

The central section of the C&O Canal National Historical Park begins in Brunswick (mile marker 55.0) in Frederick County and runs through the beautiful Piedmont portion of Maryland to Washington County‘s Hancock (mile marker 124.0). This area is rich in Civil War history, features several towns that were built around the canal, and offers countless scenic vistas.

Walk or Ride the Towpath

The towpath is the spine of the C&O Canal National Historical Park. The C&O Canal was built in the mid-nineteenth century as a transportation route to bring goods from the Ohio river valley to eastern markets. (Learn more about the canal’s history here.) The canal boats were towed up and down the canal by mules on a path that ran beside the canal basin — hence the term “towpath.” Today, the towpath is a 184.5 mile long recreational path ideal for bikers and hikers due to its flat nature with very little incline. It is the main path to take while you explore the Park.

Visit Williamsport and the Cushwa Basin

The Cushwa Basin, located in Williamsport, MD, is situated at the confluence of the Conococheague Creek and the Potomac River. A popular entry point to the C&O Canal towpath, there is a National Park Service Visitor Center located here, in the historic Cushwa Warehouse beside the basin. The neighboring Conococheague Aqueduct was rebuilt in 2019, and visitors can take a boat ride over the aqueduct, past Lockhouse 44, through a lock, and under the Railroad Lift Bridge. This historic area was once the home of brick manufacturing and shipment of coal along the Canal — canal boats would use the turning basin to load coal and bricks  on their trips between Cumberland and Georgetown.

Stay in an Historic Lockhouse

Lockhouse 49 in Clear Spring has been rehabilitated, furnished with period décor, and opened for overnight stays. The Canal Quarters program, run by the C&O Canal Trust, allows guests the unique opportunity to step back in time and live life as the lock keepers once did. Six more Canal Quarters lockhouses are available in the eastern region. Learn more and book a stay here.

Marvel at Historic Aqueducts

Four of the Park’s eleven aqueducts stand along the C&O Canal – some of the most impressive of the canal structures that stand today. Aqueducts transported the canal over streams and tributaries. The aqueducts are all different – the stone they were constructed with varies, including red sandstone, grey limestone, white granite, white and pink quartzite. They stand testament to the engineering ingenuity and devoted labor that went into the canal’s construction and the important role it played in the growth of our country. The Antietam, Conococheague, Licking Creek, and Tonoloway Aqueducts stand in the central region of the Park.

Walk in the Footsteps of Civil War Soldiers

This section of the canal and the area surrounding it is hallowed ground, having seen multiple Civil War battles. Visit Harpers Ferry National Historical Park to learn about John Brown’s Raid and Antietam National Battlefield, site of the bloodiest day in American history.

Explore Canal Towns

The central section features several Canal Towns, each a unique stop full of quaint shops and eateries, and a storied past with a direct link to the C&O Canal. Don’t miss Brunswick (mile marker 55.0), Harpers Ferry and Bolivar (mile marker 60.7), Shepherdstown (mile marker 72.7), Sharpsburg (mile marker 76.5), Williamsport (mile marker 99.4), and Hancock (mile marker 124.0).

Visit Iconic Canal Landmarks

Besides the Cushwa Basin and Conococheague Aqeuduct in Williamsport, this section features Dam 4 and Dam 5, which harness the Potomac River for its power, the Ferry Hill historic home, and Big Slackwater, a cement portion of towpath that sweeps along the Potomac’s, providing scenic water views.

Get Active

The C&O Canal National Historical Park offers four seasons of outdoor recreation opportunities! Nestled along the Potomac River, you can hike, bike, fish, climb, camp, paddle, boat, ride horses, and more. The Appalachian Trail, which runs from Maine to Georgia, intersects with the C&O Canal from Lock 31 a Weverton (mile marker 58.0) to Harpers Ferry (mile marker 60.7).

Have the Full C&O Canal Experience

The C&O Canal is surrounded by dozens of unique heritage, cultural, and recreational opportunities! You can visit one of our ten Canal Towns, drive the C&O Canal Byway, or explore the history that is part of the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area. The central region of the C&O Canal runs through Frederick and Washington Counties, so be sure to check out these tourism websites for more to do in the area.

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Great Falls Tavern

C&O Canal: Eastern Region Highlights

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Great Falls Tavern

Great Falls Tavern by Michael C. Mitchell

There is a lot to explore in the eastern region of the canal, which begins in the urban Georgetown in Washington DC (mile marker 0.0) and runs through the suburbs of Montgomery County. As you move farther west towards Frederick County, the area surrounding the Park becomes more rural. It ends in Brunswick (mile marker 55.0).

Walk or Ride the Towpath

The towpath is the spine of the C&O Canal National Historical Park. The C&O Canal was built in the mid-nineteenth century as a transportation route to bring goods from the Ohio river valley to eastern markets. (Learn more about the canal’s history here.) The canal boats were towed up and down the canal by mules on a path that ran beside the canal basin — hence the term “towpath.” Today, the towpath is a 184.5 mile long recreational path ideal for bikers and hikers due to its flat nature with very little incline. It is the main path to take while you explore the Park.

Visit the Great Falls Area and Ride a Mule-Drawn Canal Boat

Arguably the most popular part of the C&O Canal National Historical Park, the Great Falls Area offers hiking trails, scenic overlooks of the powerful Potomac River thundering through the rocky “Great Falls,” a visitor center in a historic tavern, and the opportunity to ride a mule-drawn canal boat through a working lock (returning in 2021).

Stay in an Historic Lockhouse

Six historic lockhouses in the eastern region have been rehabilitated, furnished with period décor, and opened for overnight stays. The Canal Quarters program, run by the C&O Canal Trust, allows guests the unique opportunity to step back in time and live life as the lock keepers once did. A seventh Canal Quarters lockhouse is available in the central region. Learn more and book a stay here.

Hike the Billy Goat Trails

The three Billy Goat Trails  are some of the most popular hiking trails in the area. All start and end on the towpath and include rock scrambling and scenic views. As of 2020, Billy Goat Trail B has been closed due to trail damage, but A and C are open for your enjoyment.

Marvel at Historic Aqueducts

Four of the Park’s eleven aqueducts stand along the C&O Canal – some of the most impressive of the canal structures that stand today. Aqueducts transported the canal over streams and tributaries. The aqueducts are all different – the stone they were constructed with varies, including red sandstone, grey limestone, white granite, white and pink quartzite. They stand testament to the engineering ingenuity and devoted labor that went into the canal’s construction and the important role it played in the growth of our country. The Alexandria, Seneca, Monocacy, and Catoctin Aqueducts stand in the eastern region of the Park.

Have the Full C&O Canal Experience

The C&O Canal is surrounded by dozens of unique heritage, cultural, and recreational opportunities! You can visit one of our ten Canal Towns, drive the C&O Canal Byway, or explore the history that is part of the Heritage Montgomery and Heart of the Civil War Heritage Areas. The eastern region of the C&O Canal runs through Washington DC, Montgomery and Frederick Counties, so be sure to check out these tourism websites for more to do in the area.

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Towpath From Swains Lock to Edwards Ferry to be Resurfaced in 2020

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‘Resurfaced Towpath’ by Simon Barber

Thanks to the funding support of private donors to the C&O Canal Trust, along with funds from the National Park Service and the State of Maryland, resurfacing crews continue their march up the towpath. As of this spring, 42 miles of the C&O Canal’s towpath between Edwards Ferry and Lock 38/Shepherdstown Bridge have been graded and resurfaced. The Park anticipates a further 14 miles from Swains Lock to Edwards Ferry to be completed by the end of 2020.

The work is part of the “Towpath Rehabilitation: A Safe Towpath” project, aimed at improving more than 80 miles of the 184.5 mile-long towpath by removing the rocks, roots, and ruts in the towpath surface that can be dangerous to cyclists and hikers. “Nearly 5 million visitors recreate along the C&O Canal each year and nearly all of them use the towpath for a variety of activities,” Superintendent Tina Cappetta said. “We want to ensure that our visitors have a safe, durable towpath for years to come.”

Besides removing obstacles from the towpath, the resurfacing work is also removing the grassy median strip that contributes to puddling. Crews are then grading the towpath to facilitate water runoff and resurfacing it with the same crushed stone dust that is used on the Great Allegheny Passage, the rail trail that connects to the C&O Canal towpath in Cumberland, MD, and runs to Pittsburgh, PA.

The current towpath surface is gravel over clay, which holds water and is prone to muddiness when wet. The new crushed stone dust does not retain water when applied to a properly graded surface and hardens with use, making it less likely to erode and rut. It is also easier to maintain over time.

The C&O Canal Trust has raised funds to support this work and engage an engineering consultant to provide technical expertise to the National Park Service for this project. We have also assisted with advocacy work to secure $1.14 million as of 2019 from Maryland’s Transportation Alternatives Program.

REI Funds Up to $90,000 for Canal Pride

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REI Group Shot by Trust Staff

REI is well known as a retailer that sells quality gear to outdoor enthusiasts. What is less well known is that the Seattle-based co-op is also an industry leader in supporting organizations that provide stewardship for parks and public lands around the nation. Since 2012, as our premier Canal Pride sponsor, REI has contributed close to $90,000 to fund the work our Canal Pride volunteers do to improve access to the C&O Canal National Historical Park’s recreational assets. This generous support is driven by REI’s philosophy that a life outdoors is a life well-lived. For folks to enjoy that experience, they need places in nature that are welcoming and accessible, be they residents of city, suburbs, or country.

The C&O Canal Trust is the recipient of an REI “Place Grant” that funds projects to improve access to the Park’s great recreational assets.  With REI’s support, the Trust’s Canal Pride volunteers work each year to repair the towpath, provide paddlers with access to the Potomac River, improve popular trails like the Billy Goat Trail, and spruce up campgrounds and picnic areas. 

“With the 2019 visitation to the Park at a 30-year high of 5.1 million, this work is increasingly important,” said Trust President Robin Zanotti. “REI’s support helps ensure that today’s visitors have a great experience and choose to come back again and again.”

The co-op’s engagement in the Park extends beyond grant-making. Employees from REI’s local stores volunteer for Canal Pride and run a variety of programs in the Park such as climbing classes at Carderock and sunset hikes along the towpath and other trails. As the effects of climate change become more apparent, REI believes that getting people outdoors is an important part of the solution. Since 2014, the co-op has closed its stores nationwide on Black Friday to encourage Americans to use that day to enjoy nature rather than hit the shopping mall. “On average, people spend 95 percent of their time indoors,” said Naz Ahmed, Experiences and Philanthropy Manager for REI Mid-Atlantic. “They are facing a nature deficit and that impacts our ability to combat climate change. As the naturalist David Attenborough once said, ‘No one will protect what they don’t care about, and no one will care about what they haven’t experienced.'” In partnership with REI, the Trust is working to overcome that deficit.

C&O Canal Crossword Solution

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Take the C&O Canal crossword puzzle here or download a PDF.

Read on when you are ready to read the solutions.

    1. The C&O Canal is run by the ______

Answer: National Park Service

The National Park Service runs 419 units including battlefields, monuments, historical parks, parkways, scenic trails and more.

2. A National Scenic Trail that intersects with the C&O Canal (abbreviation)

Answer: AT

The Appalachian Trail or AT, is a National Scenic Trail that runs from Georgia to Maine. Harpers Ferry is considered the midpoint of the trail. The AT intersects with the C&O Canal outside of Harpers Ferry, runs for 2.6 miles along the towpath and diverges at Lock 31.

  1. Animal seen sunning on a rock

Answer: Turtle

  1. Something canal boats transported

Answer: Coal

The canal transported coal, flour, iron, and limestone products. Learn more about what the canal and railroad transported here.

  1. Where a lock keeper lived

Answer: Lockhouse

The men, women, and families that operated the locks lived in nearby lockhouses.

  1. River that runs alongside the Canal

Answer: Potomac

  1. National Historical Park that intersects with the C&O Canal

Answer: Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Canal visitors can access Harpers Ferry at mile marker 60.7. Harpers Ferry NHP interprets the story of John Brown’s Raid, an unsuccessful attempt to start a slave revolt in 1859 that was a precursor to the Civil War.

  1. Transportation system that raced to be completed before the canal

Answer: Railroad

Learn more about the race between the C&O Canal and the B&O railroad here.

  1. Animals pulling canal boats walked on the ______

Answer: Towpath

Mules towed canal boats on the path next to the canal, giving it the name “towpath”.

  1. A tunnel and fruit found in the Park

Answer: Paw Paw

The Paw Paw Tunnel is located near Oldtown Maryland. Pawpaw is a native tree in the Park that produces the pawpaw fruit.

  1. Supreme Court Justice who walked to help save the canal

Answer: Douglas

Justice William O Douglas advocated for preserving the canal instead of turning it into a parkway. He walked the length of the canal with nine editors from the Washington Post.

  1. Animal used to move canal boats

Answer: Mule

Today you can meet the mules of the C&O Canal.

  1. Family that lived in Lockhouse 21

Answer: Swain

Lockhouse 21 or ‘Swains’ was rehabilitated in 2019 and is available for overnight stays. Generations of Swains lived in Lockhouse 21 for 99 years, including current C&O Canal Trust board member Bert Swain.

  1. There are 36 ______ sites along the C&O Canal

Answer: Camp

There are 31 rustics hiker-biker campsites and five drive-in campsites in the Park.

  1. Terminus of the C&O Canal

Answer: Cumberland

Although the Canal Company planned to continue on to Pittsburgh, financial troubles and the superiority of the railroad contributed to the canal ending in Cumberland. Cumberland is now a member of the Canal Town Partnership and is where the C&O Canal meets the Great Allegheny Passage.

Become a 2020 Canal Pride Sponsor

By Canal Pride, Uncategorized

We may still be in the depths of winter, but planning is already underway for our Canal Pride Days volunteer events in the spring. Sponsoring Canal Pride is a great way for your business or family to contribute to preservation and beautification projects in the Park. Our sponsors provide the money that make Canal Pride possible. In 2019, our volunteers completed over 7,000 hours of service in the Park, valued at $204,131. Read More

C&O Canal Park Updates: July 2019

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Resurfaced Towpath- C&O Canal Trust

Towpath Resurfacing

The first 5-mile section of towpath resurfacing between Edwards Ferry and Whites Ferry is complete and work is now underway on the stretch between Brunswick and Harpers Ferry. The Park anticipates completing rehabilitation of the towpath all the way to Packhorse Ford near the Shepherdstown Bridge this year. Horseback riders are asked to stay off the newly-resurfaced sections for about three weeks to give the new stone dust surface time to harden.

 

 

 

Locks 3 & 4 Project (Georgetown)

Fletchers Cove- Carole Lewis Anderson

Re-watering of the canal between Georgetown and Fletchers Cove is imminent! A small section of the canal will remain dry to facilitate replacement of the 31st Street bridge by the District of Columbia. Water will be channeled through the dry area via a pipe.

 

 

Locks 5-22 Project

Lockhouse 22 by Denise Schleckser

Work is close to complete on the water management structures between Lock 5 (Fletchers Cove) to Lock 22 (Violettes Lock/Inlet Lock 2). The Park has re-watered the canal from Pennyfield to Violettes Lock, and will re-watering from Great Falls to Pennyfield once work is finished on Lock 19 in July, at which time the Charles F. Mercer boat operation will resume.

 

Conococheague Aqueduct

Monocacy Aqueduct- C&O Canal Trust

Construction on the rehabilitated aqueduct is complete. Contractors are currently waiting for the newly-poured concrete to cure before applying brown stain to the inner wall, built to look like wood to replicate the “fix” to the aqueduct following the collapse of the wall of the aqueduct in 1922. Following water testing, the aqueduct will be officially re-watered, hopefully in July. The ribbon-cutting for the project is expected to take place sometime in August.

 

 

 

Paw Paw Tunnel Rock Scaling Project

Paw Paw Tunnel by Greg Wilson

Rock scaling of the cliff above the towpath on the upriver end of the tunnel will begin as soon as the final engineering design is complete. Hikers and bikers will be able to continue to use the tunnel once the work begins, with flaggers controlling tunnel traffic when necessary.

An Owl Rescue at the C&O Canal

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You may have seen this on our Facebook page:

A baby barred owl, sitting in water.

Photographer- Sandy Rosenblatt

 

We received this adorable photo and the accompanying story through our Facebook photo contest and we are so happy that Sandy thought to share her experience with us!

Now that the contest is over and the winner is announced (this photo in fact! Congrats Sandy Rosenblatt!), we can share all the details!

Sandy was walking along the towpath by Lock 8 in Cabin John, MD and turned to take a dirt trail down to the river. Along the way, she came upon a woman asking for help and she was led to where this barred owlet was sitting in the water. The woman explained that she didn’t know how to help but knew that something needed to be done. Together, they gently took the owlet out of the water and began to warm it up in Sandy’s jacket. After calling animal control, they sat with the owl, keeping it warm and comforting it. The owlet was taken to Owl Moon Raptor Center where they confirmed that although it was uninjured, it was still too young to be able to fly and would likely not have survived the night in the chilly waters. They guessed that he fell into the water and washed downstream.

Go to our Facebook page to see a video with more adorable images and footage provided to us by Sandy Rosenblatt https://www.facebook.com/CanalFriends/videos/447900339104646/

 

Remember, don’t touch wildlife unless you have spoken with a licensed wildlife rehabilitation specialist. Many times, the baby animal is fine and the parents are close by or are returning soon! Fawns can be left for hours while their mothers go out and forage. Fledgling birds (those that have feathers), may be found out of their nest and look lost, but their parents are normally within earshot and are feeding them throughout the day. For more information about specific species, check out this website 

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Thank You Canal Pride Volunteers!

By Canal Pride, News, Uncategorized
We had a great showing of support at our first Canal Pride Day of 2019 at the Paw Paw Campground, held Saturday, April 27. Forty volunteers tackled many tasks during the three hour event. The volunteers removed invasive plant species like garlic mustard and Japanese barberry, beautified the campground, and resurfaced the towpath inside the Paw Paw tunnel.

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Historian to present free lecture on the C&O Canal’s African American Civilian Conservation Corps

By News, Uncategorized

Please note: The 12 p.m. lecture has sold out. Please email whitman@canaltrust.org if you would like to be placed on a waiting list. We hope you will join us at the open house, which does not require an RSVP.

Free open house at Lockhouse 10 to follow.
Potomac, MD – The C&O Canal Trust and the C&O Canal National Historical Park will host a lecture on Sunday, February 25 from 12-1 p.m. by historian Dr. Josh Howard about two African American Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps that existed along the C&O Canal from 1938-1942. Located near Cabin John and Carderock, Maryland, the camps were established as a part of the New Deal program and are a unique lens to examine the African American experience in the CCC, as most of the CCC’s history has been based on its white enrollees. Howard will present his research as a part of Black History Month.  Read More