The C&O Canal Trust partnered with Smithsonian Associates to provide a day-long tour of the C&O Canal National Historical Park on June 2. Thirty-six participants braved the heat to explore several parts of the Park, including Great Falls and Rileys Lock. The tour included a guided tour of Lockhouse 22 at Pennyfield. Lockhouse 22 is one of seven rehabilitated lockhouses in the Canal Quarters program, which gives visitors the opportunity to book up to three consecutive nights in a historic lockhouse. Read More
Native plants are an essential part of the ecosystem in the C&O Canal National Historcal Park (NHP), which is one of the most biologically diverse parks in the National Park system, especially in regard to plant species. The Park has recorded over 1,500 species of vascular plants, including over 260 non-native plant species, and more than 200 rare, threatened, and endangered (RTE) plants. The number of rare plants is one of the highest concentrations of state-listed rare plants in the eastern United States.
The Potomac River creates a mosaic of different natural habitats throughout the C&O Canal NHP. Native plants are the backbone of natural habitats and play a critical role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem. They have evolved over thousands of years, adapting to the local climate, soil, and other environmental factors.
Here are some reasons why native plants are crucial for our environment:
- Native plants provide habitat and food for wildlife. They are the primary source of food and shelter for a wide range of wildlife species, including birds, insects, mammals, and reptiles. These plants provide essential nutrients and shelter for animals, including food for larvae and insects that pollinate flowers, fruits, and vegetables.
- Native plants support biodiversity. They play a vital role in supporting biodiversity. They provide food and shelter for insects, which, in turn, support other animals and plant species. Native plants also help to prevent soil erosion and maintain the balance of the ecosystem.
- Native plants are adapted to local conditions. They are acclimated to the local climate and soil, which makes them more resilient and better able to withstand drought, floods, and other environmental stresses. This means they require less maintenance and water, making them an excellent choice for homeowners and gardeners.
- Native plants improve soil health. They have deep root systems that help to improve soil health by increasing soil organic matter and reducing erosion. This means that they can help to prevent nutrient runoff and protect water quality.
- Native plants have cultural significance. They have been used for centuries by indigenous communities for medicinal, food, and spiritual purposes. By preserving native plant species, we can help to protect and celebrate cultural heritage.
Native plants are an essential component of our natural environment. They play a vital role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem in the C&O Canal NHP, at our homes, in our communities, and beyond. By promoting the use of native plants in landscaping and gardening, we can help to protect and preserve our natural environment for future generations.
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.
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?
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).
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.
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.
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.