Presently, the detour takes cyclists and hikers on a roundabout trek in order to bypass the area between miles 84.5 and 89.1. While most of us are fixated on the “new” towpath just below McMahon’s Mill, it’s important to remember that the areas above and below have been relegated to the back burner for people traveling from Cumberland to Georgetown on the C&O Canal. In fact, when Candee and I were doing our through-ride in June, the trail beyond the detour sign at mile 89.1 appeared to be a weed-strewn, forgotten mess. Although this section wasn’t washed out in the past, it is undergoing an upgrade of its own, and the cliffs and river vistas that have been off-limit for the past couple of years are nothing short of spectacular.
From roughly mile 85.6 to 88.9, canal traffic was transferred to the river, so approximately .8 miles of the towpath above McMahon’s Mill runs in close proximity to the Potomac. Like the new trail, (heading upstream) this section runs up against rock cliffs and hillsides until reaching Lock 41. The river runs deep and wide behind Dam 4 and is a haven for boaters and fishermen, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to trade in the fishing pole for a geology text. The cave just upstream from the mill is definitely worth a look.
For those doing the math, the area above McMahon’s Mill, the newly created towpath, and the section leading to Dam 4 (heading downstream) combine for roughly 4.6 miles of trail. The detour, on the other hand, is 6.2 miles (according to my odometer), so figuring in human error, let’s say that the trip from Georgetown to Cumberland (or vice-verse) will be about 1.5 miles shorter than before–when the Big Slackwater Project is completed. I know I’m looking forward to seeing it all in one ride, sans detour!