Lock 68 is often referred to as Crabtree’s Lock, based upon the name of the last lock tender. It’s located at mile 164.82, which is about 2.5 miles upstream from the access road into the Town Creek Aqueduct. The lock is a unique spot for a number of reasons: it is also the site of the Potomac Forks hiker/biker campsite; the canal is watered here and is actually popular with local fishermen (Battie Mixon’s fishing hole); and the two branches of the Potomac meet approximately 200 yards downstream, as the South Branch can be seen merging with the North Branch while passing beneath a railroad trestle. The actual time of our hike was in late February as the last vestiges of 15″ of snow continued to re-freeze and thaw until the towpath became a sometimes icy, sometimes muddy mess.
The highlight of the day was seeing six very brave deer run across the “iffy” ice on the canal near mile marker 164. There were several spots where small streams entered the canal, and the slightly warmer water melted large sections that had previously been frozen. The area also had plenty of beaver sign, including a small dam just below the towpath in a large field. Indeed, the theme for the day seemed to be “water, water everywhere.”
On the subject of water, the confluence of the North and South Branches is of particular interest. The sources of the Potomac begin at the Fairfax Stone in West Virginia (North Branch) and in the mountains of Highland County Virginia (South Branch). Many of the locals refer to the North Branch as “the Potomac” above their confluence, but others give the South Branch equal billing. Which branch is biggest depends mainly on what area has received the most rain at any given time. When the border was originally surveyed, it was decided that it should run along the main stem of the Potomac, and at the time the North Branch was flooding. Had it been the other way around, present day Maryland, West Virginia, and perhaps even Virginia would look completely different on a map. As a native West Virginian, I’m one of those people who gives the South Branch its due and insist that the “real” Potomac starts a couple of hundred yards below Lockhouse 68. Feel free to agree or disagree. I would love to add any comments on the subject.