Like many people, we’re guilty of straying far away from home to get our C&O Canal kicks. McCoys Ferry (mm 110), Four Locks (mm108), and Dam 5 (mm 107) are all about forty minutes away from our hometown of Martinsburg, but we have only seen them as blurs when riding by on our bikes. It seemed like a good idea to take a short excursion prior to the Super Bowl, so we took to the road to see what we could see.
I’ll start with the McCoys Ferry campground and its environs. On the way there, we noticed the Green Spring Covered Bridge about a half-mile from the towpath. The bridge is actually a modern, decorative structure that spans a small stream as part of a driveway. Don’t get me wrong: I would love to have my own covered bridge, but I found the nearby railroad trestle and culverts far more interesting. In the beginning, I was drawn to the C&O primarily for its recreational value, but this history stuff has kind of rubbed off on me over the years.
At one time the railroad and the canal were bitter rivals, but the trestle merely blends into the scenery at McCoys Ferry. Other amenities include numerous picnic tables and a boat ramp. The area draws a crowd during the summer, but on Super Bowl Sunday, we had it all to ourselves and found the hike and sightseeing to be very enjoyable.
Candee’s son Tyler tagged along on today’s hike, and he was primarily interested in finding a good place to fish this summer. The Potomac runs slow and deep for a few miles above Dam 5, and I’m thinking that the catfishing is probably pretty good.
Like many areas along the canal and river, McCoys Ferry is part of Civil War history. According to the sign, the Confederates tried to capture the ferry boat at McCoys landing but were rebuffed by the Clear Spring Guard. Also, J.E.B. Stewart crossed the river here on his second ride around McClellan’s army.
We are generally drawn to the canal for its recreational value, but occasionally the C&O’s structures catch our eyes. Some are easily spotted from the towpath, but the culverts are generally overlooked by hikers and bikers.
There are eleven aqueducts along the C&O Canal, and they mark the points where the canal crosses over larger streams. Culverts, on the other hand, occur where smaller streams were routed underneath of the canal. I’m hardly the expert, but there are over one hundred culverts, and many of them are very impressive.
Fellow C&O Canal Association member Steve Dean has photographed all of the culverts and plans on turning his efforts into a book. People who have an interest in the canal’s structures and history have opened our eyes a bit over the years, and the locks, aqueducts, and culverts are as different from each other as the diverse groups who built them. I would certainly advise hikers and bikers to get off of the trail and take a look around. There’s a lot more to the park than what meets the eye!
From McCoys Ferry, it’s a short ride to Four Locks. The site gets its name from the four locks that raised the canal thirty-three feet in order to cut across Prather’s Neck and bypass a four mile bend in the Potomac River. Lock House 49 is open to the public for overnight lodging. It’s a bit on the rustic side, but it would be a great spot to stop while doing a through-ride from Cumberland to Georgetown.
I guess you could say that Four Locks holds a special place in our hearts. On our 2011 ride, we ran into heavy storm debris above Little Orleans and several more downed trees well below Hancock.
We were forced to lift our bikes over countless snags and even had to walk them through the canal bed in places. By the time we reached Four Locks, we were worn out and frustrated, but I remember saying, “Enjoy the next mile. It’s down hill and on the house.” The easy pedaling and coasting seemed to lift our spirits, and we never lost momentum the rest of the way.
From Four Locks, we took another short ride into the Dam Five area. The dam and river create an image that is worthy of a post card. The dam was completed in 1857 and survived several of Stonewall Jackson’s attempts at destroying it during the Civil War. During low water, many fishermen can be seen fishing from the rocks directly below the dam, sometimes as far out as the middle of the river.
In all, the scenery between McCoys Ferry and Dam Five is outstanding. Likewise, heading upstream leads one to Fort Frederick State Park and Big Pool. There are many places along the C&O that look relatively similar around every bend, but this section reveals something new and interesting along the way for both newcomers to the park and canal aficionados. In spite of traveling through every mile of the park several times, Candee and I have missed a lot of interesting things. With that in mind, today made for three wonderful short hikes, and, like most excursions, we learned a number of new facts and saw things we’ve never seen before. Until next time…