Archive for the ‘Miles 151-184 1/2’ Category

Canal Place

A boy and his mule (and his water fountain)

A boy and his mule (and his water fountain)

I admit that I’m a big fan of nature and getting away from it all, but there’s something about Cumberland that I really like.  On three different occasions I hopped on my bike at 7am in front of this statue and headed out under the arch, thinking only of Georgetown three days down the road.  Every year, a growing number of people begin their journey down the C&O Canal from this spot, and still more who have headed down the GAP Trail from Pittsburgh call Cumberland the (almost) halfway point.  This is the place where two old enemies–the canal and the railroad–seem to have shaken hands and made up  Indeed, the two share the brick building in the background, and both are friends to anybody who wants to step back in time.

Cumberland C&O Canal Visitor center sign

Cumberland C&O Canal Visitor center sign

On the lower level of the building, the Cumberland Visitor Center is the first of many along the canal, and it may be the most interesting of the bunch.  It has the usual books and souvenirs, and the back room contains a simulated display of the inner workings of a canal boat.  While we were there, a group of kids was playing inside of the “boat”, but more importantly, they were interacting with history.  I think that’s probably the most desired effect: keep young people interested in our past–the C&O in particular–and the park will continue to live and thrive well into the future.

Canal lock display

Canal lock display

There is a lot to like about the visitor center, and the display above was one of my favorites.  The boat is in the process of “locking through,” and the scene even contains the lock master’s farm animals and garden plot.  As I wandered from one display to another, I learned some interesting facts: the last mule to pull a boat on the canal was named Mutt, and, when in operation, the canal contained enough water to fill 350 million bathtubs.  Okay, I’m ready to play C&O Canal Jeopardy!

Old picture of canal boats in Cumberland

Old picture of canal boats in Cumberland

A picture of a picture really doesn’t do justice to the Cumberland wharf scene, but this image is amazing firsthand.  Also, as one leaves the visitor center and heads uptown, artist John Alderton captured the past and present in his murals known as the “five postcards.”  The murals depict the many forms of transportation that have been and are important parts of Cumberland’s past, present, and future.

John Alderton's Five Postcards (2005)

John Alderton’s Five Postcards (2005)

From left to right, the “Five Postcards” consist of a steam engine, a biker, an automobile (circa 1950s), the C&O Canal, and a hiker.  While the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad is doing well, it’s right-of-way shares territory with the GAP Trail (hikers and bikers).  Likewise, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is popular with hikers, bikers, and history buffs, and one could argue that the canal has been more successful as a park than as a means of transporting goods.  Either way, transportation remains a driving force in Cumberland, whether it be pedestrian, pedal-powered, or operated by steam or diesel.

John Alderton's C&O Canal Postcard

John Alderton’s C&O Canal Postcard

Below the rails of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, there is an interesting “brick relief” of the 734 steam engine that does the majority of the trips on the WMSR.  In fact, it’s just past the entrance into the C&O Canal Visitor Center, and it seems to beckon visitors up the stairs toward the train related section of the building.  Topside, passengers hop aboard the train for a 32 mile round-trip to Frostburg that lasts approximately three hours, and inside of the doors, there are two gift shops selling both C&O Canal and WMSR related gear.

A brick version of the 734!

A brick version of the 734!

From Canal Place, there are four choices to make: take a trip on the C&O, head up the GAP, hop aboard the scenic railroad, or check out the variety of art and displays in or near the building.  To say the least, Cumberland is an interesting place that was and is touched by the results of the industrial revolution.  The trains remain, old and new, and once deserted pathways have been converted into recreational trails enjoyed by thousands of people every year.  I would highly recommend getting off of the elevated interstate and seeing the great things that lie below.

The 734!

The 734!

Evitts Creek Aqueduct

Evitts Creek Aqueduct

Evitts Creek Aqueduct

Evitts Creek Aqueduct is located at mile 180.66, and it’s the last of the eleven aqueducts heading upstream from Georgetown to Cumberland.  It was completed around 1840, and its 70′ span is the smallest of these structures along the  C&O Canal.  The aqueduct was stabilized by the National Park Service in 1979 and 1983 (hence the supports), and the view from the top offers a great look at Evitts Creek emptying into the North Branch of the Potomac River.

Evitts Creek and nearby Evitts Mountain are named after one of Allegany County’s earliest settlers.  It’s said that he went to this (then) remote area to “contemplate his bachelorhood.”  I didn’t find out anything about his marital status later in life, but I imagine any man with a mountain and creek named after him had to be a pretty good catch.  I know if I were to get into online dating, etc. and had a creek and mountain named after me, I would put it in bold type and caps in the first sentence of my introduction.  I’m rambling, aren’t I?

Evitts Creek Aqueduct from creekside.  Note the tree.  We've had lots of heavy winds and blowdowns in the area this summer

Evitts Creek Aqueduct from creekside. Note the tree. We’ve had lots of heavy winds and blowdowns in the area this summer

Anyway, the creek itself is 30.2 miles long and begins its journey to the North Branch in Bedford County, Pennsylvania.  It’s important to the people of Cumberland  because it feeds 268-acre Lake Koon and 141-acre Lake Gordon, and the two reservoirs supply water to the city.  The creek is stocked with trout in both Pennsylvania and Maryland and is noted for the quality of its water.  As a thru-hiker or rider heading downstream from Cumberland, Evitts Creek is the first of many streams that play an important role in history and everyday life.  We’ve seen where they all go into the river, but there are lots of great stories upstream from all eleven aqueducts!

Evitts Creek Aqueduct--topside view

Evitts Creek Aqueduct–topside view

Creosote Tank at Lock 66

Creosote Tank at Lock 66.  As usual, I defer to Thomas Hahn for my information.

Creosote Tank at Lock 66. As usual, I defer to Thomas Hahn for my information.

According to Thomas Hahn (Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal), a carpentry shop once stood on site near Lock 66.  It burned sometime in the early 1960s, but a “creosote tank into which lumber was dipped” still remains.  Over thirty years have passed since Hahn’s original observation, but the vat is still in remarkably good condition.  He doesn’t give any indication as to the actual age of the tank, but it has seen ninety years and three-hundred sixty seasonal changes since the C&O ceased operations.  I’m guessing that if creosote tanks are still being made, they don’t build ’em like that anymore!  A similar tank exists across from Lock 44 on the berm side.  Without some sort of resource, the casual park visitor would have a difficult time making sense of many of the ruins along the canal.  In this case the tank seems to have outlasted most–if not all–of the lumber dipped into it.

As Old as a Canal Boat?

Cool car!  And the choice for a parking spot couldn't have been better!

Cool car! And the choice for a parking spot couldn’t have been better!

I took a walk down the towpath earlier today, and the crowd near the Paw Paw Tunnel was considerably more than usual.  However, I had no clue what I’d see when I got back:  several antique cars in the grassy area just off of Maryland Rt. 51.  This one was particularly interesting, and the owner’s choice of a parking spot made for the ideal photo op.  What could possibly be better than automotive history posing beside a sign in one of the most popular spots in a historical park?  I dare say this beauty turned heads away from the gorgeous blue Jeep Wrangler in the background!  One thing is certain: you never know what you’ll see when visiting the C&O Canal!

Painting the Town…Brown

Town Creek Aqueduct handrail

Town Creek Aqueduct handrail

About a year ago, Candee and I were fortunate enough to be appointed Canal Stewards at the Town Creek Aqueduct.  It was different than our usual level walking assignment in that the steward program focuses on a specific site and requires a bit more attention to detail.  Being from Martinsburg, WV, it’s difficult to give this magnificent structure the time that it deserves, so painting the handrail over the July 4th weekend was the perfect opportunity to make things a little bit better along the towpath.

Another view

Another view

Painting the rail was an all-day affair, so I did get to meet several people who showed an interest in the aqueduct.  It is in better condition than most smaller aqueducts on the western end of the canal (Fifteen Mile Creek being a possible exception), but in the words of Thomas Hahn, “Much of the aqueduct was rebuilt in 1977 and is now in stabilized condition, though the appearance is lacking in authenticity and somewhat in sensitivity.”  I’m inclined to disagree with Hahn’s criticism, but I suppose that’s up for debate.  One truly authentic feature of this aqueduct, and many others, are the weeds and shrubbery that inhabit the mortar of both the upstream and downstream walls.  Mother Nature is definitely a tough opponent! Fortunately, however, this single arch structure–at least during my observations–hasn’t had the added strain of flood debris that plagues the aqueducts across Conococheague and Seneca Creeks.

I feel very fortunate to have such a great national park in close proximity.  However, the 184.5 miles of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is both a blessing and a curse–albeit a small one. It is kind of difficult for the professional staff to keep up with everything that can possibly go wrong between Cumberland and Georgetown!  During a recent storm, 200+ trees blew down along the towpath, and the maintenance crew had a tough task ahead of them.  With this in mind, volunteers play a major role in keeping the C&O up and running, and I had a great time making a small contribution to the well-being of the park.  Let’s just hope my paint job holds up for a few years!

Hmmm...it looks good from here!

Hmmm…it looks good from here!