Archive for the ‘Bridges and Ferries’ Category

Up Antietam Creek (Without a Paddle)

Bridge over Antietam Creek (Harpers Ferry Road)

Today was another one of those nothing’s-happening winter Sundays that almost invariably leads to a short hike somewhere in the vicinity of the C&O Canal NHP.  While mulling over the possibilities, we came up with a few ideas: find the eastern end of the Kessler Tunnel; get a photo of either the Town Creek or Evitts Creek Aqueducts; or keep it local and check out something that we’ve missed along the way.  We’re planning on doing a New Year’s hike in Cumberland in a couple of days, so “keep it local” won out in the end.

Antietam Creek

Lately, we have gotten a fair amount of snow in the area, and the water in the creek was flowing pretty well.  A few years ago, I kayaked the Antietam from Devil’s Backbone to the battlefield, and being a novice, I found the creek to be a good match for my skills–or lack thereof.  Nevertheless, this is a beautiful stream, and its banks have witnessed plenty of history–including one of the bloodiest battles in Civil War history.

An old barn

As we headed upstream, there were plenty of interesting sights to see, including an old barn (or outbuilding) on the opposite bank that looks like it hasn’t been used in many years.  Likewise, the sand along the bank was littered with numerous shells, and Candee pointed out a couple of fossils.  Unfortunately, we reached a choke-point and had to turn around.  The ice-cold water and slippery ground didn’t offer too many choices.

Antietam Ironworks

Fortunately, we were able to check out the environs of the Antietam Ironworks Inn.  It’s a beautiful building overlooking the creek on Harpers Ferry Road.  At the time, I wasn’t sure if it was a museum, home, B&B, or store, so I made note of it and ran it through a search engine after I got home.

This is really cool!

Okay, on second thought, there were three or four large grills shaped like trains, and I should have guessed that food is an important part of what goes on here.  After some research, I found out that Antietam Ironworks Inn has a banquet hall and a catering service.  Needless to say, I’m intrigued, and the reviews I saw online are positive.  I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!

An old iron furnace at Antietam Ironworks

From Harpers Ferry to Weverton (60.8 to 58)

Looking across the Potomac from Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry is best known as the site of John Brown’s raid, and it also sits at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers.  Likewise, it is literally walled-in by Maryland Heights and Loudon Heights (in Virginia).  One may come for the history, but at the end of the day it’s the mountains and the rivers that are the star attractions..

Looking up from the towpath

After crossing the Potomac into Maryland, the theme for a downstream hike shifts toward transportation.  It’s fairly common knowledge that the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and Appalachian Trail merge for approximately 2.8 miles at this point.  The AT runs approximately 2200 miles–from Georgia up to Maine–and this stretch on the C&O just might be the easiest stretch.

Follow the white blazes

Along the C&O, the white blazes are on wooden posts.  Bikers speeding by may not notice the trail markers, but they offer very obvious directions for pedestrians.  As stated, this is some easy walking for AT hikers, but the trail does offer up some beautiful and interesting scenery.  The river below Harpers Ferry is large and powerful, and it has wide, rocky rapids that are a popular destination for rafters and kayakers alike.

Fog on the Potomac

On this particular December morning, the fog hung around as the sun had a difficult time shining through the heavy cloud cover.  Eventually, the river came into view, and the rapids were nothing less than spectacular.  I grew up in the vicinity of the Monongahela and Ohio rivers, and I’m used to seeing large waterways tamed with locks and dams.  I suppose it’s a necessary thing when coal and other resources are hauled on barges, but things along the Potomac have always been a little bit different.

Old rivals

In the picture above, trees and algae clog what’s left of the canal, and the railroad sits atop the wall on the opposite bank.  In spite of the railroad’s obvious advantages, the C&O Canal operated until 1924.  I’ve heard stories that the engineers used to blow the train whistles and frighten the mules on the canal.  Nevertheless, goods headed west either by canal boat or rail in days of yore, and, in fact, the railroad is still a thriving entity.

Concrete, steel, and ivy-covered trees

Okay, so we’ve covered hiking, biking, whitewater rafting, trains, and canal boats, so what’s left?  Oh, yeah…about a mile below Harpers Ferry, Route 340 crosses over the whole shebang. That doesn’t quite cover every mode of transportation known to man, but I don’t think airplanes or rockets will ever be part of the C&O Canal/Appalachian Trail experience.  It’s really not that complicated; all you need is a bike or a pair of hiking boots.


Shepherdstown Access

Shepherdstown Bridge near C&O access

Personally, I’ve experienced many dry miles between Williamsport, Md. and Harpers Ferry, WV while biking on the C&O Canal.  In fact, there are nearly forty lonely, concessionless (my word, not in the dictionary) mile markers between the two towns.  I can’t count the times that I’ve said, “Forget Shepherdstown!  It’s clear across the river, and I’m not going all the way over there!”

It's really easy getting from the canal to Shepherdstown, or vice-versa

However, the truth is that that there is an easy spiral between the bridge and C&O on the Maryland side.  From the canal, it’s an easy push to the bridge, and heading back from Shepherdstown one needs only to coast back to the towpath.  The bridge itself has a safe, relatively wide lane that gives travelers a quick route to the many shops and restaurants on the West Virginia side.

One man's art is another man's...

I’m not saying that I condone graffiti–quite the opposite in fact–but I have to grudgingly admit that some of the (ahem) artwork under the bridge is fairly amusing.  Nevertheless, if one can turn a blind eye to this nonsense, there are plenty of places in Shepherdstown that may interest visitors to the C&O.  For starters, using the bridge access, the Bavarian Inn (great German food and a place to stay) is roughly .3 miles from the towpath, and the Blue Moon Cafe (veggie dishes, entrees made with local meats, and a good beer selection) is approximately a mile from the trail.

Sharp turn on the way to the C&O

I think I mentioned that it’s a long way from Williamsport, and that means there are plenty of opportunities for bike malfunctions along the way.  With that said, the most important place across the river may be Shepherdstown Pedal & Paddle (115 W. German St., 304-876-3000), but hopefully none of you will need to pick up a tube or tire before getting a beer and a burger.  Anyway, Shepherdstown is right across the bridge and easy to reach in both good and bad times for weary hikers and bikers on the C&O Canal.  It’s well worth the visit.

View of Lock 38 from the Shepherdstown Bridge

Crossing Over

North Branch Crossing at Oldtown

Of the many ways of crossing the Potomac (or its North Branch), two of our favorites are the Oldtown Toll Bridge and White’s Ferry.  The Oldtown Bridge is reportedly the last privately owned toll bridge in the United States.  It was built in the 1930s and has changed owners several times, and current owner John Teter purchased the bridge for $66,000 in 2004.  It is a wooden, low-water structure that looks a bit rickety, but a couple of locals have vouched for its safety.  There is a railroad tie manufacturer on the West Virginia side, and many heavy trucks cross the bridge regularly.  Those biking through Oldtown can take a short side trip from Lock 70 (mm 167) to see this piece of Americana.  The current rates are 50 cents per-crossing (in a car!), and locals can purchase a monthly pass for $14.

All aboard the General Jubal Early!

White’s Ferry is the only operating ferry crossing on the Potomac River.  It’s located six miles west of Poolesville, Maryland near Mile Marker 35 on the C&O Canal.  Following the Civil War, Confederate office Elijah White purchased the ferry and named his boat after his commanding officer, General Jubal Early.  White’s Ferry is also home to a small snack bar & grill that caters to hikers and bikers on the towpath.  In  June of 2011, the grill was closed because a prior flood had tainted the water supply.  Thus, we took this picture while snacking on tuna and crackers while taking five along the river.  I sure could have used that 10 oz. burger!  The ferry takes all kinds of travelers and vehicles across the river, including cars ($5, $8 round trip), bicycles ($2), and pedestrians ($1), and there is generally a line on both sides of the river that keeps the skipper busy.  (Photos are courtesy of our sister site