Archive for the ‘C&O Canal Association’ Category

Dragonfly Hike at Oldtown: June 22nd

The crowd gathers in hope of seeing dragonflies!  it was a good turnout for what started as a gloomy-looking day.

The crowd gathers in hope of seeing dragonflies! it was a good turnout for what started as a gloomy-looking day.

In the past, Candee and I have stumbled upon certain interests after buying a book with a colorful cover.  That explains our past hunts for wildflowers and mushrooms.  In fact, sometimes it feels like the only things we can sneak up on are wildflowers and mushrooms, but that’s another story for another post.  In the case of dragonflies, our friend and Level Walker Chair, Steve Dean, had a hike scheduled this past Sunday concerning these interesting creatures.

Dragonfly photography.  I saw the pictures, and these guys have an eye for their quarry!

Dragonfly photography. I saw the pictures, and these guys have an eye for their quarry!

The watered section of the C&O Canal near Oldtown–known as Battie Mixon’s Fishing Hole–is a great place to seek out dragonflies.  However, this day didn’t have a promising start: the temperature was in the high sixties and it was drizzling, which isn’t perfect for insects that prefer sunlight and heat.

I'm going to start Candee's collection with a Pondhawk--the only type of dragonfly we have positively identified at this point.

I’m going to start Candee’s collection with a Pondhawk–the only type of dragonfly we have positively identified at this point.

Candee did a great job of spotting dragonflies throughout the hike.  She let everyone with a better camera have first dibs, then she snuck up on the subject and did a remarkable job with my Samsung S3.

Candee did a great job of spotting dragonflies throughout the hike. She let everyone with a better camera have first dibs, then she snuck up on the subject and did a remarkable job with my Samsung S3.

It's amazing that many of these dragonflies literally posed while several people took turns photographing them.

It’s amazing that many of these dragonflies literally posed while several people took turns photographing them.

Nevertheless, a group of ten people showed up, and most were armed with much better cameras than ours.  I have to give Candee a lot of credit for getting some great shots with my Samsung phone, and fellow Level Walker Paul Perkus was kind enough to help us out with some fantastic pictures as well.  He has a great eye for photography, and many of his pictures have made it into the C&O Canal Association’s newsletter.  Memo to self: I need to invest in a better camera!

Courtesy of Paul Perkus.  I'm going to start  Paul's collection with a damselfly.

Courtesy of Paul Perkus.  I’m going to start Paul’s collection with a damselfly.

Courtesy of Paul Perkus.  This is a pondhawk as well, but the details are very good.

Courtesy of Paul Perkus. This is a pondhawk as well, but the details are very good.

Photo courtesy of Paul Perkus

Photo courtesy of Paul Perkus.  Check out the eyes on this guy!

Paul took so many great pictures that I could have filled a full page with them!

Paul took so many great pictures that I could have filled a full page with them!

Our past endeavors have met with mixed success: we do know a fair amount about wildflowers and have been fortunate enough to identify a number of them, but mushrooms are another story.  As for dragonflies, that remains to be seen.  One way of finding out is to attend the next dragonfly hike at Pennyfield Lock on August 9th.  Checking out these unique insects goes hand-in-hand with the history of the canal and great conversation with people who have a wide variety of interests and backgrounds.  Anyone interested should check out the C&O Canal Association’s website,  There are a number of great hikes and opportunities to volunteer in the park.  What could be better?

A Little Help From Some Friends

Concrete waste weir (98.92)

With its length of 184.5 miles, the C&O Canal is an absolute monster to explore.  Candee and I have biked the entire length of the trail twice and done short trips and hikes that have covered the towpath several times over.  Nevertheless, along the way, we have managed to miss virtually everything.  With this in mind, I recently purchased Pocket Guide to the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, by Gary M. Petrichick.  This is a tiny book that will easily fit into the palm of your hand, and it is a list of all of the structures along the canal–with room on the opposite pages for personal notes.  The picture above is a waste weir.  There are several on the canal, and back in the day they were used to either re-direct excess water back into the Potomac or to drain the canal when repairs were necessary.

Underneath I-81 (98.5)

I purchased the book at the Williamsport Visitor Center, and we immediately took it out for a hike.  It’s amazing what a new resource can do in regard to making an old hike new again.  Likewise, I have recently learned that the C&O Canal Association has posted a list of access points along the canal on their website (  It is an interactive resource with links to Google Maps that also gives GPS coordinates for the access points.  Also, there is a brief description of the available parking spaces.  For example, there may be numerous spaces at Spring Gap or McCoys Ferry, but parking is very limited at the end of Mile Marker Lane or Pearre Station.

Railroad bridge abutment (97.44) with Conrail trestle (97.54) in the background

The possibilities for using multiple resources together are numerous.  One can literally print a map to a desired parking point along the canal, pack up the car, and head out for a great hike or bike ride in either direction.  Take along Petrichick’s booklet, and the days of walking or riding past hidden history are over.  There are 184.5 miles of culverts, waste weirs, and other structures to be discovered.

Culvert 127 (97.85)

Nobody Said It Was Easy

Tunnel Repair in '06

At 184.5 miles in length, the C&O Canal NHP is a ribbon of land that follows the Potomac River and its North Branch from Cumberland, Md. to Georgetown, DC.  With eleven aqueducts, seventy-five locks, over one-hundred culverts, and a 3118′ tunnel along the way, there’s plenty that can go wrong.  The Catoctin Creek Aqueduct project and repairs at Big Slackwater (scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2012) mark two major victories, but the fact remains that the National Park Service is under-funded.  According to the Canal Trust (, the C&O receives about 37% of the funding necessary to keep everything in top shape.  We took the above picture a few years ago, and the premise is that the Paw Paw Tunnel is a brick-lined, drippy mess that requires constant attention.  After all, nobody wants to be plunked on the head by a falling brick!

Superintendent's house at Paw Paw campground

The C&O Canal has plenty of friends and allies, such as volunteer groups like the C&O Canal Association and Canal Trust.  Toss in a very good maintenance staff and the rangers, and it appears as if the park can endure forever.  However, it must also be noted that the canal has some very powerful enemies–time, water, and a lack of funding.  The old house at the Paw Paw campsite has structural damage that isn’t likely to be fixed anytime soon, and many of the culverts have outer walls that have fallen in around them.  The end result could be sink holes and erosion that cause severe damage to the towpath.  It would be great to fix all of these problems, but it must be remembered that the national parks were nearly closed last year amidst some pretty severe budget cut proposals.  There really is no easy answer.

Foundation at Indigo Bend Campground

The C&O Canal ceased operations due to a severe flood in 1924 and basically “sat there” for decades.  During this time, many old lock houses fell into a state of disrepair, leaving nothing behind but their foundations.  Fortunately, there are many surviving houses, including #56 at Pearre Station.  During the flood of 2010, we were fortunate enough to meet two brothers who lived there in the 1930s.  We had no idea that the houses were occupied long after the canal boats stopped running.  Candee and I listened intently to their tales about swimming in the lock (now waterless) and “borrowing” coal from the nearby railroad.  I’m sure that every structure, both existing and in ruins, has a history of its own, and hopefully many generations of visitors will enjoy them.

Another job well done

As stated, we are fortunate to have a great maintenance staff taking care of the park.  The picture above is from one of our older posts and shows some of the destruction from a storm in June of 2011.  About .5 miles of the towpath and canal were littered with numerous broken and uprooted trees, and we had a difficult time getting our bikes through the mess.  We went back a couple of weeks later, expecting to see some progress, but much to our surprise, the cleanup crew had taken care of everything and the towpath looked as good as new.  Yes, man won that round, but there’s plenty that can go wrong, and you can bet that it will.

Flooding in Hancock, 2010

The C&O Canal NHP is a wonderful place for hikers, bikers, and history buffs.  It brings in approximately four-million visitors every year, and the money they spend is a bonanza for nearby towns.  However, the park shouldn’t be taken for granted.  We may love it, but the Potomac River (and its tributaries) and Father Time are determined opponents.  Likewise, the NPS doesn’t have the resources to make the park immune to nature’s influences.  As individuals, I suppose the best thing we can do is volunteer our time and lend a helping hand.  In the end, it’s a great investment.

McCoys Ferry, Four Locks, Dam 5…

Heading to McCoys Ferry

A Short Jaunt from McCoys Ferry...




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.

Railroad trestle at McCoys Ferry

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.

Potomac view

One for the history buffs


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.


Culvert near McCoys Ferry

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!

Another culvert...reminded Candee of a scene from The Hobbit

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.

Lock House 49 at Four Locks...Come Spend the Night!

What's this? Any Ideas?



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.


Looking up from the river toward the lock house


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.

Dam 5


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…


Another View from Dam 5


Floodplain Debris

Just the beginning

On first glance, it appears that we were off filming Belle the Wonder Beagle vs. The Giant Blob, but the fact is that the grass that hid much of the garbage on the Potomac River floodplain for the past nine months is dormant for the winter.  As a result, lots of ugly trash has become visible between the towpath and the river.  I don’t recall seeing a kitchen sink on the bank, but we saw just about everything else, including tires, basketballs, and propane cylinders.

During the warm season, we have an antagonist nicknamed MRE Man who scatters meal packets throughout our volunteer area.  We have no idea who he is, but we can’t blame him or anybody else for the garbage located on the river side of the towpath.  The fact is that the mighty Potomac picks up large amounts of human and natural debris during floods and deposits it along the river bank.

Just below Little Orleans the river makes a long, sweeping right hand turn, and between mile markers 140 and 141 we have a natural trash depository.  The winter months are the best time to take care of the mess because snakes and other animals aren’t hidden in the long grass waiting for unsuspecting volunteers.  Okay, I’m being a bit dramatic, but cleaning up the park and safety should go hand-in-hand.  I’m guessing that we’re about halfway done with our winter cleanup, and we’re hoping that our new friend Belle stops by to keep us company again soon.