Archive for the ‘Cities/Towns Along the Way…’ Category

Cohill Station (Mile 130.7 of the C&O Canal)

This is the Cohill Station parking lot.  There is a large gravel pile at the end and room for several cars.

This is the Cohill Station parking lot. There is a large gravel pile at the end and room for several cars.

This is the first thing you see after crossing a footbridge over the canal

This sign is the first thing you see after crossing a footbridge over the canal

Cohill Station is one of those places that I’ve passed on a bike a dozen times, but today’s hike marked the first time I have ever parked in the lot and started anything from this location.  The 23 miles of towpath that nearly parallels the Western Maryland Rail Trail is quieter than much of the C&O because of the alternative paved route, so it’s not surprising that the only person Candee and I saw was a long distance rider, presumably on his way upstream to Cumberland.

A month ago, everything was green.  The lack of leaves does make for some great long distance views!

A month ago, everything was green. The lack of leaves does make for some great long distance views!

We started the hike with a 7.5 mile down-and-back to the Devils Eyebrow in mind, but we stopped at mile marker 128 instead.  Candee has been battling with bronchitis for about five weeks, and on this day, there was something in the air that caused me to have a two hour, nonstop sneezing fit.  Maybe that’s because we haven’t had a “hard” frost up this point.   We’ve had a number of excellent hikes this year, but few of them have been recent because we both haven’t been healthy at the same time since…  I really don’t remember!

Lock 53, the Irishman's Lock

Lock 53, the Irishman’s Lock.  The port-a-john at Leopards Mill is visible in the distance.

Lockhouse 53 ruins

Lockhouse 53 ruins

I’m not sure how a website called “C&O Canal Adventures” has led us to so many other places.  The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal NHP is where our passion for hiking and biking began, so it’s always great to get back to the towpath.  Places like the Leopards Mill hiker/biker campsite and MM 128 offer magnificent views of the river, and the Lockhouse 53 ruins and two culverts along the way throw a bit of history into the mix.  Likewise, the solitude gave us an opportunity to reflect upon our veterans and how much we owe them.  I would first like to thank them for the day off and the opportunity to take a hike, but, more importantly, thanks for our freedom.

Leopards Mill hiker/biker offers a great view of the river.

Leopards Mill hiker/biker offers a great view of the river.

Hopefully, the nagging affects of congestion and allergies will soon be things of the past.  There are still several weeks of autumn remaining, and afterward there’s something about a long winter’s walk in the woods that is exciting from the 7am cup of coffee through to cranking up the Jeep’s heater at the end of the day.  Cohill Station was a good place to kick off the season of leafless trees and nearly wide-open vistas.  After our recent lull, I think many interesting hikes are just around the corner.

This is a nice view of the Potomac from mm 128.  This was a great place to turn around and head back.

This is a nice view of the Potomac from mm 128. This was a great place to turn around and head back.

Hanging out at Lockhouse 75 (Open from 10-4 on Saturday and Sunday from May 23–September 27, 2015)

Lockhouse 75 from between the lock and the bypass flume

Lockhouse 75 from between the lock and the bypass flume

I’ve always enjoyed volunteering at Lockhouse 75 once or twice every summer.  There are a number of people who do LH 75 duty who know a lot more about the C&O Canal than I do, but I think that I’ve developed into a fairly decent docent (pun intended).  On this trip, my new copy of Thomas Hahn’s Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal got me out of a few close calls with the Stumped Monster, and I would like to thank the Harpers Ferry Historical Association for doing a great job with the updated version (available at visitor centers all along the towpath).  I even pulled a few words and phrases out of the Glossary of Canal Terms and looked a whole lot smarter than I really am!

Lots of water everywhere!  Generally, there's just a trickle going through the lock.

Lots of water everywhere! Generally, there’s just a trickle going through the lock.

Today, however, was mostly about talking to thru-riders who were dealing with the horrendous weather the area has been experiencing for a couple of weeks.  I haven’t been to the renovated Big Slackwater section for a while, but I imagine everybody doing the big ride will be dealing with the dreaded detour for a few more days. The towpath above McMahon’s Mill is very susceptible to high water, but that’s over 80 miles downstream, so they may get lucky.  Most of the riders were going from Cumberland to Georgetown, but I did see two guys “heading upstream,” and their previous day’s saga had them biking 40 miles in a torrential, all-day downpour that spilled upwards to two inches on the region.

Between the flume and lock again and looking toward the West Virginia hills.

Between the flume and lock again and looking toward the West Virginia hills.

With the North Branch of the Potomac looking brown and angry, a handful of fishermen opted to try their luck in the small, watered section of the canal below the lock.  A young boy caught a few smallmouth bass and bluegills in the fresher-than-usual pool, and the waterfall heading into the lock made for a pleasant diversion in between visitors.

This replica canal boat is a model of Joseph Mose's  No. 27.  His son J.P. Mose made this  excellent scale model and dedicated it to the C&O Canal NHP.

This replica canal boat is a model of Joseph Mose’s No. 27. His son J.P. Mose made this excellent scale model and dedicated it to the C&O Canal NHP.

And this is how Mr. Mose's canal boat got through the locks.

And this is how Mr. Mose’s canal boat got through the locks.

In all, 48 people passed the lockhouse and 26 came inside to take a look around.  If I recall correctly, my first LH 75 duty was in 2012, and the displays and information have been greatly improved in that time.  This was my second–and last–trip to the lockhouse for 2015, but it would be great to spend another day or two there next summer.  I’ve enjoyed talking to the people who have walked or ridden down the towpath, and many were a great source of information themselves.

Butterfly weed near the parking lot directly acroess from the lockhouse.  The North Branch parking lot is closed during the railroad bridge construction.

Butterfly weed near the parking lot directly acroess from the lockhouse. The North Branch parking lot is closed during the railroad bridge construction.

Watering Williamsport

This is news to me!

This is news to me!

During a short walk upstream fro Williamsport, I noticed all of the stones is the canal prism, but I didn’t think much about it.  However, this sign made me stop and ponder the possibilities: what exactly is “the design of the Conococheague Aqueduct?”  I’ve heard stories for a couple of years about watering the aqueduct, but the missing upstream wall is a major problem. That’s when the light bulb came on: hence, the large, squared stones in the prism.  Sometimes it takes me a little while to grasp a concept…

Stones in the canal prism!

Stones in the canal prism!

Actually, the project is a combined effort between the Town of Williamsport and the National Park Service.  Williamsport is already one of the most visited spots along the canal, but adding a mule drawn boat that goes over a creek, underneath a railroad bridge, and through a lock would be a tremendous boon for both the town and the park.  Such an upgrade would bring in an estimated 100,000 additional visitors, who would spend $1,8 million.  Spread that over a year, and you’re looking at 274 more people a day, and they would spend about $4900 Per Diem.  That’s a lot of Desert Rose sandwiches, Tony’s pizzas, and souvenirs at the visitor center, etc.  Needless to say, the “wow factor” would be as important as the revenue.  The project is slated to be finished in the summer of 2016, and I can guarantee that if the NPS and Williamsport build it, people will come.

Getting the aqueduct's "good" side

Getting the aqueduct’s “good” side

Hiking in Rocky Gap State Park: The Evitts Mountain Homesite Trail

Getting started along 243 acre Lake Habeeb at Rocky Gap State Park

Getting started along 243 acre Lake Habeeb at Rocky Gap State Park

I’ve been driving past Rocky Gap State Park 35-40 times a year for the past twenty years, but I’ve never stopped for anything more than a quick look.  I don’t golf or play the slots, and my swimming skills are mediocre at best.  Sometimes I slow down on I-68 just enough to notice the crowd in the parking lots.  After all, the park looks like it has a lot to offer, but I never imagined that hiking is on the list of things to do.

Crossing over the dam as Rocky Gap Run exits Lake Habeeb

Crossing over the dam as Rocky Gap Run exits Lake Habeeb

The idea of taking a hike at Rocky Gap started a few weeks ago when Candee and I took a hike to the Evitts Creek Aqueduct.  I wondered just who Mr. Evitt (or Evitts) was and later read that his name was actually Evart.  Nevertheless, the man became known as Evitt at some point, and the reputed first settler of European descent in Allegany County (early 1700s) would have a creek and mountain named after him.  Of course, that also carried over to an aqueduct and hiker/biker campsite on the C&O Canal.  The story is that Evart was an educated man who left society to become a hermit after a failed romance while he lived in Washington County.  It’s a great story, and the mark that Evart/Evitt left on place names has lasted well over 200 years.

Evitts Mountain Homesite Trail

Evitts Mountain Homesite Trail

As it turns out, the remains of Evart’s home are just off of the (sort of) aptly named Evitts Mountain Homesite Trail, about 2.4 miles (as the trail turns, not as the crow flies!) from the parking lot near the Touch of Nature Trail.  To get there from the lot, one can take a paved road to the Evitts Mountain trailhead or a roundabout way along the Touch of Nature,  Lakeside Loop, and Short Cut Trails.  The first option has a few more ups-and-downs as it crosses a steep canyon, while the latter is somewhat longer.

There isn't much left of the homesite, but the sign tells the rest of the story

There isn’t much left of the homesite, but the sign tells the rest of the story

It was our first time hiking in the park, so we opted to walk a short distance along the lake before heading up the mountain.  The highlights were a great view of the lodge and crossing a wooden bridge that spans the dam where Rocky Gap Run exits Lake Habeeb.  At .9 miles, one meets the Short Cut Trail, a connector to the Evitts Mountain Homesite Trail, and it’s virtually all uphill for the next 2.7 miles.

The beacon.  Wouldn't you know that my best pictures of the beacon also have the tip of my thumb in them.  So...I'm stuck with this one!

The beacon. Wouldn’t you know that my best pictures of the beacon also have the tip of my thumb in them. So…I’m stuck with this one!

The homesite is actually about two-thirds of the way up the mountain, but there are a number of reasons to hike the additional 1.2 miles to the gas line just beyond the Pennsylvania line.  First, there is an aviation beacon .3 miles prior to reaching the turnaround point.  Also, there is an old Mason-Dixon monument just to the left of the trail, as well as a great view on either side of the mountain from the gas line.

Rocky Gap State Park: Evitt's Mountain Trail

Rocky Gap State Park: Evitt’s Mountain Trail

The trail chart for today's hike at Rocky Gap State Park.  Note that each side of the chart mirrors the other because it was a return trip.

The trail chart for today’s hike at Rocky Gap State Park. Note that each side of the chart mirrors the other because it was a return trip.

The uphill section of the trail ascends roughly 1250′ at a grade of approximately 5.9%  No, its not an easy trail, but the climb isn’t overly taxing, and those who are in search of a little solitude leave the crowd down below to do their own thing(s).  I suppose you could say that Rocky Gap State Park has a little bit of something for everyone–the social butterflies who prefer the lodge and casino and the hermits who choose to pay a visit to Mr. Evart’s homesite.

View from the top!

View from the top!

IMAG0032(1)

Bottle Art

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!