Archive for the ‘Cumberland, MD’ Category

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.

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!

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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!

The Carpendale Rail Trail and Knobley Tunnel

Phase One

Obviously, I’m a big fan of the C&O Canal NHP, but I always like to encourage people to get off of the towpath and explore some of the many trails that cross or merge with the C&O.  The Appalachian and Tuscarora Trails are hundreds of miles long, so it’s impossible to hop off of the towpath and see everything, but such is not the case with the Carpendale Rail Trail.

Bridge and Knobley Tunnel (Eastern Portal)

In fact, the Carpendale Rail Trail can be incorporated with the C&O Canal for an easy, relatively flat five mile hike.  Simply park at Canal Place in Cumberland and walk 1.5 miles to mile marker 183.  As the towpath’s scenery goes, this is more of an urban setting than what many canal goers are used to, but the Cumberland skyline is a nice combination of bridges, church spires, and nearby mountains.

Western Portal of the Knobley Tunnel

The Carpendale Rail Trail itself is only about a mile long, but it can be divided into three sections that are approximately equal in length.  For starters, there is a slight incline from the C&O Canal towpath that leads to a bridge over the North Branch of the Potomac River.  After crossing the bridge, there’s a quick, fairly-well lit walk through the Knobley Tunnel, which was, like many other tunnels in the area, abandoned in the 1970s.  Finally, after exiting the tunnel, the trail runs a few hundred yards further and ends on the outskirts of Carpendale, West Virginia.

Looking back from the end in WV

In all, the Carpendale Rail Trail packs a lot into its short length.  Several of the other abandoned tunnels in the area (Indigo, Stickpile, and Kessler) aren’t open for public inspection, so the Knobley Tunnel offers a great opportunity for a walk in the dark.  Also, the bridge over the North Branch offers a perfect view of Cumberland, and the mountains in the distance from the West Virginia side are bright and colorful on a cool autumn day.  It’s true that the C&O holds a special place in my heart, but it’s always fun to try new things.  Enjoy your next hike!

Cumberland from the C&O Canal towpath

Ringing in the New Year

Meeting Place...

Each January 1st, the C&O Canal Association brings in the New Year with a hike in Cumberland, Maryland.  The temperature was a surprisingly warm fifty-three degrees, and nineteen people turned out for the walk.  After meeting at the mule statue in front of the railroad station, Mary Huebner led the crew downstream on the canal for approximately 1.5 miles.

All Show and No Go!

 

 

As the canal goes, Cumberland is a relatively urban setting.  However, in spite of the interstate and railroad traffic, the Queen City drew us back for the third year in a row.  In the sparsely populated areas of the C&O, one can walk for miles without seeing anything touristy, but Cumberland is…well…different.

 

 

 

After the mule statue and shops, the Cumberland (a replica canal boat) comes into view, and upon rounding the first bend, the trail offers and interesting look back at the Cumberland skyline.  The towpath plays host to numerous hikers, bikers, dogs (and of course their owners), runners, and history buffs through out the year, so being there on the first day of the year always starts us off on the right foot!

 

The Queen City

 

Walking in the New Year!

 

Cumberland has always been a transportation hub.  In the past, it was a major railroad town and marked the western terminus of the C&O Canal (Think canal boats and mules). Today, I-68 runs above the city, and The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and C&O towpath are hotbeds for hikers and bikers of all ages.  Oh, how the times have changed!

 

 

 

North Branch of the Potomac River--looking towards Cumberland

Near mile marker 183, a new wooden bridge crosses over the North Branch of the Potomac River.  The West Virginia side is the home of the Carpendale Tunnel.  At 1,500 feet in length, the tunnel is just long and dark enough to make things interesting.  Unlike many of the other tunnels on the towpath, this one is equipped with light posts approximately every 200 feet. (so it really isn’t scary at all!)  We have also read that there are cameras posted in there as well.  The path continues on the other side of the tunnel, but we aren’t sure how much further it goes.  I suppose that will be an adventure for another day.

This new bridge is part of the Carpendale Rail Trail connection to the C&O Canal towpath near mile marker 183

Tom is excited to see the tunnel! You can't really tell, but he's giving it two thumbs up.

View of the Carpendale Tunnel from the 'Other' Side

 

 

 

 

All-in-all, the bridge and tunnel is definitely a worthwhile diversion for towpath enthusiasts.

 

 

 

 

We have really enjoyed our New Year’s Day Hike tradition over the last few years, and barring all of the Mayan doomsday scenarios, we will be back again for 2013 hike.  All kidding aside, see ya at the mule statue next January 1st!

Heading Back!