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

Towson Tigers to the Rescue

Trouble on the towpath

Trouble on the towpath

The picture doesn’t really do this monstrosity justice.  This large, hanging snag was blocking the towpath near the Fifteen Mile Creek Aqueduct earlier today, and I must have looked pretty silly cutting off the smaller branches with my hacksaw.  One thing is certain: I wasn’t getting anywhere.  Fortunately, four students on Spring break from Towson University  (near Baltimore) asked me if I needed any help, and I quickly accepted!

The good news was that we had a team working on the project, but the bad news was that the precariously balanced limb was in the neighborhood of thirty feet long and weighed literally hundreds (maybe thousands!) of pounds.  Fortunately, the students produced a roll of paracord, and the rest of the story involves a little bit of leverage and a whole lot of muscle.  In the end, the towpath was cleared of a dangerous obstruction, and I would like to give a shout out to Joshua, Pete, Jack, and Daniel.

I’ve been reading a few Appalachian Trail narratives lately, and all of them mention a type of divine intervention known as trail magic.  Nature has a way of putting obstacles in our paths, but when we least expect it, good news is usually on the way.  I’ve found that one generally meets a classy, generous type of people in our parks and on our trails, and such was the case today.  After a brief struggle with nature, we left the C&O Canal a little bit safer than it was when we started, and I couldn’t have done any of it on my own.

Thanks again guys!

Thanks again guys!


Fifteen Mile Creek Boat Ramp–Looking Good!

The new look of the Fifteen Mile Creek Boat Ramp

The Fifteen Mile Creek boat ramp was closed for much of the spring boating season, but the final result looks to be well worth the wait.  The campground is pretty much the same as before, but the ramp and its access is paved and has an ample turning area near the river.  Previously, getting to the ramp was fairly difficult (a-la Bonds Landing and Snyders Landing), and parking for boaters was very limited.  The facility isn’t as large as Big Slackwater and a few of the other ramps, but it should be more than sufficient for fishermen who want to try their luck in one of the more scenic and secluded sections of the Potomac River.


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)

Remembering Bill

Bill's Place

Hearing of the passing of Bill Schoenadel was a sad event for everybody with an interest in the C&O Canal.  The story came to Candee and I via a group email from the C&O Canal Association, in which hundreds of people were informed of the sad news.  However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Bill was also a popular figure amongst motorcyclists, hunters, and fishermen.  It’s accurate to say that Bill’s Place is a regional Mecca for a wide variety of recreational enthusiasts, and, with this in mind, Bill could aptly be described as the ambassador of the western end of the C&O Canal, Green Ridge State Forest, and–for the matter–the upper Potomac Valley.  Our volunteer area, or level, runs from Sideling Hill Creek to Fifteen Mile Creek, and before heading back down the trail we always made it a point to take a break at Bill’s.  Listening to him talk about the local area was a great pleasure, and one has to admire a man with the coolest bar/store around and a national park in his back yard.  Bill will be greatly missed, but the legend lives on.

Some Observations While Hiking From Brunswick to Weverton

The railroad and the canal

In the latter part of the 18th century, Brunswick, Md. was known as Berlin, and it kept that name as the C&O Canal was completed there in 1834.  Berlin was an important river crossing for the Union army following the battles of Antietam and Gettysburg, so lots of history was made in the area before the town’s name was changed to Brunswick in 1890.  The change corresponded with a huge growth in population on the heels of the building of the railroad yard.  A quick look at the left side of the mural shows a canal boat and train heading west along the Potomac, and today–for different reasons–both the railroad and C&O Canal NHP are as important to the town as ever.

Brunswick Station on a rainy December day

As today’s canal towns go, Brunswick has all of the usual amenities.  As one leaves the railroad yard and heads into town, breakfast, lunch, and dinner are available at Mommer’s Diner (I love the name, and the food is pretty good, too).  From there, a left turn on West Potomac Street leads to a Trek bike shop, the C&O Canal Visitor Center, the Brunswick Railroad Museum, and Beans in the Belfry.  This is significant for hikers and bikers because all of this is available within .3 miles of the towpath.

Waiting to leave

The picture above shows three engines linked together, and behind them there were several hundred yards of railroad cars.  As we headed to Weverton, there wasn’t much of the riverfront scenery that one encounters below Harpers Ferry.  Aside from the lockhouse at the end of our walk, there wasn’t much in the way of visible canal structures either.  However, this three mile stretch is a great place to look at the culverts that pass under the canal and towpath.

Still in excellent condition

When the C&O Canal encountered a large stream, the canal’s waters were carried over top of it via an aqueduct.  There are only eleven such structures between Georgetown and Cumberland.  However, smaller streams traveled under the canal through culverts, and there are over 150 of them along the way.  Most of them aren’t visible from a bicycle, so I can’t say that I really cared much about them one way or another.  It wasn’t until I looked at C&O Canal Association member Steve Dean’s culvert photos that I developed an interest in them.

If culverts come in small, medium, and large, I'd call this a medium

I have long-since learned that the C&O’s culverts aren’t of the cookie cutter variety.  They are as individual as the size of the stream going through them and the crews that did the masonry work.  They come in big, small, spartan, and artsy and were generally built from the materials closest at hand.

I'm guessing this monster kept the maintenance staff busy!

As we walked on, I was surprised to see the amount of cleanup that the maintenance crew has done lately.  I’m not sure whether or not to blame the downed trees on Hurricane Sandy, but all were sawed and safely out of reach of the towpath.  This particular tree was roughly 14′ in diameter–at least according to our rough measurement.

Finding beauty in the splinters

The protocol the NPS follows for cleaning up fallen trees is to leave the wood either along the river side of the towpath or in the canal prism.  From there, it’s up to Mother Nature to take care of business.  In 2011, we encountered a large path of destruction above Little Orleans, and countless trees were strewn in every direction.  Surprisingly, today, it’s hard to tell that anything ever happened.  I imagine a hike between Brunswick and Weverton in a year or two would show the same results–little sign of the recent work done.  Nature has a way of taking care of things.

Clear of the towpath