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.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. It’s nice to be able to come over and see this is still up and running. I love all the information I find and what I learn when I am here. Y’all are doing a nice job.


  2. Posted by LevelWalker on March 11, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    Thanks! It’s good seeing you’re back. I appreciate the comment! I’m glad you’re enjoying Michigan!!!


  3. Posted by Candee on March 20, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Hi Melissa! It’s been a long time! Tom told me you are living in Michigan now…that’s a big change!


  4. Hi Candee,

    Yes, I’m in Michigan now and loving it. I’ve been busy with nineteen other women putting together a book of Senryu, some have artwork within the senryu, can’t remember what it is call.

    We have a publisher out of California, but still there will be a lot of marketing grunt work to do once it’s out on the Market. I am excited. This type of poetry isn’t published by women most times, few have, but it’s a rarity.

    A woman read some of my works on Fanstory and asked me if I’d like to be a part of it and of course I said yes. Lots and lots of work I’m learning, even before one is published.

    Hope all is well with each of you and again, I love coming here and reading about this fascinating piece of history.


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