Official groundbreaking ceremony for Big Slackwater Project

Official groundbreaking ceremony for Big Slackwater Project attended by US Senator Cardin and CVB President Tom Riford

Lovers of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park gathered near Downsville to kick off a project that will close a three-mile gap in the popular hiking and biking trail along the Potomac River.
Saturday's groundbreaking ceremony launched a $17 million restoration of the canal towpath along a wide bend in the river called the Big Slackwater. The project will attract more than 60,000 new visitors to Washington County and repair the only break in Maryland's largest and most-visited National Park.
The stretch has been closed for 14 years due to flood damage from a January 1996 storm, forcing users onto a five-mile detour along narrow two-lane roads.
The National Park Service and the Hagerstown-Washington County CVB say the repairs, funded largely by economic stimulus money, will take about two years. Workers will install large sections of precast concrete along the rocky cliff.
The construction project to repair the only broken section of the C&O Canal National Historical Park's towpath began in earnest this month. The Big Slackwater section has been closed for more than a dozen years.
The 1.5-mile section of the towpath has crumbled over the years, especially after floods between 1972 and 1996. The damage has forced visitors to use a nearly 6-mile detour that takes them outside the boundaries of the C&O Canal National Historic Park.
During the past six years, more than 36 people have been hospitalized for injuries sustained while biking on the shoulderless country roads. Most have been struck by vehicles while traveling on the detour.
What's involved: Cianbro Corp. of Maine received the $17-million contract to rebuild the washed-away towpath.
Most of the difficult construction work will take place from barges anchored on the Potomac River, along the cliff face where the towpath was washed away in 1996.
The construction project will be a challenge, since special attention is required to match new stonework with the original historical masonry.
It is funded with $12 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and about $4 million from the state of Maryland. The C&O Canal Trust, the C&O Canal Association and the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau also have helped with funding.
Once the renovations are completed, the entire length of the historic towpath will be accessible to the public.
"The construction project is putting more than 50 people to work for about two years, but the positive tourism and economic impacts will be an added benefit," according to Tom Riford, the president and CEO of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Independent estimates show that an additional 60,000 visitors will utilize the park after this project is complete, bringing about $2 million of added economic impact annually to our county."
An official ground-breaking ceremony happened at the Dam 4 Road park access on Saturday. U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin attended, other elected officials and tourism and community leaders.