C&O Canal National Historical Park a Priority Project

C&O Canal National Historical Park a Priority Project

(Hagerstown, MD)- The C&O Canal National Historical Park will likely be one of the priority projects for financial assistance with the National Park Service's Centennial Initiative, according to the National Park Service.
On Thursday morning, the Secretary of the Interior and the Director of the National Park Service presented to President Bush a report on the Centennial Initiative that includes a small list of centennial projects that are representative of the types of projects that the NPS would like approved through the proposed ten year anniversary program.
"Much to our delight, the Big Slackwater repair project was included in this very small list of representative projects. Although this doesn't mean the project is fully funded, it does mean that it is the perfect type of project that the Department of the Interior is seeking to fund," said Kevin Brandt, Superintendent of the C&O Canal National Historical Park.
"This addresses one of the goals of the Centennial Initiative which is 'Recreational Experience.' As part of this recreational experience goal the NPS has proposed to rehabilitate over 2,000 miles of trails within or connected to national parks, including trails accessible to those with disabilities," said Brandt.
The repair of the gap in the towpath in the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park are among projects that could be undertaken under the long-term initiative outlined by the Interior Department. "The Future of America's National Parks" is an initiative that is a blueprint for improvement in the nation's park system as the National Park Service approaches its 100th anniversary in 2016, according to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne who wrote the document. The Interior Department oversees the Park Service, and the Secretary spoke during a press conference call Thursday morning.
The President of the United States proposed $100 million a year in federal money for the National Park Service, annually during next 10 years. The report also says that as much as twice might be generated in private donations, perhaps as much as $3 billion for the entire park system.
The Secretary indicated that a more detailed report is due within three months. The Secretary's report says that the C&O Canal National Historical Park, among other potential projects, were very likely candidates for priority funding for needed improvements.
The C&O Canal NHP is headquartered in Washington County, and stretches 184.5 miles along the Potomac River from Georgetown to Cumberland. No other single jurisdiction contains more of the popular park than Washington County, Maryland. The park might finally receive funding for repairs to the 2.7-mile gap in the towpath at Big Slackwater, just below Williamsport, according to the report's suggestions.
The Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau hailed the news. "The C&O Canal National Historical Park is Maryland's largest and most visited National Park," said Tom Riford the President of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. "To hear that the long-closed section of the Big Slackwater is listed as a likely priority in the Centennial Initiative is great news."
"This section is the only break in the 184-1/2 mile C&O Canal towpath. According to the Park Service, when this project is completed, 58,000 additional visitors will enjoy this area of the C&O Canal creating an additional economic benefit from heritage and recreational tourism of $2-million additional dollars per year. This is in addition to the $30-million that the park already contributes to the Maryland economy," Riford said.
Riford also pointed out that repairing the towpath will eliminate a very dangerous detour where visitors are exposed to vehicular traffic and are injured each year as they traverse the county road. In the last five years at least 34 people have been taken to area hospitals for treatment of various injuries. "This is the C&O Canal Association's top priority, and a lot of people have been working for decades to get to this point."
"The towpath is a haven for joggers, hikers, campers, riders of horses, and cyclists," said John Noel, the park's partnerships coordinator. "The gap is at a spot where the river has washed away sections of the towpath, and it's existed since the 1970s, said Noel. Although a mention in Kempthorne's report does not guarantee work will be done, Noel said, "it's good to be among the few parks named in the document. There are 391 parks in the system, and we're on the priority list," he said. "So we're very excited."
According to National Park Service Statistics, the C&O Canal with more than 3,100,000 visits is in the top 20 of all national parks with visitation similar to Yosemite and Olympic and greater than Yellowstone or Everglades.
C&O Canal Superintendent Kevin Brandt said, "One of my personal goals, while privileged to be superintendent of this wonderful natural and historic resource, is to help reconnect the local communities to their canal heritage. This summer marks the first year that the Great Allegheny Passage will be completely open from Cumberland to Pittsburg - the realization of George Washington's dream of that linkage between the Chesapeake and the Ohio. Already tours of up to 500 bike riders are scheduled on making the sojourn. Unfortunately we are not ready. The only detour on the entire 316 mile route is in Washington County at the Big Slackwater area of the Park."
The Big Slackwater is an area where the bluffs meet the river and the original canal builders used the slackwater behind Dam 4 for the canal boats, and workers chiseled out a narrow towpath at the base of the stone bluffs. Repeated floods have washed away about 4,200 linear feet of the stone wall supporting the towpath forcing visitors to go elsewhere to recreate, "Or they take a 6 mile detour onto a narrow county road, with blind curves, steep grades and heavy weekend traffic have injured numerous unsuspecting families of visitors," said Brandt.
More information on the Centennial Initiative can be found at www.nps.gov/2016. The project is listed on Page 12 of the Report to the President of the United States, under Recreational Experience.
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(BOLD)What is the Big Slackwater project?
Reconstruct and stabilize the C&O Canal towpath and Big Slackwater historic stone wall, the only break in the continuity of the 184.5-mile long C&O Canal towpath and 316 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage Trail connecting Washington with Pittsburgh. Repeated floods have washed away about 4,200 linear feet of the stone wall supporting the towpath forcing visitors to go elsewhere to recreate or take a 6 mile detour onto a narrow county road where blind curves, steep grades and heavy weekend traffic have injured numerous unsuspecting families of visitors.
(BOLD)Why is this project so important?
It will repair a very important cultural resource and eliminate a very dangerous detour around the Big Slackwater section of the C&O Canal towpath, which is the only break in the continuity of the 184.5 miles of C&O Canal towpath and 316 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage Trail connecting Washington with Pittsburgh. In the last five years at least 34 people have been taken to area hospitals for treatment of various injuries.
(BOLD)Where is the project?
It is located in the Big Slackwater section of the C&O Canal located in Washington County, MD just east of Williamsport. It is an area where the bluffs meet the river and the original canal builders used the slack water behind a dam in the Potomac River as the canal and chiseled out a narrow towpath at the base of the stone bluffs.
(BOLD)How much will it cost?
Current estimate is $15,000,000, but that may be much less utilizing a smaller design for a towpath. A six-foot design could be used, instead of ten or twelve feet of width. Already, the State of Maryland has stepped forward with an approved $100,000 bond bill, to help partially fund the beginning of engineering studies for the towpath repairs. The bond bill was proposed by the Washington County Delegation.
(BOLD)Who are the park partners involved in the project?
State of Maryland Transportation Enhancement Program, C&O Canal Trust, Hagerstown Convention and Visitor Bureau, C&O Canal Association and Washington County, MD. The National Park Service has targeted the Big Slackwater as a priority project.
(BOLD)How long has it been out of service?
For more then three decades the Big Slackwater section of the C&O Canal towpath has suffered the ravages of flooding and for the most part has been closed since the mid seventies, and closed for good following flooding in 1996. (BOLD)Sustainability
Any repairs will be made using sustainable techniques so that once completed, the maintenance of Big Slackwater will be able to be handled by park staff and will be resistant to future flooding.
(BOLD)What is the benefit to the local community?
When this project is completed, 58,000 additional visitors will enjoy this area of the C&O Canal creating an additional economic benefit from heritage and recreational tourism of $2 million per year. This is in addition to the $30-million that the park already contributes to the Maryland economy.
(BOLD)Paint this picture
Imagine that you and your family have decided to cycle the entire length of the 316 mile Great Allegheny Passage connecting Pittsburgh to Washington DC. You start in Pittsburgh and are able to cycle on a non- vehicular pathway for 192 miles until you suddenly reach Big Slackwater and are forced to take a 6 mile pedestrian detour on to narrow county roads with steep grades and blind curves where you are exposed to heavy vehicular traffic many of which are pulling trailers. This is the same detour where over the last five years at least 34 people have been taken to area hospitals for treatment of various injuries.
For more information about the C&O Canal National Historical Park, see: www.nps.gov/choh. For more information about Washington County, Maryland, see: www.marylandmemories.com.