C&O Canal Towpath Reopens After Rehabilitation Project

Cover Photo: A portion of the towpath and retaining wall that were rehabilitated as part of this project. NPS/Joe Reed, Park Engineer

WILLIAMSPORT, MD News (3/22/2023) – After several months of hard work, the C&O Canal towpath between McMahon’s Mill (mile 88) and Lock 42 (mile 89) has finally been reopened. The contractor responsible for the rehabilitation project has been busy stabilizing the towpath, replacing drainage culverts, and repairing the historic stone retaining walls that had suffered damage due to river flooding and overgrowth.

This section of the towpath, which spans 0.9 miles, has been a challenge for visitors to navigate during periods of high water. The constant flooding not only damaged the towpath, but also weakened the stone walls that run alongside it. With the completion of this project, the National Park Service hopes to minimize future damage to the towpath and other historic features of the park, as well as ensure the safety of visitors.

The project involved using over 7 million pounds of limestone sourced from three different local quarries to repair, reconstruct, and raise the dry laid and mortared stone walls along the 0.9-mile stretch. This required the use of up to nine marine vessels, including five barges, two support boats, and two tugboats, in addition to various land-based equipment. The restoration work was carried out in a manner that ensured the preservation of the historical significance of the site.

Interestingly, the section of the towpath and its retaining walls that were rehabilitated were originally constructed between 1836 and 1839, 184 years ago. The section was used for commercial transportation until 1924. The repairs have been completed just prior to the 100-year anniversary of this section’s last use for commercial transportation, making the re-opening of this stretch of the towpath all the more significant.

While the towpath has been raised at its lowest points, the National Park Service warns that this section may still go under water during moderate and major river flooding events. Visitors are urged to exercise caution during such times and follow any detours or instructions issued by park rangers.

The reopening of this section of the C&O Canal towpath is a significant milestone in the preservation of America’s heritage. It will once again allow visitors to experience the natural beauty of the Potomac River and its surroundings while providing a glimpse into the history of transportation in America.

Article by RFHC staff

%d bloggers like this: