C & O Canal getting a makeover

C & O Canal getting a makeover

C&O Canal Updates

The C&O Canal is Getting Some Much-Needed Attention, As Told By The Neighboring Towpath

A little about me. I was technically born between 1828 and 1850 as the land component of the C&O Canal that runs 184.5 miles from Washington DC to Cumberland, MD. I was originally built so donkeys and mules could walk alongside the canal and tow the boats through the waterway. I operated successfully until around 1924, when a major flood caused navigation to cease and the canal was abandoned. Thankfully, in 1971, I was resurrected as part of the C&O Canal National Historic Park. Now I operate as a recreational trail for, hikers, runners, and cyclists (my favorite!), but I appreciate anyone that wants to travel along my path of beauty and history.

However, after over 50 years of use, my surface had become a bit less desirable. Ruts developed, muddy wallows formed after rainfall, roots poked through my dirt surface, and traveling by bicycle was starting to become a somewhat unpleasant experience (especially on the rear-ends of the riders!). Just like many 50 year-olds, it was time for a face lift. Thanks to efforts by the C&O Canal Trust and the National Park Service, I started to get the cosmetic surgery that I needed in 2017 – and the resurfacing project (aka Towpath Botox) began.

Work completed on the towpath in March 2024 between MM 156 and MM173.


What Does a towpath glow-up look like?

  • Removal of rocks, tree roots, and other obstacles.
  • Removal of grassy median strip.
  • Grading of towpath to facilitate water runoff.
  • Re-surfacing with the same crushed stone dust on the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP).

What Else is in Store for our Favorite Recreational Towpath-Turned-Trail?

The project is on-going and will hopefully be 100% completed within the next year or two. However, things are SO much better for me than they used be. In 2021, the resurfacing was completed from Violettes Lock (MM 22.1) to Big Slackwater (MM 86.9). A highlight is the section from Shepherdstown to Harpers Ferry which is now smooth as silk and a real joy to ride. In 2023, they started working one of my most bumpy and unpleasant sections from the Paw Paw Tunnel (MM 155) to Spring Gap (MM 173)—and that should be completed by the spring of 2024.

And, speaking of my friend the Paw Paw Tunnel, she was closed for over 2 years while they repaired the towpath and did some rock scaling to make her safe. She reopened in September of 2023 for thru-traffic, which is a real highlight of the towpath. No more shuttle! No more hike-a-bike detour!

So, for all you cyclists that love your smooth riding surfaces: I’d like to introduce you to the new and improved C&O Canal Towpath. Yeah, there is still a little work to do (MM 173 to MM 184.5 is still a bit rough around the edges—and the middle…) – but I am well on my way to becoming the smooth-surfaced equivalent of the GAP Trail.

 And I’m way older than the GAP Trail – so there! Want to see for yourself? Sign up for a C&O Canal Bike Tour!