After more than 15 years, and $19 million, the 184-mile-long towpath along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal has been restored to its original alignment along the Potomac River.
Dubbed the "Big Slackwater" project after the last section of towpath needing repairs, the restoration work "not only eliminates the hazardous detour along narrow country roads, but it restores the magnificent views and historic route walked by mules and canawlers."
With little maintenance between 1924 and 1971 when Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park was created, this stretch of the towpath was particularly vulnerable to flood waters, according to park officials. Indeed, in 1996 "two large floods dealt a devastating blow, completely washing away long stretches of the towpath." That washout forced towpath visitors to endure a 5-mile detour if they wanted to continue on down the path.
Since then, the enormity of the erosion prevented the repairs to Big Slackwater, making it the only segment of the 184.5-mile canal towpath closed to park visitors.
A dedication ceremony was held last Saturday. The restoration work was primarily funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Maryland Department of Transportation's Transportation Enhancement Program, with donations from the C&O Canal Trust, Washington County, Town of Williamsport and the Hagerstown and Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.