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"Big Slackwater" Project Completed At Chesapeake And Ohio Canal National Historical Park


It took 15 years and more than $19 million, but the C&O Canal towpath has been reoriented to its original alignment with the restoration of the "Big Slackwater" section. The bottom photo shows how some of the work was conducted from barges. NPS photos.

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.


On a recent trip we were the first travellers to go across after the ribbon cutting. The ride, view, and trail are all amazing. No more worries about getting hit on those narrow back country roads with no shoulder. Thanks for the effort and restoring to trail for a complete trip.

The last decade I have cycled the detour around this section many times and I have grown tired of it. As an experienced road biker, it is not that I do not enjoy a ride on the road, but the detour changes the experience of what the C&O offers to those who are looking for one of America's best unique bike rides.

The C&O does not only provide a “Get-a-way” experience, but the history, architecture and nature science of the 184 mile treasure is fulfilling and nourishes the mind, body and soul. Big Slackwater provides the adventure with a completely different experience that most of canal. Consider these:

The canal is on the opposite side of the towpath.

The sweeping views of the Potomac are unparalleled.

Knowledge of how hard this was to replace this section with today’s technology only heightens the sense of what it originally took to build this part of the canal.

Nowhere are you closer to the Potomac itself.

I told my wife that I would not ride this part of the canal until the restoration was complete. Now I am looking forward to when I can get out there and enjoy it.

Thank you to those who are committed to not letting the canal fall into the abyss of time and neglect.

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