Georgetown Heritage anticipates canal boat rides at C&O Canal in 2020

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C&O Canal. Photo courtesy of William Manning/Alamy.
C&O Canal. Photo courtesy of William Manning/Alamy.

By: Davis Kennedy

Georgetown Heritage expects the Georgetown portion of the C&O Canal to feature canal boats that offer passenger rides by late summer 2020, Maggie Downing, the organization’s Director of Programs & Partnerships, said at the Citizens Association of Georgetown’s monthly meeting.  

Funding is in place to construct an historically accurate boat with modern enhancements, she said. Before the boat launches, however, the 31st Street bridge over the canal needs rebuilding. The Department of Transportation hasn’t started on the project.

“We expect the contract to be issued early in 2019,” Downing said. “And that work on the bridge would begin soon after that. It’s a large scale project. While it’s under reconstruction, there can be no water under the bridge.”

Come the summer of 2020, however, “there should be six feet of water there if the project takes as long as is expected.”

Georgetown Heritage raised $425,000 from the community to make immediate improvements and repairs to the portion of the canal in Georgetown. One project is to put temporary LED lights along the pedestrian bridges.  

“We will be testing out a different paving material on the existing ramps leading down to the canal at Potomac Street and 34th Street,” Downing said. “The towpath material now gets washed out every time  there is a heavy rain. Vegetation must be taken out of the canal bed as soon as possible.”

Downing mentioned they will hold another public meeting in March to discuss the designs and long-term plans for the canal. Georgetown Heritage will do monthly cleanups, weather permitting, early next year. It experienced several clean-ups in 2018.

“We will have to see if other portions of the canal will also have to be free of water in order to repair them as we identify other projects. We will try to keep water in the canal as much as possible,” Downing said.  

Specially-trained mules will pulls the boats, Kevin Brandt, the superintendent of the C&O Canal for the National Park Service, told the group. The mules are expected to arrive in the park when the boat program launches. The staff will clean after them, and the park will look into having the mules wear diapers. 

Downing mentioned cleaning garbage around the area “is a huge problem.” “It’s going to be a constant struggle. The National Park Service, which owns the canal, does not have the staff to do it.”

One problem is putting benches along the canal. Benches were reinstalled at Locks 3 and 4. Downing said people need a place to sit. 

And to assure accessibility to the canal, there might be additional ramps. Many of the current ramps are not compliant with the Americans with Disability Act. Thus, there is the possibility of installing elevators. Bicyclists along the canal tow path may be required to walk their bikes to assure pedestrian safety, Brandt said. “We’ve seen several scooters in the canal,” Downing mentioned.

Downing’s organization is focusing on west of the Key Bridge to the Zero Mile Post, where Rock Creek meets the Potomac behind Thompson’s Boat Center.

Furthermore, the total cost of the project hasn’t been determined, Downing said. All funds will not come from the National Park Service budget. Some will come from the District Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Fund, and private philanthropy. Downing stressed that her part of the project is just in Georgetown and down to the Potomac.

The total canal is 184.5 miles long, 183.5 from where the Georgetown project ends, Brandt said. Many parts of the canal doesn’t have water. “The rest of the canal is in severe need of help,” he said.

One question is what to do with the material on the towpath. ”Partners like Georgetown Heritage are very helpful.” We will try to figure out this spring what to do with materials on the towpath,” Brandt said.