National Park Service Announces Plans for Georgetown’s C&O Canal Repairs

At long last, the National Park Service (NPS) has formally announced plans to drain and restore Georgetown’s portion of the landmark C&O Canal with a $12.7 million “investment” to “preserve American history and improve flood resilience,” along the initial stretch of the historic canal, built circa 1828. The repairs are slated to begin in the spring of 2024 and be “finished by the end of 2025 (weather dependent),” according to NPS. 

Running 184.5 miles to Cumberland, Maryland, following the shores of the Potomac River upstream, the full canal was completed in 1850. “The C&O Canal began as a dream of passage to Western wealth,” NPS said. “Operating for nearly 100 years, the canal was a lifeline for communities along the Potomac River as coal, lumber and agricultural products floated down the waterway to market. Today it endures as a pathway to discover history, nature, and fun with friends and family.”

In April, 2022, the Georgetown community saw “The Georgetown Heritage” canal boat christened and has since seen boatloads of paying riders enjoying costume reenactment educational tours – with revenue far exceeding expectations. But, the canal was again shut down for repairs in Oct. 2023. 

In a recent press release, however, NPS announced that an “historic preservation and maintenance project starting in 2024 will protect key parts of our country’s early transportation history and reduce the risk of flooding in Georgetown during storms and high water.” 

The repairs to Georgetown’s section of the canal will be focused on both the canal’s lock mechanisms and the waterway’s prism. NPS contact Christiana Hanson said, the project “will focus on historic canal features including Inlet Lock 1 [at 29th Street between M and K Streets NW], which diverts water from the Potomac River to the five-mile-section of the canal in Georgetown, three locks (Locks 1, 2 and 5) and the canal walls at Level 4.” 

“This continues the NPS’s work to preserve the canal and provide authentic, active places for people to enjoy,” Hanson said. “Each fall, the NPS drains the water from the canal to prevent damage to the masonry walls caused by ice and freeze/thaw cycles. Water will be channeled back into the canal when construction is complete and there is no risk of freezing.”

“Portions of the towpath may be closed with detours indicated,” the NPS press release continued. “NPS will share more information on the project when it’s available so there is as little disruption as possible. Check the park’s website for updates. The Georgetown Visitor Center, which has been updated both inside and out, will reopen in the spring.”  

Recent NPS canal projects include repairs at Fletcher’s Cove along the C&O Canal Towpath near Georgetown following “flash flooding and high intensity rainfall on July 8, 2019,” NPS said. “This $574,825 NPS-funded… project will repair pipes and drainage channels, stabilize bridges and the roadway along the access road to the lower Fletcher’s Cove parking lot, and repave damaged road surfaces.” 

In 2022, NPS also “completed the repair of the upper gates at historic Lift Lock 2, which is the second lock from the start of the canal in Georgetown. This repair was part of a larger $468,447… project that also replaced the upper and lower timber lock gates at historic Lift Lock 20 at Great Falls Tavern.”  

In 2021, NPS also “completed a $1.8 million… project to temporarily stabilize the dry-laid stone retaining wall in Georgetown just west of the Wisconsin Avenue bridge near the intersection with Grace Street. This interim shoring will be incorporated into the permanent fix in the upcoming construction,” NPS said.

From 2016-2019, NPS also repaired the foundation, walls and gates of Locks 3 and 4. “Great care was taken to honor the canal’s history during the restoration,” NPS said.  “For example, the locks were fully disassembled, and the original wood foundation was removed and replaced with a reinforced concrete foundation to improve durability and flood-resistance. The locks were rebuilt using as much of the original stone as possible. New, but historically accurate, lock gates were constructed and installed. Before this $8.5 million… rehabilitation, the canal walls had been shifting inward.” 

In their recent holiday card posting on social media Georgetown Heritage, the nonprofit organization in charge of  Georgetown’s canal boat, implored followers to consider donating. “As we continue to lead efforts to restore and revitalize the C&O Canal in Georgetown heading into 2024, your gift can make an impact as big as the 184.5-mile long Canal itself! From supporting the National Park Service’s Locks and Walls infrastructure project, to debuting Canal walking tours, and more, there is so much we can achieve with your help.”


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