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C&O Canal making comeback

March 28, 1997

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

Thanks to lot of hard work cleaning up debris left by two major floods in 1996 and making flood-related repairs, the Washington County stretch of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath is now "quite usable," Park Superintendent Doug Faris said Wednesday.

About 75 percent of the 184.5-mile canal - which runs from Cumberland, Md., to Georgetown in Washington, D.C. - was covered with water during the flooding in January and September of 1996, Faris said.

That eroded the towpath in some areas and left a covering of silt and a wide range of debris, including logs, structures, cars and appliances, he said.

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"We've had a big job," said Faris, who said the Washington County stretch was particularly hard-hit by the flooding.

All but a few miles of the towpath in Washington County - which contains 78 miles of the canal - is now accessible to both hikers and bikers, he said.

For two or three more months, bicyclists will need to dismount and walk along a rough area of the towpath from Dam No. 4, mile 85.3, to McMahons Mill, mile 88.1, which is being worked on, he said.

Park campgrounds, hiker/biker camps and public access areas in the county are expected to reopen within the month, Faris said.

Opening of the Conococheague and Four Locks campgrounds is scheduled for April 15, he said.

The county's two visitor centers, located in Williamsport and Hancock, already are open, Faris said.

Historical walks, ranger-led bicycle rides and other activities are scheduled to resume in Williamsport in April, he said. For more information, call 1-301-582-0813.

Around 4,800 volunteers pitched in last year to help National Park Service employees restore the national park, which has averaged 3.5 million visitors annually in recent years, he said.

The next volunteer project is scheduled for April 5, as part of the ninth annual Potomac watershed cleanup, Faris said.

Volunteers will be removing trash and debris from the canal, the Potomac River and picnic areas around Taylor's Landing and McCoy's Ferry that day, he said.

For more information on volunteering, call Nancy Brown at 1-301-714-2233.

Between closings due to the flooding and severe weather conditions throughout the year, park visitation was way down last year, said Faris, who said attendance seems to be bouncing back as repairs are completed.

Extensive repairs are still needed to fix more than $50 million of storm-related damage to the canal and locks, some dating back to floods in 1972 and 1985, he said.

Last year's floods caused between $30 million and $40 million of that damage, Faris said.

The work will be done over the next two years as part of the park's Flood Recovery Action Plan, he said.

Information about the national park is available via the Internet at (http://www.nps.gov/choh).

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