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Group wants canal fixed

August 11, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A nonprofit group thinks it's time to fix Big Slackwater, the broken link in 184.5 miles of C&O Canal towpath.

A 2.7-mile stretch of the towpath south of Williamsport is impassable and has been closed for years.

The detour sends hikers and bikers along Dam 4 Road and two others, then back to the towpath - a side trip of about five miles, according to Tom Perry of the C&O Canal Association.

The nonprofit association, trying to drum up support to fix the breach, has invited public officials to tour the area this weekend.

Since it closed 10 years ago, "nothing has been done, other than talk," said Perry, chairman of the association's Big Slackwater Restoration Committee.

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The 184.5-mile national park runs from Cumberland, Md., to Washington, D.C.

Hurricane Agnes flooding in 1972 demolished the towpath above Dam 4, said Bill Justice, the chief of resource management and interpretation for C&O Canal National Historical Park.

"It has continued to be pummeled by high water and storms," he said.

The Park Service repaired and reopened portions at Big Slackwater in 1995, but flooding the next year made it worse, so it was shut down again, he said.

Justice said an estimate of $12 million to $16 million to repair the stretch is about right. Perry conceded that it's unlikely the Park Service would allocate so much money for the project.

The Park Service has good private partnerships, which can overcome funding obstacles, said Kathy Kupper, a spokeswoman at the Park Service's Washington, D.C., headquarters.

The C&O Canal Association has raised money for other repair projects, attracting attention and funding from the government, she said.

An example is Widewater, near Great Falls.

Agnes flooding closed the towpath there. This spring, with the association's fundraising help, it reopened.

Kupper said the Big Slackwater section, the last blocked-off stretch in the park, is in worse shape than Widewater was.

Public-private partnerships have helped restore the Monocacy Aqueduct and obtain a new canal boat at Great Falls, she said.

Kupper said the winding Big Slackwater detour - from Dam 4 Road to Dellinger Road to Avis Mill Road - is "kind of dangerous."

Dam 4 Road has no shoulders and needs a significant upgrade, Perry said.

However, "if the towpath were fixed, you wouldn't need to do anything with that road," he said.

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