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C&O Canal seeks help

March 28, 2007|by TAMELA BAKER

The 100th anniversary of the National Park Service isn't until 2016, but the Department of the Interior is already getting ready for the party.

Beginning next year, the NPS Centennial Initiative has been designed to generate up to $300 million per year for projects to improve the country's national parks. And administrators of the C&O Canal National Historical Park are looking for partners for projects they've already chosen. Part of the money would be donated, and part would be matched by the Department of the Interior.

On Tuesday, Deputy Superintendent Robert Hartman presented some local projects to the Washington County Commissioners for their consideration. They include repairs to structures at Williamsport and expansion of the Western Maryland Rail Trail.

But the biggest project is reconstruction of the towpath at Big Slackwater, a 2.7-mile section between Sharpsburg and Williamsport. That section is closed because of damage to the retaining wall, forcing hikers and bikers to take a 6-mile detour.

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Though the cost for repairs has been estimated at $10 million to $15 million, modifications could bring down the price, said Tom Riford, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Even with the detour, Riford said visitors to the canal spend about $9 million a year in Washington County. If the Slackwater section were reopened, he said another 58,000 visitors would likely come to the canal and spend another $2 million in the county.

The commissioners were supportive - Commissioner Terry Baker noted that his great-grandfather was a lock keeper and his grandfather was born on a canal boat - but made no commitments as yet.

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