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C&O park officials share ideas for projects

August 05, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

WILLIAMSPORT -- Officials with the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park on Wednesday night began laying out plans for a dozen potential projects that involve restoring parts of the old water transportation facility or improving the experience in Williamsport, and the head of the park said he hopes much of the work is completed by 2016.

About 60 people attended a public information meeting in the Williamsport Community Building in Byron Memorial Park to hear about the park's plans.

Towns along the C&O Canal in Maryland and West Virginia have started to look at ways to capitalize on growing numbers of visitors to the park, which features a towpath where mules once pulled canal boats filled with coal and other supplies.

Today, the towpath along the Potomac River is filled with visitors like bicyclists who enjoy riding along the path.

Park officials on Wednesday focused on what they have in store for Williamsport, considered a prime area for telling the story of the canal because of the concentration of canal-related structures there.

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Park officials laid out plans for restoring or rehabilitating the Western Maryland Railway lift bridge, the Cushwa Basin coal storage area, Lock 44, the trolley building, the Cushwa warehouse and the Conococheague aqueduct. They also talked about bringing boats to the canal in Williamsport, which will allow visitors to ride up and down the canal to get a feel for how the canal once operated.

Other plans include developing walking tours in partnership with the town of Williamsport that would tie the town to the park.

Park officials also said they will have to study ways to get water into the canal to make the Conococheague aqueduct operational again.

The meeting was led by C&O Canal Superintendent Kevin Brandt, who said the plans in store for the park have exciting possibilities.

"I get goose bumps thinking about it," Brandt said. "What a tremendous opportunity to exercise our imagination."

Funding work for the projects is under way.

More than $1 million in state highway funds to renovate the railroad lift bridge and Lock 44 looks favorable for approval and $12.1 million in federal stimulus money recently was earmarked for rebuilding a deteriorated 2.7-mile section of the canal south of Williamsport known as Big Slackwater.

The National Park Service is accepting public comments on the proposals until Sept. 5, park officials said. The comments will be considered as the National Park Service formulates an environmental assessment report for the improvements, park officials said.

The environmental assessment will examine issues like public safety, noise and infrastructure changes, park officials said. That assessment, which will consider alternatives for the various projects, could be completed by next spring, Brandt said.

Greg Martin of Williamsport asked how long the work could take.

"There's a lot of history of waiting," he said.

That's when Brandt said he would like to have a lot of the work completed by 2016.

To comment on C&O Canal proposals



Comments about plans for the C&O Canal in Williamsport can be submitted to http://parkplanning.nps.gov.

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