C&O Canal Park visitation increases

March 10, 2013

The latest figures for visitation show that the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park is Maryland’s largest and most visited national park.

Figures released by the National Park Service recently show that the park ranks 11th in number of visitors out of 398 national parks. The 2012 visitation numbers showed an  increase over the previous year (the park was ranked 17th in visitation in 2011).

Visitation parkwide, and in Washington County, has greatly increased.

“To have such a positive increase in the number of visitors shows that park usage is way up, in recreational tourism and heritage visitation,” said Tom Riford, president and chief executive officer of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Riford said the park, which is 184.5 miles long and with nearly 43 percent of the park in Washington County, generates millions of dollars of local economic impact. 

For nearly 100 years, the C&O Canal was a vital transportation line, serving communities from Georgetown to Cumberland, Md. It remains not only as a unique natural and recreational playground, but is a rising economic contributor to the area.

The latest 2012 year-end figures show that 4,712,377 people visited the park, topping other popular tourist destinations, including the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C. 

In Washington County, park statistics show that more than 1.3 million visitors came to the park. Visitation was nearly 700,000 the year before.

Since 2008, visits to the C&O Canal have grown 51 percent, according to National Park Service statistics.

This is growth that Park Superintendent Kevin Brandt attributes to improved towpath maintenance, completion of the Great Allegheny Passage and improved partnerships with canal towns. Growth in the last year can also be attributed to the reopening of the towpath at Big Slackwater, which was the only gap in the trail. The reopening made it possible for people to hike or bike the entire towpath, which hadn’t been possible since flooding damaged the area in 1972.

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