While the weather outside right now may not be conducive of going off on a bike tour, right about now may be a good time to start planning for the spring and summer.
A good place to start (or end) could be the town of Cumberland, Maryland where two hike and bike trails come together. Heading south on the C&O Canal towpath you can travel all the way to Washington. Heading north and west is a 150 mile trail system called the Great Allegheny Passage leading you all the way through the mountains to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania once it’s completed.
Going South On The C&O
When you are traveling on the C&O you are visiting a 184.5 mile long National Historical Park. The National Park Service has this to say about the canals importance to the area…
In the 19th century the C&O Canal provided jobs and opportunities for people throughout the Potomac River Valley. Today the canal's remains provide a place to recreate and enjoy nature, but most importantly they tell the story of the canal's important role in many aspects of American history. These include western expansion, transportation, engineering, the Civil War, immigration, industry and commerce. (via Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park – History & Culture (U.S. National Park Service))
Today, millions of visitors each year hike or bike the towpath alongside the canal. If you plan in advance there is the possibility of staying the night in a furnished Lockhouse. At this time there are three lockhouses set up to allow for overnight stays with two additional lockhouses being rehabilitated for the program.
Stay the night, remember forever
Have you ever wanted to see the inside of a lockhouse or wondered what it was like to live and work along the canal? Well now you can!
Canal Quarters offers an extraordinary interpretive opportunity for people of all ages. Now, for the first time ever, you can stay overnight in a lockhouse and experience life as it may have been during a bygone era on the C&O Canal. Four lockhouses have been painstakingly rehabilitated and furnished to evoke different eras in the canal’s history.(via C&O Canal Trust – Exploring a Canal of History)
Just keep in mind, you really will be experiencing life as it was…In some houses running water and electricity are not available. In addition to the lockhouses there are over 1,300 historic structures in the C&O Canal NHP, more than in any other national park in the country.
Begun in 1828, it wasn’t until October 10, 1850 that the canal was opened in Cumberland. On that day the first five coal boats of what would be a multitude over the following years started their journey towards the Atlantic.
“Many of us were young when this great work was commenced,” said the spokesman for the town, “The opening of yonder gates to let through the first boat carrying freight…is the turning point in the history of the canal.”
The engineering feat was impressive. There were 74 locks, 7 dams, 11 aqueducts and a 3,118-ft tunnel along the 184 and a half miles of ditch and towpath.Boats
It was the flood of 1889 that spelled the end of the C&O as a viable business. Ownership passed to the B&O Railroad, long time competitor of the Canal Company. By 1902 the management of the canal was in the hands of Canal Towage Company and the life on the canal was totally different. Boats once owned by the watermen became company property; impersonal numbers replaced the boat names.
After another flood in 1924 left the canal in ruins the canal age was abandoned to history until granted a new lease on life in 1971 as a National Historical Park.
Up Next: The Trail North…