Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood is known for its restaurants and upscale shopping, but the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and its towpath, managed by the National Park Service (NPS), is a priceless piece of U.S. history.
NPS just announced a 2024 project that will restore and protect the historic canal features that were key to early American transportation.
The project, predicted to run from 2024 to the end of 2025, will focus on preserving Inlet Lock 1, which diverts water from the Potomac River to Georgetown’s five-mile section of canal, Locks 1, 2 and 5, and the canal walls at Level 4.
The walls are masonry and subject to crumbling. Each year, NPS drains the water from the canal to prevent ice and freeze/thaw cycling from damaging the masonry walls. Construction will take place while the canal is drained. Water will be channeled back into the canal when the project is finished and there’s no risk of freezing.
NPS notes that portions of the towpath may be closed with detours in place during construction. Check the park website for the most current trail updates.
The organization Georgetown Heritage has expanded the experiences offered to visitors wanting to learn the history of the canal and its locks. As Chesapeake Bay Magazine reported last year, a new canal boat with bargemen was launched for guided boat rides.
The park service has been tackling ongoing issues along the canal in the District. A flash flood at Fletchers Cove in 2019 caused damage to pipes and drainage channels, bridges, road surfaces and the access road to the lower parking lot. A $574,000 project to repair all the damage just began in November and is expected to wrap up by the end of the year.
Historic Lift Lock 2, the second lock in the Georgetown section of the canal, was repaired in 2022. And in 2021, a $1.8 million project stabilized the stone retaining wall in Georgetown close to the Wisconsin Avenue bridge. The NPS already repaired the foundation, walls and gates of Locks 3 and 4 over a three-year span because the canal walls had been shifting inward. To preserve the canal’s history, the locks were fully disassembled and the original wood foundation was replaced with reinforced concrete. The locks were rebuilt using as much original stone and possible.
Georgetown is also sporting updates to its Visitor Center, both inside and out. It is slated to reopen in the spring. The Georgetown Visitor Center is located at mile 0.4 along the C&O Canal towpath.