Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Center for the State of the Parks: Park Assessments

Published April 2004


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(PDF, 2MB, 24 pages)

An American Treasure in Peril

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park (C&O Canal) extends 184.5 miles along the Potomac River, a treasure hidden in plain sight. From Georgetown in the District of Columbia to Cumberland, Maryland, the park preserves a wealth of our nation's history and a rich array of rare natural resources. Many visitors enjoy recreational benefits, such as hiking and cycling, yet pass through without realizing the park's significance or its true scope.
This historic place faces many modern threats. Flooding (though beneficial and even necessary to the existence of some plant species and habitats), invasive exotic species, rapid development of adjacent lands, utility rights of way, lack of funding, and staffing shortfalls all contribute to the decline in park resources. And because of a lack of staff and money, the park is not able to fully educate visitors about the park’s history and biological importance.

Millions of dollars are needed to repair and restore the 1,365 historic structures that make up the heart of C&O Canal’s cultural legacy, as well as adequately preserve and manage the array of rare species and natural communities found within the park’s boundaries. The Park Service has approved plans by Georgetown and George Washington universities to build large boathouses on parkland within sight of the canal towpath. Congress must first approve transferring the parkland to these special interests. These plans threaten the integrity of the resources near Georgetown.

And perhaps among the most difficult challenges to quantify, a large portion of the park’s visitors see it as nothing more than a recreational trail along the Potomac and fail to understand the rich history and biological diversity around them. Visitors cannot be strong advocates for resources they don’t fully understand.

Please download the complete report to learn more.

 

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