C&O Canal Towpath Trail 'judged' as great recreation
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Daily Courier is featuring a series of articles throughout the summer, detailing the history of the trails and how the train through Connellsville came about. Today, the 185-mile C & O Canal Towpath Heritage Trail to Washington, D.C., began with a federal judge's stroll in March 1954.
The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath Trail could have been a parkway between Cumberland, Md., and Washington, D.C., if a federal judge hadn't decided to take a walk in the 1950s.
Baltimore & Ohio Railroad owned the canal in 1938 when the utility gave it — and its right-of-way — to the U.S. government in exchange for a federal loan.
Government plans to restore the 185-mile path as a recreational area were abandoned when the United States entered World War II in 1941.
After the war, Congress considered using the corridor as a highway between Cumberland and Washington, D.C.
Feelings were mixed about using automobiles on the trail; many of the canal path's miles snaked through beautiful, pristine wilderness.
Judge takes hike
U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice William O. Douglas decided to see the path for himself. In March 1954, he led a group of 58 people on an eight-day hike along the C&O Canal right-of-way.
Only nine people — including Douglas — completed the 185 miles.
However, popular response from the hikers and positive press coverage shifted the project's focus off transportation and back onto recreation.
The National Park Service was appointed to develop the corridor, and President Dwight Eisenhower declared it a national monument in 1961.
A 1971 Act of Congress authorized National Park Service to acquire additional lands along the trail as needed.
That same year, the C&O Canal Towpath Trail was designated a National Historical Park.
Some portions of the canal have been re-watered and are used for recreational boating, although the majority of the 185-mile canal remains dry.
Canal boats available
In the Georgetown area of Washington, D.C., visitors can ride on two canal boats reproduced in the style of the 19th Century. The boats — named The Charles F. Mercer and The Georgetown — are pulled by mules, as freight boats were during the canal's commercial heyday.
Visitors to D.C. also can tour an original lockkeeper's house located near the National Mall, at 17th Street NW and Constitution Avenue.
The National Park Service estimates that at least 3 million people visit the C&O Canal Towpath Trail annually. That number is expected to increase with the official opening of the Great Allegheny Passage between Cumberland and Pittsburgh, as the two trails combined provide 335 unbroken miles of recreation.
Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Vietnam vets from Fayette recall service — and those who didn’t make it home
- Connellsville WWII veteran recalls close calls as a bomber navigator
- Connellsville board set to tackle budget
- Brownsville Boy Scouts make sure vets are not forgotten
- Army unit reunites to honor fallen comrade in Uniontown
- Gulf War veteran restores Uniontown mansion
- Keepsake ornament depicts Dunbar church history
- Lynn: Memorial Day service to be held in Tri-Town area
- Vanderbilt council addresses abandoned homes, parking
- Connellsville details its Memorial Day parade lineup
- Connellsville building owner uses graffiti to point out unsightly demolition debris