Along the 184.5 miles of the C&O Canal are countless vistas of natural scenic beauty, historic settings and sites of a blend of both. In the early 1800’s, Canal Company engineers built the canal and towpath to take advantage of the Potomac River as the water source and as a westward route through mountainous terrain.” Unintentionally, this design left a scenic corridor of historic features or structures and the natural floodplain and upland Piedmont forests of the Potomac River ecosystem that is now the C&O Canal NHP. Visitors may enjoy the numerous cultural landscapes and significant historical settings, throughout the park, such as the Great Falls Tavern, Georgetown, the Paw Paw Tunnel, and numerous locks and lockhouses. The entire length of the canal and towpath and many of the associated structures are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Several historic settings are listed on the NPS Cultural Landscape Inventory. The park’s scenic vistas include not only the historic settings but also the natural beauty of the floodplain and upland Piedmont forests. Examples of vistas are numerous views out to the Potomac River from the towpath, the Paw Paw Bends area, the Great Falls of the Potomac, spring wildflower sites and countless more. A few scenic vistas are a result of the engineered canal; such are the Wide Water area, Mary’s Wall and Big Slack Water. Views from the towpath have been protected to the greatest extent possible through the founding park legislation, National Park Service policies and management strategies. Protecting this linear park, the enabling legislation, Public Law 91-664 states the park mandate is “In order to preserve and interpret the historic and scenic features of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.“ Park managers continue to identify issues that may compromise the quality of scenic vistas throughout the park and strive for solutions, which reduce the threats to the landscapes. The resulting goal is to provide a rewarding and pleasurable experience for park visitors.
Did You Know?
Most freight boats on the C&O Canal were approximately 95 feet long and 14.5 feet wide while most locks were 100 feet long and 15 feet wide. This left boat captains little margin for error as they steered their boats into the locks, trying to avoid the $5.00 fine for damaging lock masonry.