Chesapeake and Ohio Canal
The Making of a Park
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The 1942 flood, undoing much of what the National Park Service had lately done below Seneca, all but ended discussion of restoring the C & O Canal above that point. Clearly it would be trouble enough to maintain a waterway along its lower 22 miles. What, then, to do with the remainder of the canal, stretching another 162 miles to Cumberland?

As acquired, this long strip of real estate was virtually unmanageable as parkland. Whereas the lower canal was buffered by lands being purchased for the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Maryland and the Palisades Parkway in the District of Columbia, the upper portion enjoyed no such protection. The Park Service held only the canal company's narrow right-of-way, averaging about 230 feet wide and thus seldom extending much beyond the towpath embankment on the river side and a like distance on the berm or inland side. Between the canal and river was much private land, used for homes, summer camps, and agriculture, to which many owners gained access along the towpath. Other private development closely bordered the berm. Because the canal company had made little effort to maintain the right-of-way after navigation ceased in 1924, intrusions by squatters and encroachments by neighboring owners were common. In places farmers had run fences across the dry bed and towpath so that their livestock could cross to and from the river.

Making this part of the canal suitable for public recreation and enjoyment would require acquisition or control of the riverside land and enough land on the berm for a scenic buffer. But there was no legal authority to acquire more land above Great Falls, and appropriations for the purpose were unlikely in any event. With few exceptions, Congress required lands for federal parks to be donated until the 1960s (when it authorized appropriations for land acquisition in the Cape Cod National Seashore act of 1961 and earmarked federal revenues for the purpose in the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965). In the case of the canal, this meant that additional lands would have to be purchased and donated by the state of Maryland—a remote prospect unless Maryland could be enticed by some compensating federal benefit.

Even if the right-of-way were cleared of private intrusions and the necessary lands acquired, it seemed unlikely that the dry canal would attract enough recreational use to justify its development and maintenance as national parkland. The Park Service prided itself as a people-serving agency, and the numbers of people who would be served by proposed park acquisitions and improvements weighed heavily in its calculations. The congressmen who authorized and appropriated money for these activities were also influenced by public use statistics. Hikers, bicyclists, birders, and others who might enjoy the upper canal in its ruined, revegetated state constituted a small and silent minority in those years.

As if these circumstances were insufficiently challenging to the C & O's custodians, there loomed the real possibility that long stretches of the canal would disappear from view. As directed by Congress in 1936 and 1937, the Army's Corps of Engineers surveyed the Potomac River basin for flood control and other improvements. At the beginning of 1945 it proposed a system of 14 multiple-purpose reservoirs on the Potomac and its tributaries. Construction would begin with a 119-foot-high dam at Riverbend, just above Great Falls, which would flood an area extending nearly to Harpers Ferry (and impound the Monocacy River past Frederick). Next would come a 105-foot dam at Chain Bridge, flooding the Little Falls area almost to Great Falls. Later Potomac dams would be built just below Harpers Ferry, flooding the lower town and back past Shepherdstown; at Rocky Marsh Run above Shepherdstown, flooding to Williamsport; at Pinesburg above Williamsport, flooding to Hancock; and above Little Orleans, flooding to Paw Paw. Such prominent canal features as the Monocacy and Antietam aqueducts would be inundated along with 78 miles of the towpath. [1]

Although the Chain Bridge and Riverbend dams and a small one at Bear Island would submerge about 41 miles of the C & O, the Corps report noted, "most of this portion of the canal is now inundated by periodic floods which makes effective maintenance most difficult and expensive." The lake formed behind the Chain Bridge dam "would create an attractive and much needed recreational area for a large portion of the inhabitants of Washington." The Riverbend dam could be operated to enhance the flow over Great Falls during summer daylight hours and could serve as the planned bridge for the George Washington Memorial Parkway near that point (page 8). Small locks at the Chain Bridge, Bear Island, and Riverbend dams would allow pleasure craft to navigate from Washington to Harpers Ferry. [2]

The Park Service officially opposed the Corps plan. The reservoirs with their drawdowns would poorly serve public recreation, Associate Director Arthur E. Demaray declared, while "the adverse effects of the dams on Federal park properties would greatly outweigh any possible benefits." [3] At a public hearing in the Interior Department Auditorium on April 3, 1945, only three persons out of more than 1,000 attending spoke in favor of the plan; opposing speakers included most members of Congress from the affected area. [4] The opposition caused the chief of engineers and the secretary of war to withhold endorsement of the plan, but the concerns that had prompted it remained. Pressure for dams was sure to resurface.

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If the canal corridor was to be retained and maintained as parkland in the face of these problems and challenges, a development plan was needed that would persuade Maryland to acquire and donate more land, lead to substantial public use, and entail levels of public investment and support sufficient to deter future reservoir plans. Devereux Butcher, executive secretary of the National Parks Association, returned to the idea of canal restoration. "It seems to me that one of the surest ways to keep the would-be dam builders of the Potomac licked is to repair the canal and develop it as much as possible for recreation," he wrote the superintendent of National Capital Parks. [5] With good reason, however, few if any Park Service officials viewed this as feasible. They turned instead to another development concept: that of a parkway.

A parkway road paralleling the canal as far as Great Falls was an integral part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway development plan, and in 1935 planners with the Park Service, the National Capital Park and Planning Commission, and the Bureau of Public Roads had considered its extension upriver (page 11). NPS landscape architect Malcolm Kirkpatrick and NCP&PC landscape architect Thomas C. Jeffers had both strongly opposed locating such a road on or alongside the canal. [6] Soon after the Park Service acquired the canal, Under Secretary of the Interior Harry Slattery advised Sen. Millard E. Tydings of Maryland (in a letter prepared by the Service) that "a scenic highway along the route of the canal" was not contemplated; rather, it was "the general plan to preserve the area [above Seneca] for recreational usage and for the conservation of wildlife." [7] After 1942, however, official sentiment began to shift.

In addition to the flood, pressures from Cumberland made preservation or restoration of the upper canal an increasingly unlikely prospect. On behalf of local interests, the Maryland General Assembly passed a resolution in May 1941 requesting Congress and the secretary of the interior to convey the former canal company lands within Cumberland to the city for flood protection, highway construction, and "the elimination of conditions, within the canal basin, detrimental to the health and comfort of the citizens of said City." Two miles of the canal would be converted to a road connecting with the local airport; another 2.12 miles would become a riverside drive joining State Route 51. [8]

The Park Service rejected the city's request, citing Corps of Engineers plans for a levee along the upper portion and the uncertain state of its own plans. After the flood, however, Service officials were more receptive to such proposals. When Cumberland's city attorney met with NCP Superintendent Irving C. Root in June 1943 to advocate a parkway drive along the entire canal to Cumberland, Root was willing to consider it. [9]

In late 1945 the Corps had advanced its plan for flood protection for Cumberland and neighboring Ridgeley, West Virginia, and sought Park Service concurrence in those aspects of it affecting the canal property. The dam that had fed the canal terminus would be removed, effectively precluding rewatering of the 78 miles above Dam 5; a levee would bury the last mile of the canal and towpath; and the grade of a former basin used as a ballpark would be raised. "This Department is now confronted with the necessity of making a decision as to the future use of the canal property in the Cumberland area," Arthur Demaray wrote Secretary Ickes. "This Service is of the opinion that, after eight years of administration and study, the time has come when it would be advantageous to formulate a policy for the recreational use of the canal as a whole." [10]

Demaray cast the flood control project in positive terms: "The proposal provides for a low levee along the top of the towpath, and the filling in of the canal and its adjacent areas behind the levee which would preclude the future use of the canal in the City of Cumberland for canal purposes, but would provide much usable recreational land not subject to inundation." He asked for approval to cooperate with the Corps on the project. With respect to the overall canal property, he wrote: "It is believed that the 23 miles of restored canal should be ample to disclose to the visiting public the historical aspects of the canal, and also should be ample to actively maintain as a recreational area. The restoration and maintenance of a greater area would involve great expense. The canal property between Seneca and Cumberland, Maryland, has possibilities for use as an easy grade, highly scenic parkway and many other park uses." [11]

The Interior Department's assistant solicitor questioned the Park Service's authority to transfer canal property to the Corps and to develop a parkway rather than maintain or restore the canal. In response, NCP Senior Attorney Sidney McClellan cited the authority for parkway construction in the National Industrial Recovery Act (under which the canal had been acquired) and a July 29, 1938, letter from PWA Administrator Ickes to Secretary Ickes allotting $2.5 million for purchase of the C & O "and the construction of a parkway as well as the rehabilitation of the existing canal as an historic site." Although the parkway referred to in the allotment letter could not have been more than the George Washington Memorial Parkway to Great Falls, present purposes were better served by construing the reference more broadly. [12]

"In view of the foregoing, it appears to me that the dominant thing contemplated was the construction of a parkway," McClellan continued. "I do not think that the phrase 'as well as the rehabilitation of the existing canal as an historic site' was used with the intention that the entire canal was to be restored." He cited the prohibitive cost of restoration and the fact that the right-of-way was frequently too narrow for both the canal and a parkway. Because the Park Service had authority to construct a parkway, it had discretion to determine which portions of the canal would be restored and which would be filled for the road. Also, it would necessarily have to cooperate with the Corps on flood control to protect the property. "Accordingly, there is no legal objection, in my opinion, to filling the canal with dirt at the points here in question as a step toward its conversion into a parkway," McClellan concluded. [13]

The proposal for cooperation with the Corps was made more specific as to what the Corps would be permitted to do on canal property. No land would be transferred to the War Department (the Corps' parent agency), and the Corps could be required to supply water to the canal downstream from the filled area. When Ickes himself received the amended proposal, however, he criticized the change of thinking that underlay it. "When we acquired the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal property I thought that we were buying it as a canal and not as a right of way for a road," he replied. [14]

Before the NPS could respond, Ickes resigned and left office on February 15, 1946. Demaray thus made his case to Oscar L. Chapman, the acting secretary. The canal, he wrote, would cost an estimated $10 million to restore and at least $300,000 per year thereafter to maintain—sums unlikely to be provided by Congress. In the absence of restoration, there was no justification for opposing the flood control project, particularly as it would improve recreational opportunities in Cumberland. A parkway to Cumberland had not been decided upon but must be considered as an option. Chapman agreed, signing his approval on March 29. [15]

The canal parkway readily attracted support in western Maryland, an economically depressed region served by few good roads. Working with the Park Service, J. Glenn Beall, western Maryland's congressman, introduced legislation in the next Congress for a feasibility study of the proposal. Under Secretary Chapman recommended enactment of the bill in a March 29, 1948, letter to the House Public Lands Committee: "Above Seneca the canal has been so seriously damaged that it is believed that its restoration for strictly recreational purposes by the Federal Government would prove too costly. A cursory study would indicate that it might be feasible, however, to construct a scenic highway along the route of the old canal from Great Falls to Cumberland, Md. . . . The Potomac, with its many picturesque rapids and lake-like pools walled in by wooded mountainsides, constitutes a scenic wonderland now hidden from the eyes of the millions of Americans who could enjoy its inspirational beauty if it were opened to their view through the establishment of the proposed parkway." [16]

Beall's bill passed the House and Senate without debate and was signed into law on June 10. It authorized the expenditure of $40,000 for a "joint reconnaissance study" by the Park Service and Bureau of Public Roads "to determine the advisability and practicability of constructing a parkway along the route of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, including a report of estimated cost." [17]

The institutional commitment to the parkway concept was by then sufficient to leave little doubt as to the study's outcome. The NPS-BPR report, transmitted to Congress in August 1950, declared that a parkway would be both practical and advisable if the state of Maryland would donate additional land for the right-of-way. It would provide a suitable approach to the nation's capital, permit recreational developments along its route, and enable full benefits to be realized from the federal investment in the canal property. It would also contribute to civil defense, being a controlled access road "well into the mountains with the assurance of rapid uninterrupted traffic in time of need." [18]

The road would have a 24-foot-wide pavement with eight-foot shoulders. For 22 of the 32 miles between Great Falls and Point of Rocks and for the last three miles at Cumberland there would be two roadways, straddling the canal where possible. Along the rewatered section above Great Falls there were "tight spots aggregating in length about 2-1/2 miles" where it would "be necessary to throw the canal back into the cliff to get the rock needed for the initial roadway" and provide width for the second roadway. [19] The report minimized the extent to which the canal prism above the rewatered section would be obliterated, but the accompanying drawings showed the road coinciding with the canal along much of its length, being diverted to one side primarily at locks.

Dick Sutton, a Park Service architect on the parkway planning team, had found the canal aqueducts in bad shape: "The stage has been reached where on every structure the spandrels have either collapsed or are bulging appreciably and will fail in a relatively short time unless immediate steps are taken to correct the conditions." He recommended repairing most of them to carry the road; doing so would preserve them and would cost less than new bridges. It was unlikely that money would otherwise be provided to preserve them, he felt, and in some cases there were no good alternative locations for bridges. He named the Catoctin, Antietam, Conococheague, and Great Tonoloway aqueducts as being too deteriorated or unsuitably positioned for the road; but the final report declared that all aqueducts could be used. The road would also be run through the Paw Paw Tunnel. [20]

Proposed C & O Canal Parkway terminus in NPS parkway report, 1950.

In addition to serving recreational users, the parkway was expected to attract much ordinary traffic seeking to bypass such congested centers as Frederick and Hagerstown. [21] But it was justified primarily in terms of its scenic, historical, and recreational attributes—sometimes in purple prose:

The embers of past historic conflagration still smolder along the path of the canal and would glow anew with the first stir of public interest. The scenery runs the full cycle from tranquil wide waters and pastoral river slopes to the greater excitement of the winding, twisting river palisades and ultimately the scale of the mountain valley. This retinue of interests holds attraction for the tourist camper, the sportsman and the day outing party in all degrees from the novice to the sophisticate.

The environment of the canal and river immediately generates in one an enthusiasm to see these 170 miles of delightful scenery unfolded on parkway terms. The incentive to link together the many discoveries that have been made is like the desire often experienced and universally understood to transform the black and white of printed words to a production in full color. [22]

The report cited the "well-established policy in the development of parkways of this character" of states acquiring and donating the needed lands. About a hundred acres per mile had been found necessary and obtained in this manner for the Blue Ridge and Natchez Trace parkways. The government already held about 28 acres per mile along the canal, requiring a lesser commitment by Maryland to make up the balance of some 11,900 acres. "The additional lands . . . are not of an expensive character and it should not be difficult for the State to acquire them," the report stated. [23]

The cost of road construction was estimated at $16,162,000. The project would also include restoration of selected canal features, including rewatering of three segments totaling 26 miles, at a cost of $319,000; restoration and repair of lockhouses and other historic buildings at a cost of $104,000; and construction of new buildings and facilities, including a headquarters and museum at Cumberland, costing $522,700. The grand total came to $17,107,700. [24]

Walter S. Sanderlin, a history professor who had written and published his dissertation on the history of the C & O, summarized the canal's history in an appendix to the report. He concluded by endorsing the parkway project as "best adapted for the achievement of such varying objectives as the provision of recreation areas, the preservation of selected canal structures as historic sites and the protection of the inherent beauty of the valley." [25]

Ronald F. Lee and Herbert E. Kahler, the ranking historians in the Park Service, and T. Sutton Jett and Rogers W. Young, the Service historians who had been most closely involved with the canal, joined in the endorsement. Young recorded their consensus after a meeting that May: "We are in general agreement with the final conclusions set forth in the draft of the report regarding the overall plan for the Parkway, the use of historic structures, and the development proposed for the right-of-way of the old Canal. We feel that the general conclusions reflect the thinking of all of the groups that have participated in this study of the proposed Parkway, including the administrative personnel of National Capital Parks, the Service, and the Bureau of Public Roads, as well as the engineers, landscape architects, architects, and historians." [26]

The next step was to obtain legal authority to accept the needed lands from Maryland. While the parkway report was still in draft, Representative Beall introduced another bill for this purpose. The bill referred presumptively to "present parkway lands" between Great Falls and Cumberland and authorized donations "sufficient to increase the present parkway width to an average of one hundred acres per mile for the entire length of the parkway." Land exchanges were also authorized, primarily to permit a proposed swap of some canal land in Cumberland for some B & O Railroad land along the canal. Again with Interior Department support, the bill slid unopposed through Congress to become law on September 22, 1950. [27] In effect, Congress had approved the parkway.

Only now were dissenting voices raised. On October 30 the conservation director of the Izaak Walton League of America informed NPS Assistant Director Conrad L. Wirth that some of the league's Maryland members were "quite incensed over the proposals of the National Park Service to build a road, or highway, along the C. and O. Canal," believing that "the area could serve a far greater value if kept in a natural state." In a response prepared by Sutton Jett, NCP Superintendent Edward J. Kelly defended the bureau's plan: "In recommending the construction of a parkway along this route, the National Park Service does not feel that it has violated the principle of conservation for which it has long stood. Under existing conditions, many miles of the canal right-of-way are now inaccessible for policing and fire protection, and use of the river and Federal properties is limited largely to private individuals and clubs, many of which have little regard for the wildlife and natural features of the area. The construction of the proposed parkway under National Park Service policies governing the conservation of natural and historical features would result in a minimum disturbance of the area, and would at the same time make this 160-mile strip of park land accessible for adequate protection and conservation, and provide the necessary funds therefor." [28]

The National Parks Association assembled a special committee to review the parkway plan. Its report, issued in 1951, criticized the plan for inadequate attention to natural values but did not reject the basic concept: "The committee recognizes that it would be difficult if not impossible to obtain funds from Congress to develop the C and O Canal for increased recreation unless a unified plan of certain feasibility is presented. . . . The parkway proposal represents such an overall plan, and suitably modified, might enable funds to be obtained that could be used to improve present conditions and arrest deterioration. In the absence of a better overall proposal, the committee does not at this time disapprove further exploration of the parkway idea." [29]

The ball was now in Maryland's court. In May 1951 the state's General Assembly directed the State Planning Commission, the Board of Natural Resources, and the State Roads Commission to study the parkway proposal and the contribution that would be required from the state. A joint committee comprising I. Alvin Pasarew of the State Planning Commission, Joseph F. Kaylor and Ernest A. Vaughn of the Board of Natural Resources, and Joseph D. Buscher of the State Roads Commission was formed. NCP Associate Superintendent Harry T. Thompson became the principal Park Service liaison to the committee. Strongly committed to the parkway, Thompson took Vaughn and others on a "show me" trip along the canal in July and vigorously promoted the project at every opportunity. [30]

Thompson had his work cut out for him. Vaughn, director of the Maryland Game and Inland Fish Commission, and Kaylor, director of the Department of Forests and Parks, lost no time in voicing their opposition. They argued that parkway construction would destroy wildlife habitat, that the completed road would present a serious hazard to wildlife, and that Park Service regulations would keep hunters from reaching the Potomac. [31] At bottom, they were disturbed about the loss of state control over the lands bordering "Maryland's river."

In January 1952 Alvin Pasarew, the state committee's chairman, wrote Secretary of the Interior Oscar Chapman to seek clarification on several issues, including access for hunters, wildlife habitat protection, and right-of-ways for industrial development and public utilities. In a response prepared by Thompson, Chapman gave positive assurances on all points. But the Board of Natural Resources was not mollified. That June its members unanimously voted to oppose the parkway as interfering with state plans for developing forests, parks, and recreation areas and improving wildlife habitat along the Potomac. Rather than having Maryland acquire more land for the Park Service, they wanted the Service to transfer its property above Great Falls to the state. [32]

"It is now quite evident to the people in Maryland . . . that the C & O Canal Parkway proposal is not the answer to a sound multiple land and water use program for that area," Vaughn wrote Thompson after the board's vote. His commission still found the parkway plan detrimental to hunting, and it felt that the Park Service had underestimated the cost of land acquisition. It joined the board in advocating "return" of the upper canal to Maryland. [33]

Thompson had lobbied actively for Maryland support, speaking to civic groups, urging them to petition their elected officials, even preparing pro-parkway resolutions for their adoption. [34] He was bitterly disappointed. "Perhaps you have not yet received my letter of June 5, which explained in the best English at my command that the State would retain title to and manage and administer in its own way such areas as are considered desirable for shooting purposes," he replied to Vaughn, enclosing letterhead stationery of the secretary of the interior "on which the Maryland Game and Inland Fish Commission may write its own ticket, stating in its own language how it would prefer to manage the islands and mainland areas along the Potomac River which your Commission proposes to add to the park program." If it did so, he was confident that Chapman would be "pleased to sign it." [35]

Thompson shared his frustration with Lester W. Towner, another member of the natural resources board: "Those of us who are concerned with the administration and the development of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal have all but begged in public on our knees in an effort to encourage the Maryland Game and Inland Fish Commission to stand fast on a program of its own choice and have offered every possible cooperation and encouragement to the Department of Forests and Parks to join hands in developing the recreational potentials of the Potomac River. Do you know of anything else we can or should do?" [36]

"The devil of it is, those who are for it are not audible," Thompson complained to the manager of the Automobile Club of Maryland, a parkway supporter. "They will not petition their representatives in Congress and until such time as those who are for it are as vigorous in their support as the opponents, we are going to have tough sledding." As he portrayed the struggle to the editor of the Cumberland Times, the project had acquired a moral dimension: "Where the Parkway project is concerned, we should be guided by the advice of Thomas Jefferson when he said, 'We must be content to secure what we can get from time to time, and eternally press forward for what is yet to get. It takes time to persuade men to do even what is for their own good.' We have, I am convinced, a cause worth fighting for and I should much prefer to be on the side of working for a cause that promises the greatest good for the greatest number instead of for a cause that espouses a selfish and unneighborly attitude such as our friends in Hagerstown seem to be pursuing." [37]

The report of Maryland's parkway committee, issued in December 1952, reflected the divergent views of the participating agencies. The Board of Natural Resources included in its opposing statement a letter by Joseph Kaylor that lent some credence to Thompson's characterization of his adversaries. "As head of the authorized park agency in the State and one who is interested in recreational uses by Marylanders, I cannot say I think the development of the Parkway would benefit the citizens of our State," Kaylor wrote. "On the other hand it becomes a very questionable project which could unload on the nearby Maryland countryside many people from the District of Columbia who would create problems such as we have not been confronted with in the past. Rather than buy the land to be turned over for a Federal Park at a cost which is excessive at the present time, let us use the same funds to put our own State Parks and Recreation Areas in order. . . ." [38]

The board repeated the negative arguments, depicting the parkway as a costly barrier to hunting and industrial development. Again appealing to anti-Washington sentiment, it cast the issue in terms of "whether we are to have an expanded State program in parks and recreation areas, or to have ones developed and controlled by the Federal government causing us to be overrun by a new group who will overflow into nearby Maryland to further add to our problems." [39]

The State Planning Commission and State Roads Commission collaborated in a somewhat more positive statement. "While this new parkway . . . is not as important as other roads in the over-all highway planning of Maryland, if it could be secured by the State of Maryland merely by the State furnishing the right of way and the Federal government defraying all construction costs, it would . . . be a very worthwhile investment," they declared. But they could not firmly support it without a better estimate of the land cost. They also called for further consideration of water resource development and other recreational options along the Potomac, presumably including dams and reservoirs. They recommended that "no further action be taken by the State in support of any single-purpose development until the General Assembly and the Governor authorize the undertaking and completion of a comprehensive study of the Potomac River resource, which will indicate the best uses of the River for all interests and citizens." [40]

Thompson was invited to participate in the joint committee's report but declined. To NPS Director Conrad L. Wirth he wrote, "I thought it adequate to reply in the most gentlemanly manner possible in the circumstances because we may have to live with the situation for some time before Maryland comes to its senses." [41] He was not ready to quit, however. While Frederick and Hagerstown tended to oppose the parkway, fearing a loss of business from the bypass, support from Hancock to Cumberland remained strong. In a strategic retreat, Thompson and his Maryland allies now proposed to build the road only along the sixty miles between those points—at least at the outset. Between Great Falls and Hancock the canal would be developed as a "walking parkway." [42]

Thompson again worked energetically to win support in Maryland for the modified plan, at the same time initiating a crash canal improvement program to forestall criticisms about Park Service neglect of the canal and efforts to transfer it to Maryland. On February 11, 1953, he visited Annapolis with A. J. Knox, NCP's legal officer, to help Maryland Assistant Attorney General Joseph Buscher draft a parkway land acquisition bill, introduced in the General Assembly by Sen. Robert Kimble. "I think I have done all I can to help resolve the problem favorably," he wrote J. Glenn Beall, now a U.S. senator, on March 3. "If we could just persuade our friends in Annapolis, who represent Montgomery, Frederick, and Washington Counties, to attach an amendment to Senator Kimble's bill which would provide for the acquisition of the lands needed for the walking parkway between Hancock and Great Falls, it would be a successful day." [43]

As enacted on March 27, the bill authorized up to $350,000 for land acquisition only between Hancock and Cumberland. No lands were to be acquired "unless and until the Congress of the United States shall have enacted legislation providing permanent easement rights for the use of water from the Potomac River to the State of Maryland, its political subdivisions, its industrial business units and its citizens," and no lands were to be conveyed to the United States until the State Roads Commission had assurance that the parkway would be built. [44]

Senator Beall and Rep. DeWitt S. Hyde of Maryland had already introduced the desired legislation in Congress, and it was signed into law on August 1. It required the secretary of the interior "to grant perpetual easements, subject to such reasonable conditions as are necessary for the protection of the Federal interests, for rights-of-way through, over, or under the parkway lands along the line of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, now or hereafter acquired," for specified utility purposes. Other easements across the canal lands could be granted at the secretary's discretion. The secretary was authorized to convey lands not needed for parkway purposes to local jurisdictions for roads and other public facilities, "but not to the extent of severing in any manner the continuity of the parkway lands from Great Falls to and including the city of Cumberland, Maryland." The secretary was also authorized to transfer lands to and accept lands from other federal agencies "for the purpose of facilitating the development, administration, and maintenance" of the parkway. [45]

The way now appeared ready for at least the sixty-mile parkway beyond Hancock. But there were dissenters from even this scaled-down scheme, which would affect the wild and scenic stretch of canal through the Paw Paw bends. Irston R. Barnes, president of the Audubon Society of the District of Columbia and nature writer for the Washington Post, had still advocated restoration of the whole canal in a January article:

The prescription for the C. & O. Canal is obvious. The people of the valley have a priceless asset in the national park status of the canal. Let the National Park Service acquire the private lands between the canal and the river. Let the canal be restored as a highway for canoes, and perhaps for a few of the old barges. Let the towpath become a country lane for hikers and cyclists. Restore the canal and its locks and lockhouses to their nineteenth-century usefulness. Provide an abundance of small camp sites at intervals of a few miles, equipped with safe drinking water, Adirondack shelters, fireplaces, and simple sanitation facilities. Prepare the lockhouses as hostels for winter use. . . .

A limited number of access roads to the canal would allow the motorist to escape from traffic and enjoy, but not destroy, the quiet beauty of the river country. [46]

Anthony Wayne Smith, a CIO attorney active in the National Parks Association, followed in April with a "Potomac Valley Recreation Project" proposal along the same lines. An outspoken advocate, Smith called Harry Thompson soon afterward and angrily accused him of inappropriate lobbying for the parkway. "Tony . . . declared himself violently opposed to the Parkway program and stated if need be he would go to the Hill and to the President to stop this and other silly projects," Thompson told Conrad Wirth. "Our conversation, or perhaps I should say monologue, ended with a bang of the telephone receiver preceded by the repeated threat that he would now proceed to line up the fullest possible political support at his command to fight the Park Service on this project." [47]

The D.C. Audubon Society called a meeting at the home of Mrs. Gifford Pinchot on May 7 to mobilize the opposition. Some fifty people attended, including Irston Barnes, Shirley A. Briggs, and Constant Southworth of the society; Howard Zahniser, executive secretary of The Wilderness Society; and Smith. Smith attacked the Park Service plan for the canal, charging that as soon as the parkway was built from Cumberland to Hancock there would be pressure to continue it to Great Falls. The group voted to form the Potomac Valley Conservation and Recreation Council, with Barnes as chairman, to fight the parkway and promote conservation objectives for the valley. [48]

Barnes further sounded the alarm in that summer's National Parks Magazine, the National Parks Association journal. His article, "Historic C & O Canal Threatened by Road," was sympathetic to the management problems facing the Park Service. "In these circumstances it is not surprising that the National Park Service pitched upon the highway as a solution to secure the land between the canal and the river, to secure greater public utilization of the area, to guard against damage by damming, or being split up by secondary and purely local uses," he wrote. But he faulted the bureau for a lack of imagination and initiative in offering and pushing a suitable plan for preservation and recreational development: "The threat to the C and O Canal lies in the proposed construction of a motor highway from Cumberland to Hancock, and in the hidden plan to extend that highway all the way to Washington. That the threat is now upon us must be ascribed to the mistaken planning and misplaced zeal of the National Park Service itself. The only way to save the canal is through wide and vocal opposition to the plan, and thus to extricate the Service from its own commitments." [49]

Reinforcing the "hidden plan" suspicions, Thompson continued to distribute copies of the 1950 parkway report. Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., obtained one and reviewed it along with Barnes's article. "The adverse criticism of the C & O Report by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Roads seems to me on the whole well founded," he wrote Wirth. "A high-speed thoroughfare for automobiles . . . would, I am sure, be a wasteful use of a great recreational opportunity presented by the Canal property. I hope it can be headed off." [50]

Wirth's response, drafted by Thompson, insinuated that the prominent landscape architect had been misled by the opposition. "By no stretch of the imagination could a street wide strip of land that has been used for 75 years as a commercial trafficway be considered a wilderness as has been suggested by those who advocate the development along the lines of the National Parks Magazine article which insofar as I can determine advocates the return of the old historic canal to the land with a disjointed and completely unmanageable spotting of recreational facilities along it. . .," he wrote Olmsted. "I am sure you realize that a program of sufficient magnitude to attract the support of great numbers of people is absolutely essential for the protection of the Potomac River from future dam projects which have been sponsored by the Corps of Engineers on several occasions in the past. I think it safe to say that the Corps of Engineers will not rest their proposals to dam the Potomac River so long as there is potential current in it. As a practical matter we in the park world must be braced to protect the park values of the river with the most forceful arguments at our command and in my opinion the proposals of Mr. Smith are woefully weak in this respect." [51]

Thompson professed to have no hidden agenda to extend the parkway below Hancock. "You will find those who will argue and insist that we are not sincere in this walking parkway idea and that it is only a blind to get our foot in the door for the construction of a drive the entire length of the river from Cumberland to Great Falls," he wrote another correspondent. "I am willing to rest the case on developing this section of the canal as a walking parkway without a road and let the future comparison between that which is with road and that which is without road determine the future of the towpath between Hancock and Great Falls." But the hidden agenda was evident in another letter from Wirth to a longtime Park Service supporter: "We fully intend to protect the C & O Canal and its historic values; however, the river drive into Washington from Cumberland is most important for the protection of the Potomac River from future dam projects of the Corps of Engineers. . . . I am inclined to believe that the idea [the 1950 plan] went a little too far, however, minor adjustments can be made in it which will, in my opinion, do what the conservationists and the historians want us to do, and at the same time provide a parkway approach from the west to Washington." [52]

Wirth, a member of the National Capital Planning Commission, encouraged support for the parkway there and within the broader National Capital Regional Planning Council. The Washington Post responded with a favorable editorial on January 3, 1954. Judging the canal "no longer either a commercial or a scenic asset," it viewed the Park Service plan as a good way to make the Potomac Valley accessible to sightseers, campers, fishermen, and hikers. "The basic advantage of the parkway is that it would enable more people to enjoy beauties now seen by very few," it concluded. [53]

The editorial proved a classic—for the opposing response it elicited. The January 19 Post carried an evocative and challenging letter from U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, a vigorous outdoorsman:

The discussion concerning the construction of a parkway along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal arouses many people. Fishermen, hunters, hikers, campers, ornithologists, and others who like to get acquainted with nature first-hand and on their own are opposed to making a highway out of this sanctuary.

The stretch of 185 miles of country from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Md., is one of the most fascinating and picturesque in the Nation. The river and its islands are part of the charm. The cliffs, the streams, the draws, the benches and beaches, the swamps are another part. The birds and game, the blaze of color in the spring and fall, the cattails in the swamp, the blush of buds in late winter—these are also some of the glory of the place.

In the early twenties Mr. Justice [Louis D.] Brandeis traveled the canal and river by canoe to Cumberland. It was for him exciting adventure and recreation. Hundreds of us still use this sanctuary for hiking, and camping. It is a refuge, a place of retreat, a long stretch of quiet and peace at the Capital's back door—a wilderness area where we can commune with God and with nature, a place not yet marred by the roar of wheels and the sound of horns.

It is a place for boys and girls, men and women. One can hike 15 or 20 miles on a Sunday afternoon, or sleep on high dry ground in the quiet of a forest, or just go and sit with no sound except water lapping at one's feet. It is a sanctuary for everybody who loves woods—a sanctuary that would be utterly destroyed by a fine two-lane highway.

I wish the man who wrote your editorial of January 3, 1954, approving the parkway would take time off and come with me. We would go with packs on our backs and walk the 185 miles to Cumberland. I feel that if your editor did, he would return a new man and use the power of your great editorial page to help keep this sanctuary untouched. . . . [54]

Merlo Pusey, the editorial's author, and Robert H. Estabrook, the editorial page editor, responded on January 21 with another editorial, titled "We Accept":

Mr. Justice Douglas wrote in a most charming manner about the beauties of the Potomac River and the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal . . . .

Our idea, and that of at least some of the sponsors of the proposed C & O parkway, we are sure, was not to make the littoral of the Potomac an artery of traffic. It is not the place for motorists in a hurry. Rather, the parkway is designed to make the area accessible in the way that the Skyline Drive has made the delights of the Blue Ridge Mountains accessible to many thousands of people who otherwise would have never been able to enjoy their vistas, to hike their trails, or to camp in their unspoiled woods and meadows. . . .

We are pleased to accept Justice Douglas's invitation to walk the towpath of the old canal—the entire 185 miles of it between Washington and Cumberland, if that meets with his pleasure. He has only to name the time and the starting point of the journey and to prescribe the equipment to be taken along. But it is only fair to warn the Justice that we are already familiar with some parts of the beautiful country that will be traversed. We are sufficiently enthusiastic about it to wear some blisters on our feet, but we do not believe that this back-yard wilderness so near to Washington should be kept closed to those who cannot hike 15 or 20 miles a day. [55]

News of the impending hike excited conservation leaders and outdoorsmen from near and far. Douglas and the Post received letters from numerous would-be participants; in the end, more than two dozen prepared to join much if not all of the trek. Among them were Olaus J. Murie, Harvey Broome, Bernard Frank, and Howard Zahniser, respectively president, vice president, executive committee chairman, and executive secretary of The Wilderness Society; Sigurd F. Olson and Anthony Wayne Smith, president and executive committee member of the National Parks Association; George F. Blackburn and John Schorr, president and conservation chairman of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club; Irston Barnes and Constant Southworth of the D.C. Audubon Society; William E. Davies of the U.S. Geological Survey; Louis W. Shollenberger, a CBS radio newsman; and Walter Sanderlin, canal historian and history professor at Washington and Jefferson College.

The Wilderness Society and Potomac Appalachian Trail Club organized and provided logistical support for the hike, receiving full cooperation from the Park Service notwithstanding their differences over the parkway development. Harry Thompson met with Douglas in February, and on March 4 W. Drew Chick, Jr., NCP's chief naturalist, attended a planning meeting in the justice's chambers with Pusey, Murie, Zahniser, Olson, Smith, Barnes, and Jack Durham (who had been engaged by The Wilderness Society to handle arrangements and who prepared a comprehensive account of the hike for the Spring 1954 issue of the society's journal, The Living Wilderness). Thompson detailed Chick and U.S. Park Police Corporal Samuel H. Hower, whose beat was the canal, to accompany and assist the hikers. His cooperative posture reflected no change of heart, however. "I doubt seriously if they will convince too many people by the demonstration that the canal should be preserved only for the hikers," he wrote the editor of the Cumberland Times. [56]

Pusey, Douglas, Kelly, McKay, Thompson
Merlo Pusey, William O. Douglas, Edward Kelly, Douglas McKay, Harry T. Thompson (far right) at Lock 6, March 27, 1954.

It having been decided to hike downstream, the B & O Railroad provided a special car to carry Douglas's party and press representatives from Washington to Cumberland on March 19. Senator Beall greeted them upon arrival. A dinner with appropriate oratory ensued at the Cumberland Country Club. The next morning the party were transported to begin the hike at Lock 72, some ten miles down, thus skipping the unsightly and odoriferous remnant of the canal nearest the terminus. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club arranged to truck their heavy equipment and prepare most of their meals, and sportsmen's clubs along the route provided nightly accommodations. [57]

The hikers reached Seneca after seven days on the towpath and spent the night at an Izaak Walton League clubhouse nearby. That evening they organized the C & O Canal Committee to pursue their objectives. Douglas became chairman; the other members were Irston Barnes, George Blackburn, Harvey Broome, William Davies, Robert Estabrook, Bernard Frank, Olaus Murie, Sigurd Olson, Louis Shollenberger, Anthony Smith, and Howard Zahniser.

Pusey, Broome, Murie, Estabrook Barnes, Douglass
Merlo Pusey, Harvey Broome, Olaus Murie, Robert Estabrook, Irston R. Barnes, William O. Douglas aboard Canal Clipper, March 27, 1954.

On the next and last day, March 27, the hikers were met by large crowds as they neared Washington. At Lock 6 they were greeted by Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay, NCP Superintendent Edward Kelly, Thompson, and Sutton Jett. Below Lock 5 they boarded the mule-drawn Canal Clipper and floated into Georgetown. Only nine of the party—later dubbed "the nine immortals"—had remained afoot the entire distance to that point: Douglas, Broome, Murie, Southworth, Grant Conway, Albert E. Farwell, George F. Miller, Jack Permain, and Colin Ritter.

The real purpose of the hike was publicity, of course, and in this its leaders were not disappointed. Aubrey Graves, country life editor of the Post, had joined Pusey and Estabrook to report for their paper, and George Kennedy covered the hike for the Evening Star. Associated Press accounts, network radio and television news broadcasts, movie newsreels, and illustrated stories in Time and Life magazines informed readers across the nation of the canal, the event, and the controversy. [58]

Estabrook and Pusey, whose editorial had triggered the hike, followed with another on March 31. While not abandoning the parkway concept, they now proposed some significant modifications:

In one important respect we have changed our minds. The 1950 plan . . . called for a parkway along the towpath, and in some places along the bed, of the old Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. Apart from the desirability of leaving some areas in their natural state, this would be a much bigger undertaking than we had supposed. The amount of fill required to make the canal bed usable would be enormous. . . .

At the same time, there are a number of scenic sectors where a parkway would do little harm and would be an attraction for persons who do not have the stamina for long hikes. . . . Existing roads, such as Maryland Route 51 and River Road, would form the nucleus for a parkway in some areas. In others a parkway could be built along the top of the bluff to give beautiful panoramas without disturbing the canal and towpath preserve. . . .

In view of the above considerations we propose that:

1. The Park Service plan be substantially modified to avoid encroachment on the best of the natural areas, to preserve as much as possible of the towpath and canal bed and to shorten distances where the river meanders. . . .

2. Stress be placed on developing picnic grounds as well as access roads into the natural areas. The canal itself ought to be restored as a canoeway where feasible. Special attention should be given to historic sites, including access from a canal parkway to such spots as the Antietam Battlefield.

3. Inducements be given local communities to clean up the parts of the canal preserve and river front now polluted and littered with trash—notably the unsightly stretches around Hancock and Brunswick.

4. The possibility be investigated of obtaining matching funds from Maryland for access roads. Both a walking trail and a parkway should spur tourist trade and should bring motels, hostels, and stores. . . . [59]

The next month Justice Douglas sent Secretary McKay the preliminary recommendations of his C & O Canal Committee. They did not differ greatly from those in the latest Post editorial. The committee also favored a parkway from Cumberland to Washington "following existing state, county, and federal aid roads where practicable, perhaps at places parallel to, but not on the canal proper." Declaring that "the canal property should be developed as a recreational area," they proposed restoring and rewatering more of the canal for canoeing and fishing, establishing campsites with shelters and other facilities every ten miles, and providing new and improved access roads tied into the parkway system. They sought more federal land for the campsites and for "effective management and control of the entire property." [60]

From McKay's warm and conciliatory reply, there seemed to be few if any differences between the current government program and that of the conservationists. "I was delighted to find that the suggestions presented by your committee so closely parallel those of this Department in so many particulars," he wrote Douglas. "Indeed, it appears that there is complete agreement on the major objectives to be achieved." He called the government's parkway plans "quite preliminary" and promised full consideration of the committee's views as planning proceeded. [61]

Douglas wrote again in June, enclosing a subcommittee report laying out a proposed Potomac Valley Motor Trail. It followed existing roads except between Paw Paw and Hancock, where a new road not disturbing the canal would be built. He and the committee were especially impressed with the scenic qualities of that region and suggested that it be set aside as Paw Paw National Park. [62]

With his western Maryland political base in mind, Senator Beall meanwhile continued to press for action on the parkway above Hancock as previously planned and supported by the state. "The Republican Administration and the Republican Congress should receive the credit for starting construction on this project," he wrote McKay in late April. The secretary thereupon solicited President Dwight D. Eisenhower's support in a letter prepared by Harry Thompson. "Every precaution will be taken to insure that the parkway will not be destructive of the canal where it can be avoided," he wrote. "Senator Beall and I are quite anxious to get the planning work done between Cumberland and Hancock so that when funds are available this section can be started on whatever plan is approved without too long a delay." Based on this letter, Beall announced that McKay had approved the parkway. [63]

This did not square with the conciliatory posture adopted toward the conservationists, and the Park Service diplomatically disavowed Beall's claim. In correspondence with Olaus Murie, Conrad Wirth distanced himself from the parkway plan, noting that it had been prepared before he became director. "I have purposely held up any action on it because of the opposition to it until I can look into it personally," he wrote. To avoid the adverse implications of the C & O Canal Parkway designation, he agreed with a suggestion to label it the Potomac River Parkway instead. [64]

Vocal public sentiment ran strongly against the canal parkway in the months after the Douglas hike. Among numerous protests received by the Interior Department and the Park Service was an eloquent and insightful one from Irving Brant, a longtime conservation activist. "The one word that applies to every aspect of the canal today is intimacy," Brant wrote. "There is intimacy in the canal itself, in its towpath, its old locks and lockhouses, in the trees that overlay it, in its relationship to bluffs and river, in the wildlife one finds along it. A motor parkway would destroy this utterly." [65]

In January 1955, responding to the preponderant opposition and his own doubts, Wirth appointed a committee to restudy the development of the canal from Great Falls to Cumberland. The committee was chaired by Ben H. Thompson, chief of the NPS Division of Cooperative Activities, and included Harry Thompson, Chief Naturalist John E. Doerr, Chief Historian Herbert Kahler, Thomas C. Vint, chief of the Division of Design and Construction, and Lloyd Meehean, assistant to the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

At their initial meetings the members considered Anthony Wayne Smith's Potomac Valley Recreation Project proposal and the recommendations of Douglas's C & O Canal Committee. Harry Thompson discredited the idea of building the parkway above Hancock on the bluffs back from the canal, noting that this would entail many expensive bridges and much higher land acquisition costs. Ben Thompson noted that the existing roads paralleling the canal elsewhere lacked the essential character of a scenic recreational parkway and could not properly serve as such. There was agreement that a feasible and genuine parkway would have to accord generally with the 1950 plan.

The committee toured the canal from Cumberland to Harpers Ferry in March, then tried to decide whether the 1950 plan should be pursued. Harry Thompson remained its strongest advocate, declaring it necessary to "serve a full cross section of the public" and arguing that "anything less than a multipurpose or embracing theme of development would not . . . be acceptable to the legislative authorities in the State of Maryland." If the parkway were to be dropped, he thought the canal above Seneca should be disposed of. Vint was less enthusiastic about the parkway, judging the ideal to be a linear national park without a road, but he saw no way of obtaining the needed lands without it. "Unless some means can be found to find a source of funds for land acquisition on the ideal basis, I would favor continuing with the parkway plan," he declared. "In the long run the important thing is to keep the river bank in public ownership." [66]

With Meehean abstaining, the three remaining committee members formed a bare majority against the parkway. Echoing Irving Brant, they saw the road as destroying "the intimate character of the canal-river strip," whose values were "of the foreground type, which can best be enjoyed by activities that bring the user into intimate contact with nature and the historic structures, as contrasted with the background or grand scale type of landscape values that can best be enjoyed by motoring." They advocated improving and maintaining the towpath as a national trail for both hiking and bicycling. They recommended rewatering as much of the canal as possible and varying the treatment of the unwatered sections. (The 1950 report had proposed that most of the dry bed be cleared and planted in grass, producing a result now seen as "monotonous, destructive of wildlife habitats, and recreationally inferior.") [67]

"The committee recognizes that if . . . it should be decided not to build the proposed parkway road, the problem of land acquisition will have to be worked out on new and hitherto untried grounds," its report declared. "We believe that we do not underestimate the complexity and uncertainties of that venture." Because there was still no likelihood of acquiring lands other than by state donation, the majority recommended adoption of the "more flexible national recreation area concept" from Seneca to Cumberland. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Recreation Area could encompass state park and wildlife management areas and permit hunting, thus catering to those Maryland interests who had opposed the parkway. A five-member advisory board representing history, biology, landscape architecture, state parks, and state fish and game conservation would be appointed by the secretary of the interior for the national recreation area, which would be administered as a separate unit of the national park system in NPS Region Five (headquartered in Philadelphia). [68]

Not surprisingly, the committee's recommendations did not satisfy Senator Beall and the western Marylanders who were counting on a new road beyond Hancock. Pressures from that direction led Wirth himself to conduct another field inspection of the area in early 1956. At the end of February he met with Secretary McKay, Beall, and Representative Hyde. The result was official endorsement of a Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park along with an associated but separate parkway west of Hancock. The park, extending from the Great Falls terminus of the George Washington Memorial Parkway to the vicinity of Cumberland, would encompass up to 15,000 acres. Measures for stabilization of its historic features, public use development and access, and land acquisition would be proposed as part of Mission 66, a ten-year capital improvement program designed to upgrade Park Service facilities and services in time for the bureau's fiftieth anniversary in 1966. The parkway, about 25 miles long and requiring some 2,500 acres, would connect Route 51 near Paw Paw with Long Ridge Road near Woodmont. [69]

Ben Thompson presented this solution at Harpers Ferry in April to a group marking the second anniversary of the Douglas hike. Inasmuch as it favored basic elements of the C & O Canal Committee's plan, it was well received by that audience. In an editorial, the Washington Post also approved the Park Service plan to preserve the canal intact and build the scenic parkway "well back from the canal." [70]

As Ben Thompson's committee had recommended in their national recreation area proposal, the national historical park and parkway would be administratively separated from the canal below Seneca and placed under the Region Five office in Philadelphia. There were several reasons for dividing the canal in this fashion.

First, national historical parks and other units of the national park system were generally overseen by regional offices. National Capital Parks, having many components but still classed as a single unit of the system, was anomalous in that its superintendent reported directly to the NPS director rather than a regional director. But it was not yet a regional office supervising other parks classed as separate units. If part of the canal was to become a national historical park and thus a full-fledged unit of the system, contemporary practice dictated its assignment to the nearest regional office. Leaving the lower canal out of the national historical park and within NCP was justified by its location in and near Washington-NCP's traditional service area.

Even without these organizational factors, the division served Park Service purposes. Opposition to the federal land acquisition and parkway development plan in Maryland had stemmed in part from rural antipathy to a perceived influx of urban troublemakers. Drawing the national historical park to exclude the lower canal and managing it from outside NCP would have the desirable effect of distancing it from Washington.

Finally, the canal parkway controversy was not altogether over. The parkway on and along the canal between Great Falls and Cumberland had been laid to rest. But plans for a parkway road along the restored canal below Great Falls—part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway—remained active. To minimize objections to this road, it was expedient to have the national historical park begin above the point where the road would end.

As recounted earlier, the George Washington Memorial Parkway concept had originated with the McMillan Commission in 1901. The 1930 Capper-Cramton Act had authorized land acquisition (including acquisition of the canal to Point of Rocks) and road construction on both sides of the river to just above Great Falls, where a bridge would link the Maryland and Virginia sections. By the mid-1950s most of the land for the Maryland section had been acquired, but the road there had not proceeded beyond the drawing boards.

The alignment of this road section had been a matter of concern for some years. In 1943 H. E. Van Gelder, a Park Service landscape architect, argued that between the District of Columbia line and Cabin John Creek, "no location is possible which would not more or less severely damage the steep wooded slopes above the canal, and be so close to it as to be objectionable through noise and smoke." Two years later he reiterated his concern: "In all but the section from Cabin John Bridge to Cropley, such construction would be so detrimental to the scenery of the canal and the river gorge that the basic idea of building a parkway on these steep hillsides so close to the canal should be seriously reconsidered, and improvement of existing Conduit Road [MacArthur Boulevard] substituted for it." [71]

Using MacArthur Boulevard posed other difficulties, and by 1954 plans were readied for a separate road between it and the canal. In early 1955 the House of Representatives approved a $655,000 appropriation to grade the road during the coming fiscal year. Previously unfamiliar with these plans, some of those who had opposed the canal parkway now intervened to fight the project in the Senate.

Adm. Neill Phillips, representing the D.C. Audubon Society, the Progressive Citizens Association of Georgetown, and the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, appeared before the Senate subcommittee on Interior Department appropriations in April. "This proposed section of 4-lane dual highway on the banks of the C. & O. Canal is one more example of the pernicious philosophy that has grown up in some Government circles since the war that an easy solution to Washington's traffic problems lies in shoving superhighways through our magnificent parks," he testified. He declared that the road would crowd the canal, passing between it and the Lock 5 lockhouse and destroying its scenic, historic, and recreational attributes. He asked the subcommittee to deny the appropriation and request a restudy of the road alignment that would consider using MacArthur Boulevard and the parallel trolley line to Glen Echo. Howard Zahniser followed in opposition. Recalling the previous year's protest against the canal parkway above Great Falls, he urged that the restudy initiated in response be extended to the George Washington Memorial Parkway. [72]

The Park Service defended its plan. "The projected parkway does not encroach on the canal nor does it occupy the canal cross-section as has been reported incorrectly from time to time," Acting Director Hillory A. Tolson wrote the Senate committee chairman before the hearing. "The towpath, the historic lock houses, and the adjoining canal lands along the river will continue to remain, as they now exist, as a recreational waterway." MacArthur Boulevard was an unsuitable alternative, he declared, being a restricted Corps of Engineers work road atop the Washington Aqueduct with subdivision developments on both sides. At the hearing, Director Wirth testified that the road would come no closer than 125 feet to the canal. He was forced to revise this claim in a subsequent written submission. Of the 10.8 miles of road between the D.C. line and the proposed bridge above Great Falls, 4.1 miles would be less than 120 feet from the canal. In two places, near Brookmont and Glen Echo, the pavement would be twenty feet from it. [73]

Following the hearing, the Senate Appropriations Committee directed that the Park Service obligate no money on the parkway between the D.C. line and Cabin John. The House-Senate conference committee on the appropriation bill deleted this prohibition, allowing funds to be obligated on condition that "maximum possible protection shall be provided to maintain the C. & O. Canal and the lands bordering it in their natural state." The parkway opponents then went to Sen. James E. Murray of Montana, chairman of the Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, who obtained a promise from Secretary McKay to delay parkway construction until the National Capital Planning Commission had studied alternate locations. [74]

Irston Barnes, head of the D.C. Audubon Society and the Potomac Valley Conservation and Recreation Council, carried on the struggle during 1955-1956 with anti-parkway articles in the Audubon Society's Atlantic Naturalist and National Parks Magazine. The council's Survey of the Potomac River Situation, published in 1956, continued the attack: "With curious inconsistency, the NPS still persists in pushing plans for the parkway, which would greatly impair, along the lower canal, the very principles which it has espoused for the upper region. The anomaly is striking, for if it were necessary to single out only one part of the canal for preservation, the area near the city of Washington would clearly be the most significant because it offers natural conditions so close to the city." [75]

This time, however, the parkway foes were fighting a losing battle. The road had been planned for a quarter-century, and the federal and state governments had each provided some $715,000 to acquire nearly 1,500 acres for the project in Maryland. The opposition was too little and too late. Reporting on its study of alternatives in August 1957, the National Capital Planning Commission agreed with the Park Service that the conversion of MacArthur Boulevard to parkway use was infeasible. "The location as now established was selected upon the basis of placing it everywhere as far away from the canal and towpath on the side away from the river, as the land acquired for the purpose will permit," the NCPC report stated. [76]

Work on the Maryland leg of the George Washington Memorial Parkway began soon afterward. Progress was delayed by construction of the Potomac Interceptor Sewer, serving Dulles International Airport and the Potomac Valley downstream, in the early 1960s. The sewer was run under portions of the road and the canal, which had to be dewatered for a time between Widewater and Brookmont. By 1965 the parkway was completed from the District line to a junction with MacArthur Boulevard west of the Navy's David Taylor Model Basin. A jurisdictional controversy with the D.C. government stalled its connection to Canal Road at Chain Bridge until 1970. The spanning of the Potomac by the Capital Beltway at Cabin John in the early 1960s, plus land acquisition problems that halted the Virginia parkway leg at the Beltway, effectively killed plans for the parkway bridge above Great Falls and extension of the Maryland leg to that point. [77]

In its impact on the canal, the George Washington Memorial Parkway road in Maryland—redesignated the Clara Barton Parkway by Congress in 1989 to eliminate confusion with the unconnected Virginia leg—generally confirmed the judgment of its opponents. Notwithstanding Park Service assurances that the lockhouses would remain, the frame lockhouse at Lock 5—built in 1853 and rehabilitated in 1939—was razed in 1957 for parkway construction. The Lock 7 lockhouse, oldest on the canal, was spared only by cantilevering the westbound roadway over the eastbound one in the tight space between the house and the Glen Echo bluff. (During the same period, the original stone lockhouse at Lock 13 was demolished in 1961 so that the Beltway's Cabin John Bridge could be built directly over the lock.) Visually and audibly, the road impinges on the canal for most of its length.

The Clara Barton Parkway is a useful and attractive road, providing access to the canal and glimpses of its scenic and historic features for many who might otherwise miss them. It also serves to illustrate how the C & O Canal Parkway might have affected much longer stretches of the canal, had not public sentiment been mobilized so effectively against the National Park Service.

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Last Updated: 11-Oct-2004