The Paw Paw Tunnel is currently open. Phase 2 of construction will begin the first week of May 2019. During construction, the both portals of the tunnel will remain open and flaggers will be stationed to control traffic. Visitors should expect 5-10 minute delays.
Frequently Asked Questions
When will the project begin and end?
Construction began on the Paw Paw Tunnel project in June of 2017. Construction and area closures were expected to last through fall of 2017, but the timeline has been changed. Phase 1 of the project, which addressed the most urgent sections of the deteriorating rock slope, has been completed. Due to the availability of additional funds, however, the park will begin Phase 2 to address additional hazards downstream of the newly completed section. This will provide long-term safe passage through this stretch of towpath. The National Park Service is doing everything possible to minimize closure time and impacts to visitors.
What is the need for the project?
Loose rock above the towpath at the “cut” and north portal (downstream entrance to the tunnel) presents potential safety hazards to visitors. This rock also threatens to damage the boardwalk section of the towpath. This project provides for visitor safety from rock fall as well as protection for the boardwalk/towpath.
What does the project include?
The project includes “scaling” or removing loose and unstable rock and debris from above the towpath/boardwalk in the “cut” approaching the north tunnel portal. Additionally, rock will be “pinned” in place to provide further stability and long-term protection. Rock scaling and pinning has occurred in this area before. The project also includes temporarily storing rock debris on the berm side of the Canal for future removal. To provide thru-access for bicyclists during the project, a trail will be opened using an old logging road on the berm side of the Canal upstream of the south tunnel portal. A temporary “bridge” will be installed across the Canal prism that connects with an abandoned logging road that provides a gentler grade to the top of Tunnel Hill. This temporary by-pass then connects with the existing Tunnel Hill Trail. The existing Tunnel Hill Trail will remain open during the project but for safety reasons, cyclists will be required to dismount and walk their bikes across the mountain using the signed bypass trail detour.
To facilitate the work, construction equipment staging will require closing a section of the Paw Paw Tunnel picnic area parking lot. Additionally, temporary delays on the towpath approaching the south portal should be expected as work crews and equipment move to/from the work site. Work crews will use the tunnel to gain access to the site.
What is the history of the Paw Paw Tunnel?
The Paw Paw Tunnel is one of the most significant engineering features on the Canal. To save building six miles of canal along the river, the C&O Canal company decided to construct a tunnel through a steep topographic ridge now called Tunnel Hill. When work began on the tunnel in 1836, the builders estimated the project would be complete within two years. The tunnel ultimately required 14 years to complete due to labor issues and violence, funding shortfalls, work stoppages, and the challenges of digging a 3,118-foot tunnel through the hard, loose shale. The tunnel opened in October 1850 with rock slides continuing to be a challenge throughout the tunnel’s history.