The Paw Paw Tunnel is currently open. However, the towpath just downstream is closed.
Phase 2 of construction for the interim slope stabilization at the north (downstream) portal of the Paw Paw Tunnel was completed in July 2019. In September 2020, the National Park Service awarded a Design-Build contract to stabilize the rock slopes along an approximately 1000-LF length of canal just downstream (North) of the Paw Paw Tunnel, located in the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park in Alleghany County, Maryland.
Frequently Asked Questions
When will the project begin and end?Construction for the interim slope stabilization at the north portal of the Paw Paw Tunnel began in June of 2017 and was completed in July 2019. The current design build contract, awarded in September 2020, will continue with addressing rockfall hazards and aim to remove rock and debris caused by the rockslide of 2016. This work will also address the timber boardwalk portion of the towpath by removing and replacing it. A design-build type of procurement facilitates the contractor’s team to complete the design/permitting, as well as construct the fix. Construction began in August 2021 and is anticipated to extend into summer of 2022.This work 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. The 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?While the next phase is still in design, it is anticipated that the project will include measures similar to the previous two phases. Typical measures include “scaling,” or removing, loose and unstable rock and debris from above the towpath/boardwalk in the “cut” approaching the north portal. Additionally, rock was “pinned” in place to provide further stability and long-term protection. Rock scaling and pinning has occurred in this area before. Measures to better manage surface and ground water are also included. In some areas, a pinned mesh will be used to stabilize localized rock slopes. In some areas, existing “shelves” of rock will be supported through the use of concrete “shear keys” pinned underneath the rock slabs into competent rock. Concrete will be colored and sculpted to minimize aesthetic impacts to the landscape.
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 rockslides continuing to be a challenge throughout the tunnel’s history.
How will this project benefit park visitors?
Visitor safety is improved by removing loose rock and debris from above the towpath and by stabilizing the remaining rock to reduce potential for future rock fall. This work also protects the boardwalk section of the towpath from potential rock fall.
How will this project impact natural and cultural resources?
Every project the National Park Service executes undergoes review by a multidisciplinary team to ensure compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and other federal, state, and local laws.
What is the park doing to protect resources during the project?
National Park Service resource protection experts, engineers, and the contractor’s team will be monitoring the stone and brickwork in the tunnel, along with contractor’s operations and visitor safety during the project with the goal of safely protecting this unique cultural resource and the environment surrounding the project. Every project undertaken by the National Park Service is conducted in compliance with the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), and other regulations. Please see the Environmental Assessment (EA) prepared by the park for further details.
How will this impact park visitors?
To facilitate the work, construction equipment staging will require closing a section of the Paw Paw Tunnel Campground Parking Lot. Additionally, temporary delays are expected as work crews and equipment move to/from the work site. The Paw Paw Campground and parking lot will remain open during construction. As they arise, additional updates regarding detours, shuttle services, and other impacts to visitors will be provided by the NPS. While the tunnel currently remains OPEN, the section of towpath downstream (North) of the tunnel near mile marker 155.1 has been CLOSED due to the increased potential for rock slope instability.
How much does the project cost?
The first project (consisting of phase 1 and 2) was completed in 2017 – 2019 for a cost of less than $1 million and was funded by the National Park Service’s National Recreation Fee Program.
Who can I contact if I have further questions or concerns regarding the project?
Reach out to the park Headquarters at 301-739-4200.
Tunnel Bypass Trail
How long is the Tunnel Bypass Trail? How steep is it?
The Tunnel Bypass Trail is approximately a mile and a half in length with an elevation change of 375 feet. From the upstream (parking lot) end, the Tunnel Bypass Trail begins by crossing the canal prism and climbs 0.63 miles to the top (or about one foot of rise per nine feet of distance). On the downstream (construction) end, the bypass begins where the Tunnel Hill Trail meets the towpath near mile marker 155 and climbs 0.82 miles to the top (one foot of rise per 11.5 feet of distance).
What should I know about the Tunnel Bypass Trail?
Wear sturdy shoes that have good traction. Carry and drink lots of water during ascent and descent. Plan for the Tunnel Bypass Trail taking between one and a half to two and a half hours depending on your load, fitness level, and pace. Cyclists are reminded that they are required to dismount along the Tunnel Bypass Trail.
Last updated: September 15, 2021