Paw Paw Tunnel Scaling Project

Newly restored Paw Paw boardwalk August 2023
Newly restored Paw Paw boardwalk August 2023

NPS | Joe Reed, Park Engineer

The Paw Paw Tunnel is open!

The towpath just downstream is open!

Tunnel Hill Trail is open!

Update August 25, 2023 - Rock scalng is complete! Construction of the boardwalk is complete!

The tunnel hill trail and tunnel hill road (the previous detour route) are closed for a few weeks for restoration. There will be intermittent times in the next few weeks that flaggers will be used along the boardwalk while critical lifting operations or other work adjacent to or over the boardwalk/towpath will be carried out.

Visitors are reminded to please stay out of active work areas in the canal, access roads, and staging areas; dismount bicycles within the Paw Paw Tunnel and on boardwalks, and to follow any directions in signs/flaggers.

***Previous Updates Below***

As of June 2023, the construction contractor has transitioned to activities that do not require hailing of materials along the Tunnel Hill Road/ Tunnel Hill Trail detour route. The free shuttle service provided by NPS’s construction contractor, that had been provided previously from September 2022 – May 2023, has ended. Visitors will need to walk the detour until work within the construction area at the tunnel is finished or any additional future shuttling phases by the construction contractor are provided during final site stabilization and cleanup. As dates and details become available, further updates will be provided.

From September 2022 - May 2023, the contractor provided a free shuttle service along the Tunnel Hill Trail, due to hauling efforts also utilizing the trail.

Construction began August 2021 and is anticipated to extend through mid-late summer 2023. During this time, NPS anticipates that the Paw Paw Tunnel will remain open to visitors. However, through-access onto the towpath downstream of the tunnel will be closed until the rock fall hazards are addressed through construction of the awarded contract.

As of November 2020, the towpath downstream of the tunnel, near mile 155.1, has been closed and the Tunnel Bypass Trail detour activated. This closure is due to potentially unstable conditions observed in the rock mass during a recent site investigation. This detour is anticipated to remain in place until construction can be completed to mitigate the rock fall hazards.

In September 2020, the National Park Service awarded a contract to stabilize the rock slopes along an approximately 1000 foot length of canal just downstream of the Paw Paw Tunnel, located in the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park in Alleghany County, Maryland.

While more recent projects completed in 2017 – 2019 addressed the stability of rock slopes on the towpath side of the canal, the current project will address the highest risk slopes within the 1000 foot long reach of canal, on all sides. Loose rock above the towpath at the “cut” and downstream portal presents potential safety hazards to visitors and cultural resources (i.e. Paw Paw Tunnel). The rock also threatens to damage the boardwalk section of the towpath. This stabilization project provides for visitor safety from rock fall as well as protection for the boardwalk/towpath and Paw Paw Tunnel Portals by removing existing debris remaining in the canal prism from a rockslide in May 2016, stabilizing the rock face adjacent to the canal, and replacing the wooden boardwalk that serves as the towpath for a portion of this stretch.

A map showing the elevation change and length of the detour.
A graph and map showing the Tunnel Bypass Trail and elevation change.

NPS | Andrew Landsman

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.

Why did the free shuttle service end?

The construction contractor provided a free shuttle when heavy equipment was on the trail. The contractor has completed hauling material on the trail, so visitors are able to use it freely.

A large rock wall with mesh over it near the Paw Paw Tunnel
During the 2017-2019 project work, the rock wall along the towpath was bolted and pinned with rockfall mesh to prevent future rockslides.

NPS | Joe Reed, Park Engineer

Frequently Asked Questions

When will the project begin and end?

The current 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. Construction began in August 2021 and is anticipated to extend through mid-late summer 2023.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?

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.

A slide that occurred in 2016 deposited a large amount of rock debris into the canal, which stretches over to the boardwalk with additional areas of concern throughout the “cut” that have been identified by the design team. This material will be removed, and the slope will be stabilized to restore the canal.

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.

An environmental assessment (EA) was prepared by the park for phase 1 & 2, which can be found on Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) website. An assessment was also prepared for the project currently being designed, which can also be found on the PEPC website.

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.

As a reminder, if navigating to the trailhead upstream of the tunnel using web applications, please use “Paw Paw Campground, Oldtown, MD” as your search term in mapping programs (not “Paw Paw Tunnel” since it will lead you to a dead end along Tunnel Hill Road).

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.

The design-build contract for more extensive slope stabilization and boardwalk rehabilitation was awarded in September 2020 for $7.64 million and was funded from the National Park Service’s Line Item Construction 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.

The Paw Paw Tunnel, a gray stone structure through a mountain, is shown in the background with a wooden boardwalk in the foreground
A 2023 depicts the construction of the wooden boardwalk that carries the towpath traffic through the hollow.

NPS | Joe Reed, Park Engineer

Last updated: November 8, 2023

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142 W. Potomac St.
Williamsport, MD 21795



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