Monday, August 16, 2010

Great News for Ultrarunners: C + O Canal Work

The C + O Canal is a true treasure, a 185 mile long shady path through the woods right alongside the Potomac River from Washington, DC, west to Cumberland, MD.

It's a place rich in Ultrarunning lore as the site of 26 miles of the JFK 50 Miler, America's oldest, largest and premier ultra.

Now a gap of some 4 miles will be fixed. This is the section immediately upstream from where the JFK course leaves the Canal.  Washed out long ago by floods, the towpath from Dam Number 4 upstream to McMahon's Mill at Milepost 88 will be rebuilt.  From the C + O Canal Trust website:

A $17 million project to replace the deteriorated Big Slackwater section of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park will result in an impressive structure that uses a precast deck for a new section of the towpath, a park official said.

The Big Slackwater section of the towpath needs to be reconstructed because of flooding damage over the years and the new structure is needed to protect the towpath from a particularly powerful section of the Potomac River, said William T. Justice, chief of interpretation for the C + O Canal.

Big Slackwater is in a turn on the river and during high water levels on the river, the force of the river directed right at the towpath, Justice said.

Built between 1828 and 1850, the C + O Canal once served as a vital transportation line for commerce in the early decades of the nation. Boats hauling goods were pulled along a canal by animals who walked along the route’s towpath.

Today, the towpath is a premier destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

The Big Slackwater section of the towpath downstream from Williamsport eroded following significant floods between 1972 and 1996 and has been closed more than a dozen years, the release said.

An unsafe detour has been a problem for bicyclists and hikers and more than 36 people have been hospitalized, the release said.  Most were struck by vehicles traveling on the detour, the release said.

I can drive to the Canal in half an hour and love to do some of my long runs there.

Another piece of good news.  I say, money well spent:

The project is mostly funded by the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the work represents the largest federal stimulus project of any park in western Maryland, the release said.

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