Adventure Cycling Association Forum

Bicycle Travel => General Discussion => Topic started by: aggie on July 29, 2021, 07:56:52 pm

 
Title: C&O trail
Post by: aggie on July 29, 2021, 07:56:52 pm
I am currently riding the C&O from Cumberland to DC.  IMO this has to be one of the poorest maintained trails in the country.  I understand NPS is underfunded but it appears they do absolutely no trail maintenance other than a bit of mowing.  The trail is extremely rough, rutted and muddy (even without rain).  It seems like an unmaintained logging road with rocks, roots, ruts and holes.  They have closed part of the trail (signage) near the Paw Paw tunnel for no apparent good reason.  There isn’t any work currently being done on the cliff face that would necessitate a horribly difficult detour.  The GAP trail is a paved (even though it isn’t paved - just crushed limestone) superhighway compared to the C&O.


Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: John Nettles on July 29, 2021, 11:41:34 pm
Yep, it was like that back in 1982 when I rode it from Harper's Ferry to DC.  I called them once and asked about it and they said it is to it remains "natural".  I pointed out how all the National Forests and tons of other National Parks have pavement, maintenance, etc.  His response was well DC decides such things.  I said, You are in DC! To which it was the stereotypical "it is above my pay grade".

I think they should at least grade it and place crushed granite so it is like a regular rail trail.  Heck, charge a fee if needed like the National Parks.  Also, a few water taps along the way would be nice.

At least you are out touring though!
Tailwinds, John
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: BikePacker on July 30, 2021, 08:01:03 am
I am currently riding the C&O from Cumberland to DC.  IMO this .....
While it is sad to hear of the current status, I am appreciative of your update of C&O realities, Aggie.
Title: C&O trail
Post by: donald.stewart.92 on July 30, 2021, 11:05:41 pm
The Paw Paw tunnel had rock slide damage and NPS has been out fixing it. The detour was a nice change of scenery for me and not difficult.

Storms did a lot of repeated damage to the trail in past years in spots they already fixed. It’s a lot of work to repair the 150+ miles.

NPS even started doing crushed stone paving like the G.A.P.

The C&O is better than my ‘home trail: Delaware Canal State in PA.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: John Nettles on July 31, 2021, 07:57:55 am
The C&O is better than my ‘home trail: Delaware Canal State in PA.
Thanks for the info.  I know that trail is one I want to avoid then  ;D
Tailwinds, John
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: staehpj1 on July 31, 2021, 09:01:28 am
The following is based on older info, but I doubt it has changed much over the years...  I think maintenance has always been spotty and taken time to happen.  Unless times have changed expect parts to be double track consisting of two deep ruts.  It is a long trail and I don't think the goal is to have a great well maintained surface.  I think it is okay if you know what to expect and go when conditions have been decent weather wise.  It can be truly awful if the weather has been really wet though.  Pick a time when it is and has been fairly dry and don't expect a great surface and it might be a nice ride depending on what you want.

But yeah, if you are expecting the nice crushed limestone of the typical rail trail the whole way you will be very disappointed.   Parts have a good surface, but plenty doesn't especially after bad weather.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: TCS on July 31, 2021, 02:05:28 pm
It's not like any of we individuals can effect this, but...

Having looked into this (for entirely different reasons) I've learned that generally the roadbed/pathway with the lowest environmental impact and lowest long term maintenance cost is an improved surface with engineered drainage.  For light weight traffic like pedestrians and cycles this includes surface improvements like a drained roadbed topped with crushed&packed stone, biopolymer stabilized soil or stabilizing hollow grid pavers.

The problem of unimproved (dirt) roadbed/pathways with unimproved drainage is the low (muddy) spots get deeper (passing through the mud) and wider (going around the mud) with traffic/time.  Short the capital to improve the surface, the alternative is endless maintenance in the same problem areas.   

Rail trails are generally fortunate to have an existing improved, well drained roadbed.  Canal paths...not so much.  We interact with the pavement and often overlook the drainage, but the drainage is easily as important as the surface.  Near me several cities have built concrete paths without paying for drainage preparation.  The result is the paths are under water (in a few places quite a bit of water) after rains.

So, back to the C&O.  I've heard the "the NPS doesn't want to change the historical surface' reasoning.  Uh, folks hiking and riding on the path is changing the historical surface.  The choice is how it will be changed.

Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: BikePacker on August 01, 2021, 07:34:03 am
With ZERO political ANYthing in mind ....
a purely objective question ....
does anyone happen to know if any of the "infra-structure" type bills
presently being 'considered' in Washington DC
have any funding for our national parks
(which, I'd guess, would include the C&O?)?
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: HikeBikeCook on August 01, 2021, 07:40:57 am
The C&O was saved from a political battle launched by a Supreme Court Justice who wanted to preserve it.
https://www.nps.gov/choh/learn/historyculture/douglas-hike-of-1954.htm (https://www.nps.gov/choh/learn/historyculture/douglas-hike-of-1954.htm)
The current "infrastructure" bill I am sure is another "pork" bill destined for cities with voters of the party in power.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: BikeliciousBabe on August 02, 2021, 01:38:28 pm
I think they should at least grade it and place crushed granite so it is like a regular rail trail.  Heck, charge a fee if needed like the National Parks. 

It's not a rail-trail. It is a National Historic Park devoted to preserving the history of the canal as a once significant piece of transportation infrastructure. And are there not water taps in campgrounds in season?
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: John Nettles on August 02, 2021, 01:57:16 pm
I agree it is not an official rail trail as it was never a rail road to begin with.  However, I would think a lot of people would understand what a rail trail is more than a canal path. 

As far as developing the Historical park, look at the Erie canal.  In places they have "improved" that canal path.  My thinking is that if the path were improved, many more people would use the path, thus learning much more about the C&O history, enjoying nature, etc.  I would think that at least one of the objectives of this particular park is to have people enjoy it.  If it were strictly for preservation, no people would be allowed.

As far as taps, many of the campgrounds I passed had hand-pumps which are not always the most sanitary and/or easy to use. By "taps", I meant pressurized water taps/faucets/bibs or whatever you call them in your area.  Again, I am trying to think of things to get more people out to the various National Parks so the massive crowds at the developed parks like Yellowstone might disperse to other, less utilized parks.


Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: jamawani on August 02, 2021, 02:13:10 pm
Mebbe they should pave it for the whole length -
And put in 40 ft. pull-thrus for RVs -
Not to mention a few brew pubs and cantinas -
And what about free WiFi the entire way?
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: John Nettles on August 02, 2021, 02:53:09 pm
That is what is interesting about you John, you occasionally try to make your point by being over the top ridiculous in a somewhat snarky way instead of just trying to provide answers/opinions like your well-thought out route advice.  So using your thinking, we should ban everything except mules and the mule guides and you can only visit if on an actual barge pulled by the mules?  And maybe require visitors to wear period clothing and speak like they did too. Ban any sort of modern technology of course?  That means we can only ride high wheel bikes maybe??

Of course, we can disagree as to what the NPS should do, but why is having the NPS put a layer of crushed granite on the path and a few pressurized water taps in the campgrounds so bad and so extreme?  They do that (unsure about the pressurized water taps) for sections of the exact same trail closer to Washington so why not extend it so more users, say those in wheel chairs, can access the C&O the entire length. If it is good for the areas closer to DC, why not those closer to Cumberland? Seriously, I am asking.

John

Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: HikeBikeCook on August 02, 2021, 03:07:48 pm
Having ridden the C&O often and just doing the Erie last week,  I will take the C&O in present condition with the shade trees and history and the remoteness versus the over developed, treeless Erie where you have to dodge the homeless living on the trail by the Rochester airport.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: John Nettles on August 02, 2021, 03:11:47 pm
I will take the C&O in present condition with the shade trees and history and the remoteness versus the over developed, treeless Erie where you have to dodge the homeless living on the trail by the Rochester airport.
Fair enough, but would you prefer the C&O in it's current condition or with a level crushed granite path?
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: HikeBikeCook on August 02, 2021, 03:14:47 pm
yeah, crushed granite would be nice  ;D
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: aggie on August 02, 2021, 04:11:05 pm
It is interesting to note there is a relatively smooth crushed granite surface from Sheperdstown to Harpers Ferry.  Not sure who or what organization was responsible for improving the surface.  The water along the trail is at water hand pumps with iodine treated water.  Not all the pumps seem to work.  At the official campgrounds there are also portable toilets.  It also appears many of the mud holes are caused by service vehicles traveling along the trail.  There are no trash cans anywhere along the trail but they provide plastic bags in dispensers so visitors can remove their trash.  Harpers Ferry is also a historic park preserve yet they have improved many areas for visitors so the idea of no improvements seems applicable only when convenient (Harpers Ferry gets more visitors than the C&O). 
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: jamawani on August 02, 2021, 04:28:53 pm
Seriously, I am asking.

West from WDC:
MP 0-73 - Trail resurfaced
MP 70-113 - Quiet back roads available in Antietam & Williamsport areas
MP 113-142 - Western Maryland Trail - paved for about 30 miles.
-------
MP 157-184 - Highway 51, light to moderate traffic

That leaves only 15 miles without a nearby, hard-surface option at present.
Some things are best left alone.
Water pumps are fine.

PS - The Western Maryland Trail is likely to be extended to Paw Paw which covers the unsurfaced gap.

https://www.westernmarylandrailtrail.com/
Quote
Help extend the WMRT through the Paw Paw Bends of WV and MD

Imagine crossing and re-crossing the Potomac River between Alleghany County, MD. and Morgan County, WV.
Six times on high trestle bridges and going through three exciting tunnels! For the hiker or biker,
these 14 miles of unmatched railroad history are sure to make this one of the outstanding trails in the country.

Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: John Nettles on August 02, 2021, 04:48:19 pm
Seriously, I am asking.
West from WDC:
MP 0-73 - Trail resurfaced
MP 70-113 - Quiet back roads available in Antietam & Williamsport areas
MP 113-142 - Western Maryland Trail - paved for about 30 miles.
-------
MP 157-184 - Highway 51, light to moderate traffic

That leaves only 15 miles without a nearby, hard-surface option at present.
Some things are best left alone.
Water pumps are fine.
These are the kind of good alternatives you usually supply.

However, those are not the C&O path itself.  I can accept the other 29 mile paved trail as a decent compromise but my point is if the NPS wants visitors to any of its sites, why not do some reasonable things to encourage more visitors?  For instance, while your route suggestions are reasonable for people who regularly bike, people with little kids may not want to ride on moderate highways.  People in wheelchairs still will not be able to visit 82 miles of the C&O. People who hike it might prefer reliable water sources.  My suggestions would be minimally invasive yet provide access to many more visitors.

As far as water goes, I am sure I am not the only one who is unable to drink hand-pump water.  Plus, it is not uncommon for a hand-pump to quit working. 

Again, if the NPS "improves" other Historical Parks like Colonial National Historical Park (Yorktown) and Saratoga National Historical Park (NY) with paved paths, roads, concessions, etc., what is so wrong about grading and applying a layer of crushed granite on the C&O?

Just sayin
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: jamawani on August 02, 2021, 05:32:02 pm
Again, if the NPS "improves" other Historical Parks like Colonial National Historical Park (Yorktown) and Saratoga National Historical Park (NY) with paved paths, roads, concessions, etc., what is so wrong about grading and applying a layer of crushed granite on the C&O?

Your "improving" is someone else's "diminishing".

Take urban expressway construction in the 1960s & 1970s.
Entire neighborhoods - usually minority, including my grandmother's - were levelled.
So that suburban commuters could get to work that much quicker.
It was great for middle class White folk - not so great for those who lost their communities.

We live in very different parts of America with different values and views of the natural world.
Most of us in Wyoming - Dem & GOP - are perfectly content to experience the natural world as it is.
When they paved Western highways after WWII, they would cut trees so people could have vista points.
You know - just pull off the road and shoot a Kodak picture.

In order to accomplish what you are suggesting, you would need to industrialize the trail.
To apply a crushed rock surface would require heavy equipment with the potential for damage.
Then there would be the need for maintenance - and then - and then -
Same goes for putting in pressurized water systems.

A person riding at 8 mph is no more than 2 hours from services, even on the western sections of the C&O.
Given how rare such an undeveloped environment is in the East, why alter it?
Because development tends to be unidirectional.

The Western Maryland Trail attracts a range of users that is different than C&O users.
I would guess that bike speeds are 50% to 100% faster on the WMT than the C&O.
It becomes a different experience.

There are dozens of paved and crushed rock bike trails in the East.
Why does the C&O have to be like them?

Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: John Nettles on August 02, 2021, 06:59:13 pm

Your "improving" is someone else's "diminishing".
This is what your and my opinions boil down to probably. Perhaps money also in the case of the NPS. 

That said, I am still for a little more progress on the trail.  The primary reason is I have some elderly touring buddies who use trikes and various trike users have said the trail east of Cumberland is not suitable for trike users.  To me, it is a shame that due to lack of what I consider a limited amount of "industrialized" improvement, lots of additional visitors are unable to utilize the C&O. 

Thanks for your opinions.

Tailwinds, John
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: staehpj1 on August 03, 2021, 06:56:44 am

Your "improving" is someone else's "diminishing".
This is what your and my opinions boil down to probably. Perhaps money also in the case of the NPS. 
I have avoided weighing in on this one so far, but have enjoyed reading.  I think I am more on John's side of this one.  The towpath is and should be something different than a rail trail.  It is a more rustic kind of trail.  It would be a shame to see too much "improvement" though, it can be a slippery slope.  It is in some ways closer to a hiking trail than a rail trail and in fact folks do thru hike it.

The WMRT is a super nice trail and a wonderful resource, but it would be a shame if the made the C&O into an 184 mile version of that.

OTOH, perhaps the NPS could do a bit better at maintaining what they have or at least at not tearing it up with their vehicles.  As I remember it, the worst mud was the double track ruts created by car/truck/mower/tractor traffic that was presumably NPS service vehicles.  I suspect a lack of care about driving on the towpath when it was wet.

They could probably do better at getting major repairs done expeditiously, but funding is probably difficult for those.

Water, I think the current situation is okay.  The fact that some of the water isn't very palatable is less than ideal, but if you do your research and carry extra to get you by those areas you can get by using the pumps that taste okay or water from other sources.  When the pumps are out of commission you have to make do in some other way.  Again do your checking before your ride.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: aggie on August 03, 2021, 08:00:22 am
The improved surface between Sheperdstown and Harpers Ferry didn’t change the character of the trail other than making it a better riding surface.  Didn’t see any evidence of heavy vehicle damage.  There were still a few spots were rain had created bumps.

If the intent is to have no improvements then NPS should remove all the porta-potties at camping areas along with the water pumps and trash removal bags.  They also shouldn’t do any mowing or vegetation removal.  This will save money, keep the number of vehicles on the trail to a minimum, and recreate the experience mule drivers had moving the barges.  I’m sure these improvements “diminish” the historical character of the trail as these improvements weren’t available to the mule drivers.

I did ride the WMRT were I could.  It roughly parallels the C&O and in many places you can see it through the trees.  It was a nice respite from the rough C&O.  Other than having a paved surface it had much of the same character as the C&O.  The C&O doesn’t need to be a paved trail.  An improved surface would make it a more enjoyable ride and open the trail to more visitors.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: staehpj1 on August 03, 2021, 08:36:22 am
The improved surface between Sheperdstown and Harpers Ferry didn’t change the character of the trail other than making it a better riding surface.  Didn’t see any evidence of heavy vehicle damage.  There were still a few spots were rain had created bumps.
Maybe things have changed or maybe it is a seasonal thing.  I haven't been there in decades, but I recall places with two deep muddy tracks being the closest thing to rideable in the worst parts in the wet season.  You pretty much had to choose carefully when to go unless you wanted to slog through long sections of deep muddy double track on foot.

Quote
Other than having a paved surface it had much of the same character as the C&O.
 
That is a pretty big qualification.  It greatly changes the experience.  Nothing wrong with either, but they are very different experiences IMO.

Quote
The C&O doesn’t need to be a paved trail.  An improved surface would make it a more enjoyable ride and open the trail to more visitors.
Sure, it would be nice if it held up to the weather a little better, but I fear the slippery slope thing here.  Just throwing on some crushed limestone wouldn't be enough with poor drainage.  Then the calls for better drainage...  Then who knows?  A paved trail?  Lack of budget probably makes all that a non starter, which may in this case actually in a strange way be a good thing.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: HikeBikeCook on August 03, 2021, 08:44:49 am
Another two cents to go with my first two cents - the problem with the closed wells is typically contamination from the Potomac flooding, which is also the reason for the iodine treatment in the other hand pump wells. These are shallow wells and not artesian or from a deep aquifer. The ruts are indeed from a service vehicle, because we have encountered the large truck required to empty all of the porta potties provided for use to the public. Again, the close proximity to the Potomac and the flooding make the handling of human waste and waste water a bit of a challenge when you have campsites almost every 5 miles over 185 mile trail.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: staehpj1 on August 03, 2021, 08:59:42 am
Another two cents to go with my first two cents - the problem with the closed wells is typically contamination from the Potomac flooding, which is also the reason for the iodine treatment in the other hand pump wells. These are shallow wells and not artesian or from a deep aquifer. The ruts are indeed from a service vehicle, because we have encountered the large truck required to empty all of the porta potties provided for use to the public. Again, the close proximity to the Potomac and the flooding make the handling of human waste and waste water a bit of a challenge when you have campsites almost every 5 miles over 185 mile trail.
I think some of the campsites could be accessed for service from NPS service roads that come in from the side.  Not sure how common that is, but it would be a way to avoid some truck traffic on the towpath.  Perhaps they already do that where they can or maybe it is too indirect and therefore more expensive.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: Pat Lamb on August 03, 2021, 09:27:11 am
Some years ago I read a short treatise on "hardening" hiking trails; this discussion so far reminds me of that.  Up to a certain point, a trail could be marked with a few paint blazes, and hikers would naturally stay on a narrow footpath.  More hikers and/or poor drainage meant more efforts were required to keep the hikers on the trail, such as barriers near switchbacks, ditching and/or surface treatment (gravel).  The alternative was a greatly increased impact area, often in environmentally sensitive areas.  More hikers again, and a wider path needed to be covered in gravel, and ultimately even paved.  Paved trails are, of course, more accessible to handicapped people, so it becomes necessary to relocate the path to reduce the grade in certain areas.

I've seen this kind of thing happen in the Great Smoky Mountains NP; one trail that was a dirt path in my youth had boarded steps by the time my children were walking, and now it's been entirely rebuilt for increasing foot traffic.  (That path is still handicapped inaccessible -- for now -- but wheelchair users can take other trails nearby.  And some of those have been widened a time or two.  Multilane hiking trails?!)

I think there's a direct analogy between hiking trail "hardening" and discussions of potential C&O Canal trail improvements.  At the extreme, tricycle users sound like their requirements are similar to wheelchair users: wide paths, well packed gravel or macadam surface.  Perhaps some (Surly?) fat tire cyclists are analagous to solitary hikers --- they have the capability to handle bad surfaces, and the adventurous spirit to wade through mud if necessary.  In the middle are many of us: we've done a lot of bike touring, mostly on roads, and are often unprepared or poorly prepared for rougher conditions (think White Mountains for AT hikers, or the C&O for cyclists).

Frankly, I'm fine with baldly stating that the availability of the wilderness experience of backcountry trails is more important that allowing access to all users, regardless of the accommodation that they require.  Along the same vein, I think the relative wilderness of the C&O so close to the D.C. metropolitan area needs to be preserved, even at the cost of discomfort or even exclusion of some potential users.

We should also consider what it would take to bring the C&O up to some sort of "easy gravel bike accessibility."  It's a federal park; it would require developing federal regulations for the towpath.  (As Beltway Bandits would say privately, "Big money!  Big money!"  That would probably add 50% or more to the cost of rebuilding the towpath.)  Was it the Monocacy Viaduct that had to be rebuilt a while back, closing ~10 miles of the towpath for two years?  Now imagine rebuilding 100+ miles, because that's what it would take.  To meet those new regulations, they'd have to put in a new path substrate, so dig up the existing path, add drainage tiles, then put the surface on top.  And maybe, since the Potomac floods every so often, to save maintenance money, you'd just dig down and put concrete abutments on either side of the path so it wouldn't wash out so much.

In short, plan on closing the C&O or long stretches of it for 5-10 years.  Is that what we really want?

After that's over, you still have to deal with the fact that the national parks have been systematically underfunded for about 40 years.  So any potholes are going to be left there for at least a couple years, while the budget request goes in to fix them, next year Congress allocates the funding (maybe), and the year after that you can fix 17 potholes (but not the 41 that popped up since the first ones).

Pave the whole thing?  How are you going to negotiate with the walkers and runners who prefer a softer, lower impact surface?

I'd suggest cyclists planning "outs" instead.  Start on the C&O, if you wish.  If that turns out to be too intense, ride the Western Maryland as much as possible.  Consider crossing the river and taking the W&OD into town.  In short, treat this as a wilderness adventure, and if it's too much, there's other options available.

Just to touch on the water question.  For those who've ridden west of the Mississippi, there have been times when water wasn't available for long stretches.  It's common to make provisions for that, taking extra water when it's available for times when it's not.  Reasonable C&O planning might include taking enough water with you to get to the next town where you can refill, if you're not comfortable treating water.

BTW, I do hope the moderators don't decide to evaporate this entire discussion just because there's been some disagreement.  I believe the discussion has sufficient value that it should be kept online.  I would hope the mods and the posters would agree, unlike a few cases where an entire discussion has been removed.


Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: HikeBikeCook on August 03, 2021, 10:24:55 am
Good feedback Pat. In this world of Politically Correct we are often banned from discussing the very issues that separate us and thus fail to find common ground. I was brought up camping and hiking literally "across the street" from the AT. My father was an avid outdoorsman but as he grew older he became an RV adventurer, with my parents spending 6 months every year traveling in the US, Canada, Mexico and even Europe. As he aged his opinions changed about preserving nature and making it accessible to ALL.

Unfortunately making wilderness more accessible destroys the wilderness. I cannot imagine a paved road to the top of Katahdin, Rainer, or Whitney like Cadillac Mountain (Mount Desert Island Maine - second most visited National Park I believe). I know that there is a genuine feeling that the beauty of our nation should be shared by all, not just the few. However, the beauty is there for most who are determined to make the effort. I am privileged to have full mobility (so far) so I cannot appreciate fully the plight of those that do not. I did meet a hiker on the AT that had lost both legs at the knee and was thru-hiking on prosthetics, another blind hiker, a deaf hiker, and currently a young woman without sight is biking across America. There are no easy answers, just lots of discussions like this to find a compromise that can accommodate the most people without destroying the value of what we want to experience.

Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit. - Edward Abbey
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: John Nettles on August 03, 2021, 10:38:54 am
Pat,

Your comments in the first two paragraphs have me softening my position a little bit.  For one, I did not know about the repeated (at least it sounds repeated) flooding.  That would probably do serious damage/expense to any improved trail and since I usually try to take a long-view on most things in life, then yes I could see how keeping it the same makes since. I can also see Pete's point about the improvement being a slippery slope. 

That said, I still wish the places where the trail is really rough with roots, ruts, & rocks could be periodically graded to smooth out the trail and maybe help slope it slightly to help with drainage.  Yep, a few trees might be lost (sorry John) but then a rideable path could be created.  Riding on dirt is fine, I actually love it next to pavement.  What would be neat is if a local group could be trail angels and maintain it but the NPS probably has a heavy hand in deciding how it can be "maintained" even if no federal dollars are involved.

For the record, I don't think I ever strongly proposed paving the trail though I must admit, with unlimited resources, that would be my preference.  No RV pullouts  ;) .  I just want the trail to be rideable to the vast majority of potential users.  To me it is a shame that such a neat and interesting trail is inaccessible to a somewhat large group of people.

As far as locking this thread, I think we for the most part have been pretty civil, at least compared to other forums, i.e. CrazyGuy.  We can disagree without getting into fights.  One way I try to do this is that when I write, I always try to imagine I am actually speaking face-to-face with the person.  This tempers my "internet voice" quite a bit. 

Tailwinds, John
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: aggie on August 04, 2021, 07:58:01 am
It appears there is an active plan to resurface at least 80 miles of the towpath.  The organization leading these efforts is Canaltrust.org.  Be interesting to hear their perspective on this discussion.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: HikeBikeCook on August 04, 2021, 08:34:42 am
Towpath Resurfacing Project
https://www.nps.gov/choh/planyourvisit/towpath-resurfacing-project.htm (https://www.nps.gov/choh/planyourvisit/towpath-resurfacing-project.htm)

The most recent phase of resurfacing stretches from Whites Ferry (Mile 35) to Brunswick (Mile 54). This phase of work was completed as of April 1, 2020. When work is active, visitors may see temporary horseback riding restrictions. Please read more on our Horseback Riding page.

Visitors will now be able to enjoy nearly 56 miles of resurfaced towpath between Swains Lock (Mile 16.5) and Ferry Hill (Mile 73)

The goal of the resurfacing project is threefold:

To maintain the historic integrity and character of the towpath
To maintain the durability of the towpath during high water and flood events
To provide a smooth, level surface for hikers, bikers, and visitors who utilize the towpath on a daily basis
The resurfacing techniques are not catered to one particular usage group, such as runners or bicyclists. Rather, the park is piloting a new resurfacing model to make the towpath as durable as possible for all park users.

What are the resurfaced layers made of?
The towpath is NOT being paved. The base layer of the new towpath surface is crush and run gravel, also known as CR-6. The top layer is stone dust, also known as AASHTO-10. The crush and run layer creates an adequate drainage system, so that heavy rainfall can easily drain off the towpath. The stone dust layer at the top adds a nice, smooth surface.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: staehpj1 on August 04, 2021, 08:46:56 am
It sounds like a reasonable approach.  A 2" layer of CR-6 and another 2" of AASHTO-10 sounds fairly harmless since the trail isn't going to be in some pristine historical state in any case.  I hope any resulting increased usage isn't too damaging and doesn't result in demands for too many more "improvements".
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: TCS on August 04, 2021, 09:34:21 am
'Development.'

'Wilderness.'

I'll ask what the baseline is?  1924, when the canal fell into disuse?  1831, when this industrial transportation conduit was first opened?  Shall we tear out the locks, restore the land to how it was in 1491 and require limited-issue back country permits for use?

'...places where the trail is really rough with roots, ruts, & rocks...'

I'm unsure what historical era that is supposed to be replicating and preserving.  That's certainly not the way it was when mules were pulling barges along the canal.  The historical images I find show that after they went to the trouble and expense of digging the canal and building the locks, they built a really pretty decent pathway alongside, as one would expect for efficient equine draft.  During the active years of the C&O the mules and teamsters weren't slogging through deep mud and stumbling across rough terrain.

'...budget...'

$3,500,000,000,000 and we don't have the money?    ;D
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: HikeBikeCook on August 04, 2021, 09:46:01 am
Development really began when young George Washington owned a raft transportation company and surveyed the ledges that his riverboat drivers had trouble with. He began blasting away sections to allow them to navigate easier. I think the native Americans (are/were they really native, since they too seem to have migrated from Asia or Europe in the way back of time) took a gentler approach to nature. 
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: Pat Lamb on August 04, 2021, 11:12:26 am
It sounds like a reasonable approach.  A 2" layer of CR-6 and another 2" of AASHTO-10 sounds fairly harmless since the trail isn't going to be in some pristine historical state in any case.  I hope any resulting increased usage isn't too damaging and doesn't result in demands for too many more "improvements".

Well, no, no, and yes.  No, there were some spots when I rode parts of the trail (7 years ago?) where the mud and water were deeper than 4".  In addition, they'll have to dig some drainage facilities to get the water out of those low spots, either toward the canal or the river.

No again, on a warm summer day, it's really, really nice to ride through the overhanging trees.  Those overhanging trees had to go to get the heavy equipment in, so the resurfaced parts were cleared maybe 30-40' wide.

Yes, wow, those newly surfaced parts were sweet to ride!
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: John Nettles on August 04, 2021, 11:41:12 am
It appears there is an active plan to resurface at least 80 miles of the towpath.  The organization leading these efforts is Canaltrust.org.  Be interesting to hear their perspective on this discussion.
This is the power of the ACA Forums!!  ;D

EDIT:  As I go down my emails, I see that others posted similar things.  My apologies.

Seriously, that is interesting.  They, in conjunction with the Allegheny Trail Alliance, are implementing resurfacing, at least along parts of the canal.  It looks like they have resurfaced (root removal, graded, and added gravel dust) about 57 miles of the more urgently needed areas so far.

Thanks for posting this.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: HikeBikeCook on August 04, 2021, 12:02:17 pm
What is disturbing is how much has already been done and the original poster's lament as to the current conditions. Started by saying she is CURRENTLY riding the trail.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: aggie on August 04, 2021, 02:25:04 pm
I stand by my original post.  The trail conditions are atrocious from Cumberland to Sheperdstown.  From Sheperdstown to Harpers Ferry the trail surface is improved and I did not notice any removed trees.  Still plenty of shade and wildlife.  I have finished riding the trail and can’t tell you how many miles are resurfaced.  Most of the distance between Harpers Ferry and DC is bad.  Not sure exactly where the improved trail ends but the entire trail except for the currently improved section needs work.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: John Nettles on August 04, 2021, 03:54:31 pm
Did you happen to take any pics of the trail surface? 
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: BikeliciousBabe on August 04, 2021, 04:02:10 pm
Again, if the NPS "improves" other Historical Parks like Colonial National Historical Park (Yorktown) and Saratoga National Historical Park (NY) with paved paths, roads, concessions, etc., what is so wrong about grading and applying a layer of crushed granite on the C&O?

Your "improving" is someone else's "diminishing".

Take urban expressway construction in the 1960s & 1970s.
Entire neighborhoods - usually minority, including my grandmother's - were levelled.
So that suburban commuters could get to work that much quicker.
It was great for middle class White folk - not so great for those who lost their communities.

We live in very different parts of America with different values and views of the natural world.
Most of us in Wyoming - Dem & GOP - are perfectly content to experience the natural world as it is.
When they paved Western highways after WWII, they would cut trees so people could have vista points.
You know - just pull off the road and shoot a Kodak picture.

In order to accomplish what you are suggesting, you would need to industrialize the trail.
To apply a crushed rock surface would require heavy equipment with the potential for damage.
Then there would be the need for maintenance - and then - and then -
Same goes for putting in pressurized water systems.

A person riding at 8 mph is no more than 2 hours from services, even on the western sections of the C&O.
Given how rare such an undeveloped environment is in the East, why alter it?
Because development tends to be unidirectional.

The Western Maryland Trail attracts a range of users that is different than C&O users.
I would guess that bike speeds are 50% to 100% faster on the WMT than the C&O.
It becomes a different experience.

There are dozens of paved and crushed rock bike trails in the East.
Why does the C&O have to be like them?

+1.

I think the some of the disappointment/frustration has its roots in considering the C&O a bike trail that is expressly maintained for cyclists. It's not. It's a former canal path one may experience by bike, among other means. As noted, there are competing interests that need to be balanced. And let's see what the recently improved section looks like in a few years.  I rode the GAP again last year and even that had some crappy sections due to rain, etc.  Having done the Hiawatha, the former right-of-way leading to it from Avery, ID, the east slope of the NorPac, some of the Olympian and most of the Mickelson, I have learned to take the good with the bad.  Definitely avoid those trails if you will be disappointed by not having consistently smooth surfaces.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: TCS on August 04, 2021, 04:07:40 pm
'removed trees'

During the canal's active years there would have been no trees or shrubs or bushes between the sidepath and the canal due to the clearance requirement of the tow ropes.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: HikeBikeCook on August 04, 2021, 04:41:01 pm
We just rode the D&H Rail Trail in Vermont a few weeks back and were lamenting what a crappy trail surface it was and how it needed to be resurfaced. Then reading afterward, it turns out it had recently been resurfaced, but the material used was a very coarse gravel mixture that could knock your fillings out. That area is known for the Slate Valley Gravel Trail Network, so by comparison the surface is probably like a highway for mountain bikers and would have been more fun with our front suspension mountain bikes rather than our Disc Truckers with pretty fat tires. Everything is relative, one man's treasure, and all of that. Just be glad that someone had the willingness and courage to preservice it and you have the right to enjoy it.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: TCS on August 04, 2021, 09:00:32 pm
I think the some of the disappointment/frustration has its roots in considering the C&O a bike trail that is expressly maintained for cyclists...

I've pulled up maybe a half dozen articles this afternoon encouraging riders to tour 'the GAP and C&O from Pittsburg to D.C.'.  Only one mentioned that the two different paths under the auspices of two different managers are very different.  Pity the poor cyclist who leaves Pittsburg on their sport touring bike and winds up bounding over roots and ruts on the C&O double track.

Concrete, asphalt, crushed and packed stone...soft sand, mud, chunky rock, endless miles of tribulus terrestris - I've ridden them all, mostly without any more advance official information than a picture of a short section showing the very best of the surface.  To mitigate 'disappointment/frustration', promoters (government entities, non-profits, magazine/web authors) of paths/trails need to do a much better job of describing the physical nature of the trails.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: staehpj1 on August 05, 2021, 06:11:42 am
I think the some of the disappointment/frustration has its roots in considering the C&O a bike trail that is expressly maintained for cyclists...

I've pulled up maybe a half dozen articles this afternoon encouraging riders to tour 'the GAP and C&O from Pittsburg to D.C.'.  Only one mentioned that the two different paths under the auspices of two different managers are very different.  Pity the poor cyclist who leaves Pittsburg on their sport touring bike and winds up bounding over roots and ruts on the C&O double track.

Concrete, asphalt, crushed and packed stone...soft sand, mud, chunky rock, endless miles of tribulus terrestris - I've ridden them all, mostly without any more advance official information than a picture of a short section showing the very best of the surface.  To mitigate 'disappointment/frustration', promoters (government entities, non-profits, magazine/web authors) of paths/trails need to do a much better job of describing the physical nature of the trails.
I don't know about that.  Anyone doing a tour on the full GAP and C&O could be reasonably expected to do some due diligence.  If at a minimum they were to google "biking C&O canal trail "  they would have found Bike Washington’s C&O Canal Bicycling Guide and The C&O Canal Trust Biking Along the Canal page.  Either of those would have given them some idea of what to expect.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: TCS on August 05, 2021, 07:58:11 am
Then you would write off this entire thread as Aggie's lack of due diligence?
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: staehpj1 on August 05, 2021, 09:29:34 am
Then you would write off this entire thread as Aggie's lack of due diligence?
I wouldn't go that far. but it shouldn't come as a huge surprise to anyone doing a full GAP C&O that there are going to be some rough trail conditions on the C&O.  They may well lament some of those conditions, but I don't think they should be that big of a shock that there will be rougher conditions than on the GAP or that a fatter tired bike might be more suitable.  Checking either of those sites would have made that clear and they are generally the first hits I get on any searches I made.  It does not seem reasonable to me to expect the trail to be a duplicate of the GAP if someone did any research at all.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: David W Pratt on August 06, 2021, 04:05:26 pm
Will the NPS be maintaining a surface of fresh mule droppings to keep it historical?
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: mpeebles on August 18, 2021, 09:28:01 pm
I rode the C&O from Cumberland to Williamsport on my way to Philadelphia recently and didn't think it was too bad.   Just had to watch where I was going.  Not nearly as nice as the GAP but I thought it OK with more than ample primitive campsites.  I did enjoy the "forest" feel of it as well.  The old locks were an added bonus.  The Western Maryland Rail Trail was a nice "detour" as well. 
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: mpeebles on August 19, 2021, 08:03:33 am
Also on this thread someone asked if they prefer a crushed limestone over the C&O.  On the same trip I rode the Great River Trail, the LaCrosse  Trail and the Elroy/Sparta Trails in Wisconsin.  I think there was one more but forgot its name.  They are crushed gravel, largely two path.  IMHO they were much easier to ride because were smoother and I didn't have to pay that much attention to the surface and could sight see a little more.  The tunnels on both the C&O and Elroy/Sparta trails are way cool!  I did walk through the Paw Paw.  The crushed gravel also "dried" out sooner after a rain. 

......Mike
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: staehpj1 on August 19, 2021, 08:53:23 am
Also on this thread someone asked if they prefer a crushed limestone over the C&O.
I'll just add that it can vary just how well crushed it is and how well rolled and maintained.  It can be almost like a paved road or pretty rough.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: canalligators on August 19, 2021, 09:48:31 am
I would offer a clarification on unpaved surface types.  Sometimes we mix up the names and it confuses me.

Dirt - just that, no stone involved.  Much of the C&O is like this.  OK for riding but gets muddy in the rain.
Gravel - small round stone, which usually gets packed down into the dirt.  Parts of the C&O are like this.  But sometimes it’s not packed in and can be tricky to ride.
Crushed stone - a hard stone material with individual pieces which are half an inch or larger.  Only suitable for larger tires.  Sometimes this is used for bike paths, usually specified by people who don’t know what they’re doing, sometimes as a temporary repair.
Rolled stone dust - A smooth, well packed surface.  Many bike trails are surfaced this way, and it’s a decent surface.  Examples include the GAP, Erie Canal, and the unpaved trails In Wisconsin.

The types make a big difference on whether I’ll ride a given trail, or what size tire I’ll use.  I’d appreciate it if we could be more careful with our terminology.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: John Nettles on August 19, 2021, 10:20:17 am
I guess you need to add another:
Chat or Screenings:  Fragments of siliceous rock. In the process of mining and screening fine washed sand, a course grained small gravel remains. This “small gravel” product is larger than sand but smaller than pea gravel. Commonly mixed with Stone Dust on trails. Examples include the Katy, Mickelson, and other trails in the central plains.  This would be sized between Crushed Stone and Stone Dust.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: HikeBikeCook on August 19, 2021, 11:07:53 am
if you want all the variations then you might also want to add Cinder.

VOLCANIC CINDERS occur in many areas of the world and are particularly common
in central Oregon, which is the location of this study. The Forest Service of the U. S.
Department of Agriculture builds many miles of untreated aggregate-surfaced roads in
the states of Oregon and Washington. In the central Oregon area, the use of volcanic
cinders to surface those roads is very common. The performance of cinder-surfaced
roads has varied, with both good and poor results. The general trend among many
highway agencies is to avoid their use. However, the steady depletion of good, hightype aggregate sources has brought about renewed interest in other aggregate types,
including volcanic cinders. Present use of volcanic cinders is primarily for low-class
roads, either untreated or with a light asphaltic surface treatment.
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: BFDUHON on August 31, 2021, 10:00:29 pm
I'll be on the C & 0 & Gap starting 9/13/21. There has been a lot of rain.  Is the Trail too sloppy for fenders?  I have 3/4 inch clearance. & Running Panaracer gravel king slick 38mm X 650B .   So tour operators have discouraged fenders because of the debris jaming fender & Wheel.
Any one have recent experiance?
Title: Re: C&O trail
Post by: aggie on September 01, 2021, 10:53:31 am
I had fenders on my bike during my recent ride.  Try to avoid the major mud areas but even then you should be ok.  Your bike will still be muddy and dirty but most will be off you and your gear.  You could always stop at one of the pumps and use that water to rinse off the mud.  They are fairly frequent.