Author Topic: C&O trail  (Read 1792 times)

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Offline HikeBikeCook

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Re: C&O trail
« Reply #15 on: August 02, 2021, 03:14:47 pm »
yeah, crushed granite would be nice  ;D
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Offline aggie

Re: C&O trail
« Reply #16 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). 

Offline jamawani

Re: C&O trail
« Reply #17 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.


Offline John Nettles

Re: C&O trail
« Reply #18 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

Offline jamawani

Re: C&O trail
« Reply #19 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?


Offline John Nettles

Re: C&O trail
« Reply #20 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

Offline staehpj1

Re: C&O trail
« Reply #21 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.
« Last Edit: August 03, 2021, 06:58:34 am by staehpj1 »

Offline aggie

Re: C&O trail
« Reply #22 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.

Offline staehpj1

Re: C&O trail
« Reply #23 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.

Offline HikeBikeCook

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Re: C&O trail
« Reply #24 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.
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Offline staehpj1

Re: C&O trail
« Reply #25 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.

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: C&O trail
« Reply #26 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.



Offline HikeBikeCook

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Re: C&O trail
« Reply #27 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
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Offline John Nettles

Re: C&O trail
« Reply #28 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
« Last Edit: August 03, 2021, 10:40:41 am by John Nettles »

Offline aggie

Re: C&O trail
« Reply #29 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.