The historic canal in Georgetown will begin to undergo a major 18-month restoration project in order to address long-running maintenance concerns next month.
Estimated to cost about $10 million, the restoration is funded by the U.S. National Park Service.
The C&O Canal attracts about 5 million visitors a year and stretches from Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland. The repairs to the canal, which has been in operation for nearly 100 years, will focus on locks 3 and 4 located between 30th Street NW and Thomas Jefferson Street NW. The goal of this project is to revamp and remodel the mile-long segment of the C&O Canal in Georgetown.
Brendan Wilson, supervisory park ranger for the Georgetown District of the Canal, said the canal and the locks under renovation are of historical importance. He discussed their history as a cornerstone of the country’s industrial development when they transported cargo from the Allegheny Mountains ever since the canal’s construction began in 1831.
“These locks are important parts of understanding the historic fabric,” Wilson said. “Part of this is to bring in students and bring in this educational part of the canal.”
The canal path will be closed between Thomas Jefferson and 30th Streets NW for the duration of the project but the National Park Service will keep 30th Street NW, which runs above the canal, open during the restoration project. In addition, the canal will be drained of water from Georgetown to lock 5.
Maggie Downing, Destination Manager of the Georgetown Business Improvement District, said a combination of budget cuts and overdue maintenance has caused the locks to deteriorate and crumble.
“The National Park Service has had their budget cut year after year and they had a huge backlog of deferred maintenance costs and so parts of the park have been falling into disrepair with the locks 3 and 4 starting to experience some issues,” Downing said.
Funding for the restoration project will come from a combination of grants and fundraising, including $7 million from the NPS budget. Georgetown Heritage further received a $3 million grant from the D.C. Council allocated from the District’s 2017 budget, the majority of which Downing said will go toward purchasing the new canal boat.
“All the money that we raise as a partner can go into the additional enhancements and programming,” Downing said.
The famous mule-drawn canal boat The Georgetown, which has not been in use since 2011, is also slated to be replaced as a part of the greater canal restoration project. The boat was officially retired last week due to the accumulation of damage.
Downing also works with Georgetown Heritage, a group of government, community and business leaders working toward improving aspects of historic Georgetown. These leaders created Georgetown Heritage to ensure the restoration of the Georgetown canal.
After the completion of the first phase of restoration with the lock repairs, Georgetown Heritage plans to move its focus to various smaller-scale changes. Downing said a variety of infrastructure improvements are also in place, such as improved lighting, repaving the towpath, better signage, new benches and improved accessibility.
“The other piece that we are kicking off is the beginning of what we are calling a Comprehensive Master Plan for the one-mile section of the canal in Georgetown,” Downing said. “We realized that beyond those just infrastructure needs there’s a lot of areas in the park that could be improved.”
Downing said the restoration project will attempt to preserve the history of the canal and further educate visitors.
“Everything that we’re going to be doing will be informed by the history of the place and aimed at finding new ways to share that,” Downing said.
Georgetown Outdoor Education Guide Connor O’Brien (SFS ’18) said he believes the restoration will encourage students to spend even more time outdoors.
“The canal is one of the most accessible outdoor areas for Georgetown students, and I think it acts as an important connection to the natural beauty of the D.C. area,” O’Brien said. “Hopefully restoration of the canal will ensure that it continues to play an important role for future Georgetown students.”