Georgetown Heritage, a nonprofit working with the Georgetown Business Improvement District, will host a volunteer canal cleanup Saturday, Oct. 26, as the broader Chesapeake & Ohio Canal revitalization effort continues.
Georgetown BID is a nonprofit that maintains and beautifies Georgetown’s commercial district. Georgetown Heritage, a group associated with Georgetown BID, is working with the National Park Service on a multiyear plan to revitalize the C&O Canal, addressing safety and accessibility concerns to increase more recreation and shopping along the canal, according to the NPS. Georgetown Heritage is hosting monthly volunteer cleanups to maintain the canal during the current phase of the renovations.
The volunteers keep the towpath and the canal clean, according to Jeffrey Nichols, executive director of Georgetown Heritage. Nichols assumed the director position in early September, after serving as the president and CEO of Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest.
“We’ve been doing monthly canal cleanups where we walk along the mile section of the canal in Georgetown,” Nichols said in an interview with The Hoya. “It’s an effort to keep on top of an urban environment where there’s lots of trash and lots of opportunities for things to fall into the canal.”
The C&O Canal operated from 1831 to 1924 as a passageway for cargo ships. The canal runs for almost 200 miles along the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland. An NPS Environmental Assessment released this month estimates 1.2 million people walk along the canal yearly.
The canal revitalization project is currently in the planning stage, although two of its locks, which raise and lower boats by controlling the canal’s water level, have recently undergone repairs. This month, the NPS assessment also found that the canal lacks accessibility, lighting, seating and recreational areas, in addition to having uneven and narrow paths.
The Environmental Assessment outlines two solutions; the NPS-preferred choice, as denoted by the assessment, involves widening and paving pathways, increasing bridge accessibility, adding lighting and native riparian planting to stabilize the banks. The no-action alternative extends current management operations and provides comparison for the environmental consequences of the proposed renovations.
The NPS is requesting public comment online until Nov. 16 and at a Nov. 7 public meeting.
The report concluded that the NPS-preferred plan would involve temporary closures of the towpath and elevated noise levels, but construction-related noise could be kept within D.C. regulatory requirements.
There is a broad desire for a rigorous planning process, according to Nichols.
“Georgetown-based groups are very keen on finding a way to preserve and restore and enhance the C&O Canal in the mile-long stretch that goes through Georgetown,” Nichols said. “It’s really taking a very detailed look at the canal itself, the structural integrity, how it’s used by the public, what businesses think about it and want to see happen.”
Georgetown Heritage, NPS and city officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony in Georgetown in September to mark the completion of renovations on the canal’s first two locks. Workers tested the locks by letting water flow through them back in April, and now water is flowing permanently, according to Curbed D.C.
In August, NPS broke ground on a new headquarters for their operations along the C&O Canal in Williamsport, Md. The canal itself stretches 184 miles from Georgetown to Cumberland, Md. Eventually, NPS hopes to have boats running along the canal again, according to WAMU.
The canal renovation project will potentially lead to local business growth, according to Nichols.
“It can be a great addition to the mix of businesses in a linear park setting. We think that as this becomes more engaging and more welcoming for people, that will naturally spill out into people walking along various side roads, going into restaurants, going into stores,” he said.
The renovations are an opportunity to enhance a forgotten part of Georgetown’s downtown, according to Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E Commissioner Matias Burdman (COL ’21).
“The C&O canal renovation is very significant in that it has the potential to transform the canal — a neighborhood asset that has traditionally been underutilized and poorly kept — into a central feature of Georgetown that serves students, residents, and visitors alike,” Burdman said.